Legislative Updates: Governor-elect Walz announces three more cabinet members

Original article was written December 20, 2018

Governor-elect Walz announces three more cabinet members

Governor-elect Tim Walz announced three more cabinet choices earlier today. He chose commissioners to head the Office of Higher Education, the Department of Education, and the Department of Corrections.

The press release can be found here: https://mn.gov/tim-walz/newsroom/#/detail/appId/1/id/363079

Office of Higher Education

Leading the Office of Higher Education will be Dennis Olson, Jr. Born and raised in Cloquet, Dennis Olson Jr., 39, is currently the Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council. In this role, Dennis works closely with tribal elected leaders, the state legislature, state agencies, and the governor to highlight and address issues important to all Tribal Nations and American Indian communities in Minnesota. Prior to his appointment with the Indian Affairs Council, Dennis served as the Director of the Office of Indian Education for the Minnesota Department of Education, working closely with Tribal Nations, urban American Indian communities, and multiple partner agencies and organizations to address key issues impacting Indian Education in Minnesota. Dennis has developed and led numerous policy initiatives designed to create equitable access and opportunity for American Indian students, including a successful effort which led to am historic state investment in ongoing Indian Education funding.

Before joining state government, Dennis served as Commissioner of Education for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, overseeing operations of the entire Tribal education department from early childhood through post-secondary education. He also worked nearly 10 years in various capacities for the University of Minnesota – Institute on Community Integration, coordinating federally funded grant programs focusing on postsecondary transition for American Indian high school students, students with disabilities, and at-risk youth.

“I have witnessed firsthand Dennis’ commitment to serving students for over a decade. He brings an extensive understanding and appreciation of what Minnesota will need to do for all including those who have traditionally been underserved,” said Devinder Malhotra, Minnesota State Chancellor. “Dennis’ commitment to student success, equity, and inclusion will help Minnesota further strengthen our commitment to advancing access and opportunity for all students.”

Dennis is an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in American Indian Studies, Sociology, and Communications. He also holds two Masters degrees in Liberal Studies (MLS) and Education (M.Ed.) from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He currently lives in Hugo with his wife Shauna and their two children.

Minnesota Department of Education

Mary Cathryn Ricker is the new commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education. A native of Hibbing, Mary Cathryn Ricker, 50, is a National Board Certified middle school English teacher with over a decade of classroom experience. She has taught in classrooms from St. Paul to St. Cloud to Washington to South Korea to Yemen. She is currently the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and previously served as the president of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 28. Her teaching and leadership skills have been recognized with a number of other honors, including receiving the Education Minnesota Peterson-Schaubach Outstanding Leadership Award, qualifying as a semifinalist for the NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence, and serving as a featured contributor in the Annenberg Foundation’s national professional development series, “Write in the Middle.”

She earned her undergraduate degree in English with a mathematics minor at the University of Saint Thomas, and completed her graduate work in Teacher Leadership at the University of Minnesota. Ricker’s husband teaches English language learners in the St. Paul Public Schools, and they have two children.

Minnesota Department of Corrections

Paul Schnell will be the new commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections. From a small farming community in Wisconsin, Paul Schnell, 57, has more than 30 years of professional experience in corrections and public safety. While completing his Bachelor of Social Work degree at the University of St. Thomas, Paul began an internship supervising adult male offenders in a St. Paul halfway house. This internship led to a ten-year stretch of work in a variety of community-based correctional programs in the Twin Cities. In 1993, Paul moved from his position working with youth offenders at Carver County Court Services to deputy sheriff for the Carver County Sheriff’s Office. In 1999, Paul joined the Saint Paul Police Department where he served in a variety of assignments, including four years as the department’s spokesman. Over the past eight years, Paul has served as Chief of Police for the cities of Hastings and Maplewood and is currently police chief for the City of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. Long interested in effective intervention and prevention practices, Paul became an adjunct faculty member at the University of Saint Thomas and Metropolitan State University, teaching courses in criminal justice diversity, criminal justice ethics, restorative justice, and victimology.

Paul has held volunteer roles in a number of organizations: board member and chair – 180 Degrees (correctional services), board member – Tubman (victim services), board member Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, and board member – Minnesota Chapter – National Alliance on Mental Illness. Paul and his wife of 31 years, Julie, live in Mendota Heights, MN. They have four adult children, including an adoptive son with significant physical disabilities.

While members of the cabinet are appointed by the governor, they are subject to confirmation by the Senate. They can serve without any action by the Senate, but a person cannot serve as a cabinet member if the Senate has voted to refuse to consent to their appointment.   Walz has many more positions to fill, including commissioners and hundreds of other appointments to commissions and boards. The appointments will take effect on January 7, 2019, when Walz is officially sworn in as governor.

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