Regent Interviews: CEO Wells Fargo Upper Midwest Laurie Nordquist '81
Regent Laurie Nordquist ’81 joined the Board in September 2020. Before her tenure as a Regent, she spent 9 years on the MN Private Colleges Council, which works to support the interests of private higher education institutions throughout the state and share best practices. This engagement stemmed from a passion for accessible education. With this background, Regent Nordquist was a great fit for the Board.
Regent Nordquist attributes part of her professional success to the broad approach of her liberal arts education at St. Olaf College. In our conversation, she remarked that liberal arts helps students to not just develop into an expert in a certain field, but to develop skills that are useful for being a good citizen, be that a “citizen of the world” or a good neighbor. In Regent Nordquist’s time as a student, her experiences in the Social Work department were crucial. Its hands-on learning opportunities played a role in her personal development during her undergraduate years and granted her valuable practical insights.
Overall, Regent Nordquist thinks that St. Olaf has a high standard for teaching critical thinking and broadening one’s worldview thanks to diversity on campus, the programs offered and the multidisciplinary approach of liberal arts. During the board meetings, Regent Nordquist especially values the perspectives of students and faculty as they can also convey insights on the campus culture that the board members themselves are not able to observe firsthand. Regent Nordquist emphasized that the ability to directly engage and ask clarifying questions is helpful to her decision-making. She interacts with the college by joining virtual events and enjoys the learning opportunities which, as she says, don’t just help her as a Regent, but as a person.
Regent Nordquist serves on three Board committees: the Audit Committee, the Buildings and Grounds Committee, and the Academic Affairs Committee. She sees that the Board’s and the college’s current priorities are similar to the ones she manages in her position as the CEO and Lead Region President for the Upper Midwest at Wells Fargo - both COVID management and work around diversity, equity, and inclusion are central right now. In her work at Wells Fargo, Regent Nordquist manages 900 branches, focusing mainly on the employees of the company as well as the customers. COVID safety, company culture, and the intersections of the two are key to their success. These topics transfer to the St. Olaf context, but the stakeholders are different: The opinions and needs of students, family, alumni, faculty, and staff, and donors are relevant to decision-making in the institution.
Regent Nordquist considers work around diversity, equity, and inclusion a top priority, with a focus on helping to ensure that higher education becomes accessible and available to everyone, regardless of their background. The two most important factors in this undertaking are the recruitment of students and the management of financial aid. Regent Nordquist sees progress in both these areas for St. Olaf, especially considering that Northfield as a location is not necessarily attractive to students who do not have a historical connection to the college.
When asked about the biggest challenge of the future and the role that both the board and the college could play in tackling it, Regent Nordquist responded that the polarization and divisiveness across the United States are creating significant barriers to communication and progress. But differences in opinion are necessary and welcome in order to find the best possible answers, and this is as true for St. Olaf as it is for businesses and other organizations. Regent Nordquist is hopeful that the features of a liberal arts education at the college will help students to embrace this mindset as well.
What is the Board of Regents?
The St. Olaf Board of Regents is the strategic governing body of the college, responsible for the college’s mission, goals and priorities, academic quality, fiscal integrity, and legal affairs. The Board also appoints and regularly assesses the performance of the college president. The Board does not handle the day-to-day management of the College, but instead focuses on long-term planning and the “big picture” of the college’s overall well-being. The Board’s purpose is to advance the mission of St. Olaf while ensuring its lasting viability.