University of Minnesota Duluth
MyU | Search | People | Departments | Events | News

Alumni Profiles

Chocolate Passion | 21st Century Success | Poetry in Duluth | From Duluth to D.C.



UMD alumnus Brian Pelletier ’89, who graduated with a degree in technical communication, enjoyed considerable success in public relations, journalism, and marketing. Yet after 20 years in the communication industry, Pelletier, who lives in St. Louis, Mo., felt restless.

Pelletier’s friend was selling her business, Kakao Chocolate, and although he didn’t know anything about chocolate, the opportunity sounded too good to pass up.

In just two years, Pelletier has built a successful business. “We’ve carved out a very exciting niche,” he said. He learned everything he could from his friend and then used his marketing and communication expertise to reach out to customers - blogging on Kakao’s website about new products and events. Kakao has a passionate following and was recently named ‘Favorite Chocolatier’ by readers of Sauce, the St. Louis food magazine.

Pelletier minored in physics and mathematics at UMD. He enjoys the scientific elements involved in making chocolate. “A lot of what happens with chocolate happens on a molecular level,” he noted. “Chocolate is very complex.” He enjoys creating new flavor combinations, but is quick to add that ultimately “the customers decide if something is successful.” Pelletier is excited about this new chapter in his life. “It took 20 years to find my passion or for my passion to find me,” he said. “Everything before that has led up to this point,” Pelletier said. In short, life is sweet.



Alumnus Scott Anderson ’91, director and senior economist at Wells Fargo, presented “Competing to Succeed: What It Takes To Be Successful in the 21st Century” on Wed., Oct. 20, as part of the Labovitz School of Business and Economics’ (LSBE) Distinguished Speakers Series.

Anderson, a Twin Cities native, credits LSBE with influencing his career path. He came to UMD to study physics but switched to business after taking economics and political science courses. “I found it fascinating how the markets worked,” Anderson said. “I wanted to use my knowledge to make the world a better place.” LSBE professors encouraged him to pursue a Ph.D. They advised him to prepare for graduate school by taking statistics and mathematics courses at UMD, which he did.

As a freshman, Anderson took part in the Leadership UMD program. “It was a wonderful introduction for me into what it means to be a leader,” he said. “I got to know a great core group of students,” he added. The program brought in a number of speakers, and participants were required to do a lot of volunteer work. “I was sometimes a little bit out of my comfort zone,” Anderson admits, “but it gave me the courage to become a leader. You can surprise yourself on what you can do.”

After graduating from UMD, Anderson moved to Washington, D.C, to earn his Ph.D. He joined Wells Fargo in 2001 and is based in Minneapolis. Anderson was named one of the top 10 economic forecasters in the U.S. for 2008 by USA Today.



Alumna Sheila Packa ’81 has a vision for her term as the 2010-2012 Duluth Poet Laureate. Established in 2006, the Poet Laureate is tasked with promoting poetry and expanding its audience. The first two laureates were men; partly because Packa is the first woman to be chosen as Duluth Poet Laureate, she is committed to bringing women to the forefront.

Packa has published four books of poetry. “The voice of my poems is set in the outdoors, which is not typical because a lot of women’s writing tends to be domestic scenes.” Packa draws inspiration from the landscape, other poets, music, and dance. She appreciates the patterns in words. “My poetry is about exploring images and experiences,” Packa said. “It’s more about language than about feelings.”

When writing poetry, Packa strives to be a “painter with words,” creating visual images that bring the poem to life. She wants people to feel connected to her poetry. “I hate sentimental poetry because I think it puts us to sleep. I love art that surprises us and breaks open emotion,” Packa said.

Packa grew up on Minnesota’s Iron Range and graduated from UMD with a degree in Social Development in 1981.

“When I was in college, I wanted to major in English literature and writing,” Packa said. “I went into social work, but my passion for writing was always under the surface.”

Packa’s advice consists mainly of self-confidence: “Follow your passion and believe in yourself. You need to trust that your instincts are valid,” she said. “It is easy for people to dismiss their secret passion and not take it seriously, but you should always do what you love.”



For many people, the U.S. Capitol building might sound like a vast and intimidating place to work. UMD alumnae Nancy Ognanovich ’79 thinks of the building as two small towns. “There’s the House of Representatives and the Senate. A lot of people don’t cross from one to another. Each is unique, and it’s interesting how they come together,” she said.

Ognanovich is a journalist for the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) in Washington, D.C., but she grew up on the Iron Range and knows something about small towns.

Ognanovich has worked in Washington for over twenty years. At UMD, she majored in history and political science, then interned for two summers for Congressman Jim Oberstar while she pursued her master’s degree. She built her portfolio and eventually landed a reporter job at BNA. She covered Congressional hearings on energy, insurance, transportation, and appropriations.

In 2001, Ognanovich was assigned to the White House. She enjoyed the camaraderie of the Press Corp and trips overseas, but after seven years she missed the freedom she’d had on Capitol Hill “to talk to everyone.” She is now back on the Hill. “I love the job,” she admits.

She credits perseverance and hard work with her success. She feels a strong loyalty to those who share information with her and is careful to never break a source’s trust. “You don’t want to burn a source for one day’s glory,” she said.

Ognanovich would like to teach one day and has insight and encouragement to offer students, “Persevere. Make the most of what comes your way, understanding that you can build from that,” she instructs. “Show up and treat people well.” Good advice – in a small town or our nation’s capital.

Above: Nancy Ognanovich with CLA Dean Susan Maher

© 2018 University of Minnesota Duluth
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
Last modified on 01/27/11 03:38 PM
University of Minnesota Campuses
Crookston | Duluth | Morris
Rochester | Twin Cities