A craving for culture

For as long as she can remember, Anna Surprenant has been interested in other cultures. Looking back, she believes it was her parents who planted that seed.

“They brought us to different places, exposed us to different cultures,” she said of her parents, Scott and Judy.

Scott is a 1983 SMSU alumnus and former Mustang basketball player. Anna Surprenant’s exposure to the campus was initially through athletics.

“We’d go to every Hawaiian Night game,” she said with a laugh.

Surprenant, a Sleepy Eye native, was one of just 20 students from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system to receive a Mark M. Welter World Citizen Award recently. The $500 award will go toward tuition, fees and books.

Surprenant’s interest in other cultures was further heightened during high school, when she journeyed to Mexico and Guatemala. “I really enjoy working with other cultures. There may be a language barrier, but by working together, there can be communication.”

She remembers vividly when she made her decision to attend SMSU.

“I was in the IL building, by the Culinology kitchens,” she said. “The ambassador had taken me to many academic buildings, and was talking to me about all of the opportunities here. It got me to thinking. You can’t explain some things; it’s a feeling you have. I got a smile on my face, and decided this is where I wanted to be. I’m comfortable here.”

She got a bit outside of her comfort zone a year ago when she represented Sleepy Eye in the Minneapolis Aquatennial Queen of Lakes scholarship program. She joined 49 other women for a week in the Twin Cities and, following a series of interviews, was selected one of two Aquatennial princesses. In that role, she traveled the state as a goodwill ambassador, talking about the benefits of volunteerism and community spirit while promoting the Aquatennial festival and the city of Minneapolis.

“I put on 10,000 miles on my car,” she said. “I really have to say thanks to my parents for the gas and the car,” she said.

During those public appearances, she felt stretched as a person. “My confidence grew; I learned to have faith in myself,” she said. “I learned I have things to share.”

Surprenant was part of the Enactuc (formerly Students in Free Enterprise) club’s contingent at last May’s national competition in which SMSU finished in the top 8, its highest finish ever.

“Anna joined Enactus last semester. That experience was the inspiration that led her to take a leadership role this year in the club. I nominated her for the Mark M. Welter Award because of her strong leadership in the club and because of the impressive worldly background she has,” said Dr. John Gochenouer, Professor of Management and Enactus club advisor.

She is a Speech Communication: Public Relations major, and isn’t quite sure what the future may hold. “I always wanted to go overseas, especially to Africa,” she said. “I love the international flavor at SMSU, that’s what I wanted in a college. I enjoy connecting with people; everyone has a story to tell.”

The outgoing Surprenant likes the environment at SMSU. “It has a small-town feel, and I like the family aspect of it. People are supportive, and help each other,” she said.

She was being wooed to transfer to the University Minnesota following her Aquatennial experience, but she just couldn’t do it. “When I was traveling on weekends for the Aquatennial, I lost a little bit of the connection I had with campus. I couldn’t see leaving SMSU,” she said.