College of Saint Mary

An Interview with Dr. Maryanne Stevens, President of College of Saint Mary
By Nathan Smith and Sydney Richards, Creighton University MBA students

What is your background and your career progression?

Dr. Stevens grew up in an Air Force family. She was born in Alaska and lived in southern California from age 3 to 15. In the middle of high school, Dr. Stevens moved away from “perfect beach weather” to Omaha, Nebraska. Upon arriving in Omaha, Dr. Stevens lived on Offutt Air Force base with her family and attended Mercy High School. She graduated high school, chose to stay in Omaha, entered the Sisters of Mercy, and became a Catholic nun. She subsequently received a Master’s degree and PhD degree in theology and taught at Creighton University for 10 years. Dr. Stevens became the president of the College of St. Mary in 1996. 

Now that she is being inducted into the Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame on April 17, 2018, she is appreciative of the honor and understands the significance of a woman getting inducted. This significance is reflective of Omaha being historically one-sided when it comes to gender representation, so she is honored to be able to provide a voice for women. Plus, she said the honor has stirred some excitement amongst her staff members, which has been enjoyable for her to experience.

Have you had any ethical mentors in your life?

My mom and dad, the Sisters of Mercy, and various people that I work with now. I’ve had the privilege of being around great people for a great deal of my life.” In regards to how her upbringing and family values played a role into her ethical development, she explained how her father being in the military played a huge part. She said that the military is an honorable profession that imprinted the values of truth telling, duty, honor, country, and being good to others upon her. She also spoke about the heroes from her generation, the 60s and 70s, and how they impacted her. She found John Lennon’s “Imagine” specifically important, and says that she uses the lessons from the song even to this day.

What do you like the most about your work and do you have any insight into the issues young professionals face today?

Dr. Stevens enjoys working in a collegiate environment. She explains, that “in a collegiate environment, you’re always working with a new generation of young people,” and goes on to add that “the energy, the idealism, the values, and the conversations that you have about what I really believe is important, like growing… growing deeper into yourself.” 

Dr. Stevens explained what she thinks are the biggest ethical challenges that face young business professionals today. She said that the biggest challenge that young people face is figuring out “who I am/who I want to be.” She believes that young people put too much focus on chasing money when they should focus on their gifts and strengths. Also, she sees the impact that social media plays into whether or not a young person will be successful, for she sees topics like bullying and sexting causing problems further into someone’s career. The younger population needs to be true to themselves, and she believes that this truth will lead to success.   

What do you like the least about your work?

Dr. Stevens was quick to answer this question by saying she dislikes dealing with personnel matters. She describes ‘personnel matters’ as being “anything to do with an employee who was hired but turned out to be not the right fit… it could be mission fit or it could be job fit.” Dr. Stevens deals with personnel matters approximately 10-20% of her time at work.

Please define ‘ethics’ and tell us what ethics means to you? How do you explain your values through the ones presented by the Ethical Omaha Project?

How you present yourself, and what you say, is who you really are. Ethics is informed by your values and is often times informed by an ethical code of some kind.” She continued the conversation with an example: the mission of the College of St. Mary is a Catholic university dedicated to calling forth potential and fostering leadership amongst women. So, with that being said, part of the ethics for an employee working at College of St. Mary would be that they are ‘pro woman’.  

The Ethical Omaha Project of the Business Ethics Alliance has identified the Omaha business core values to be: accountability, community responsibility, financial vitality, integrity, and moral courage. In regards to accountability, Dr. Stevens said that the school is accountable for ensuring that both the students receive the best education possible and the faculty is properly trained. She said that it was imperative that the faculty and staff be active in the community and that all should help others. Her reflection on the financial vitality of the school is shown by the school’s attention to finances and zero debt. The integrity of the school is shown by the school being what it should be—students should not feel like they are being “faked out.” The moral courage of the school is shown by some of its programs. For example, the single-mother rooming program took moral courage, and the acceptance of 40 undocumented students from Mexico and Guatemala also shows the moral courage of the school. 

Do you think there is a difference between “ethics” in general (personal) and “ethics” in business?

I hope not, because I think it is rooted in who you are. You can’t really divide yourself, you may think you can, but you can’t. You’re only one person. You bring the same person to your personal life as you do to your business life.” As she has progressed in her career and has been given more responsibility, she says that she has become more cognizant of both her personal morals and morals in general. 

Is there a formal ethics program at the College of St. Mary?

We teach ethics, but we do not have a formal ethics program for our employees.” Dr. Stevens explains that the ethical culture at the College of Saint Mary is derived from many different factors. She says that disrespect of any kind is not tolerated at the school. An emphasis on human dignity is imperative to the well-being of the students and faculty, as well as, the success of the school. An example of a policy that reflects the school’s focus on ethics is the Declaration of Civil Discourse, which helps inform all parties of how to properly interact with one another. One example that Dr. Stevens shared about both the importance of community and the accepting of different people in regards to defining the ethical soundness of the college was that students had recently wanted more acceptance in relation to the topic of one’s sexual orientation, and the administration listened to these requests and have set about to create an even more welcoming environment for all people. 

How does it feel talking with us about ethical quandaries you faced? Or talking about them at the college? Is it something you do a lot?

No, I don’t know that it’s something that I do a lot, but I’m certainty willing to reflect on it with people. We do wrestle with things… we try not to ignore things that we know need to be dealt with. We may not come to a quick decision, but we allow them to keep coming up at the table.” Dr. Stevens shared with us an ethical situation that she had been a part of and that she had found relatively easy to handle. The situation involved the topic of homosexuality and how to best handle the topic on campus, for the school’s association with the Catholic Church can make the topic a taboo one. She first made sure that everyone, from the students to the faculty, were on board with the school’s new-found stance of being accepting of someone’s sexual orientation. This acceptance led to students and faculty feeling more comfortable and to more openness for the staff.

At the College of St. Mary, is ethics talked about or just assumed?

We probably don’t use the word ‘ethics’ a lot, but I don’t think it is assumed. We do talk about things, I think they can be some uncomfortable conversations at times, but I don’t think that it is assumed that everybody is as attentive as they need to be to our mission…. Education is an easy place where people can express their values. Working with faculty is not the same as being in a corporation where you have a boss, I think it’s a little easier to talk. And you want people in the classroom to discuss their values and various points of view on all kinds of things.

Dr. Stevens provided many stories that explained the school’s ability to reach out to students and provide them with unique options to aid in their success. One student was working towards her degree and did not have the necessary foundational skills to perform well in her courses, so the school designed a specialized plan for her to gain the foundational knowledge she needed, which led to her graduating and earning her degree. She also spoke about a girl who brought her baby to the school, which led to the school creating a dorm system for single mothers. The program initially had around 8 mothers utilizing the program; however, the program has grown to nearly 35 mothers who are able to benefit from the peer support and accessibility provided by this program.