All College
Mara Gawarecki (’13)
Mara Gawarecki (’13)

Editor & Publisher, the trade magazine of American news publishing, has issued its 2022 list of the 25 Under 35, honoring the “new generation of publishing leaders” who have made the most of these “difficult times to innovate, perform and stand out from their peers.” Among those included is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, Mara Gawarecki (’13), managing editor for digital media at NFR Communications.

“My manager and one of my company’s co-owners had seen some call for nominations and thought of me,” she recalls. “I was on vacation around Christmas and New Year’s, and they called a meeting. I thought it was going to be for some job or project that we were launching, but instead they said, ‘You’ve been nominated for this honor because we think you’re great — and you won!’”

What makes the award even more remarkable is that, when she graduated from the College nine years ago, Ms. Gawarecki never expected to pursue a career in journalism. “I stumbled into it. I had plans to eventually go to graduate school to study English literature, but I knew I wanted to take some time off, work a bit, save some money first,” she says.

Around that time, a family friend offered her an administrative position — with perhaps some writing, too — at NFR Communications.  “I took the job, and a year later, I started doing some minor writing work for the magazine, as well as some proofreading and helping out with editing,” she continues. “Then it became fulltime.” While working, she also earned that graduate degree, completing a Master’s of Arts program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

At NFR, Ms. Gawarecki produces content for the company’s website, which offers news and commentary on matters related to community banking. She also manages electronic newsletters, webinars, and social media, while writing occasionally for NFR’s monthly printed magazine. “NFR is a commercial company that focuses on community banking,” she explains. “It primarily serves as a resource on how to run a community bank well — such as how to run a bank when you can’t open your doors during a pandemic.”

One of the most challenging parts of her career, Ms. Gawarecki admits, was bringing herself up to speed, in a short time, on the business and lingo of the banking world. “I didn’t have a background in it at all,” she laughs. “I obviously hadn’t taken any financial classes as an undergraduate, and even if I had gone to a school that offered them, I wouldn’t have taken any — I had no interest! So I had to learn how banks work, what’s the terminology, what does this long litany of acronyms mean that gets tossed around like confetti?”

Nonetheless, she finds, the College’s program of Catholic liberal education prepared her well. “At TAC you’re encouraged to ask questions about everything, and nothing is considered off-limits or unworthy of poking at intellectually,” she says. That willingness to explore and to keep learning has allowed her to write authoritatively on a subject that was, at least initially, entirely unfamiliar.

“It certainly wasn’t what I envisioned doing in college, and it wasn’t what I thought of when I thought of journalism,” Ms. Gawarecki tells Editor & Publisher. “But my openness to trying new things and tackling challenges outside of my expertise led me to a rewarding role in a relative niche corner of the news world.”