A group of friends who first met at Mount Saint Vincent University in 1993 have rekindled their close ties and found camaraderie and support through regular Zoom catchups they’ve been taking part in since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s a bond that’s bringing both personal and business benefits, and it’s grounded in their connection to MSVU.
“It started early in the pandemic, 15 of us on a Zoom call – all PR grads who went to MSVU together. There were people on the call who hadn’t seen one another since graduation,” said Susan Tate, a member of the group. “It was like talking on steroids, with all the catching up.”
After a couple of virtual meetups, the friends dubbed the group Mistress Minds as a play on the ‘mastermind’ business brainstorming groups that have grown increasingly common in recent years. It’s a fitting name – with the diverse array of experience the friends have gained since completing their Bachelor of Public Relations (BPR) studies at MSVU, they’re well-positioned to provide thoughtful career and general life advice to one another.
“I needed to pick people’s brains on a consistent basis, so we started getting together every second Monday,” says Lynn Coveyduck, who helped to rally the friends to start their virtual meetings and kept them connecting regularly. “We got into a bit of a rhythm where we were like, ‘who’s got a problem that we can focus on for the hour.’ Sometimes we would get the problem in advance and sometimes it would be something someone brought up when we got on the line.”
Another of the friends, Jamie Niessen, says the group came together at just the right time for him. “It was Lynn who thought about convening us as a group to start to talk to each other,” he says. “I was pretty wrapped up in my own blankets in April, and it really felt like a lifeline when she did that. It was good to reconnect with people I know and trust and who I’ve been friends with for 25 years.”
Though some continue to work in communications, other members of the group have branched off from PR since graduating from MSVU and now work in a wide range of professions. The mix of experience has turned out to be highly beneficial, helping to create new personal and business connections between old friends.
In one such instance, Susan was able to provide advice and support to Jamie after the pandemic led to a shift in his recently acquired Island Stoneware pottery business.
“I’ve been working with Jamie on getting his social media up and running and on developing a content calendar and content,” says Susan, who provides digital marketing services through her firm communiTate!.“When the pandemic hit, his business was more reliant on wholesale than retail, so he had to do bit of a pivot. He talked to me because he wanted to up his social media marketing and he also wanted to understand and learn it. He’s done such an amazing job.”
Jamie says he’s been good friends with Susan for years, but it took a bit of time before he realized he could benefit from her professional insight as he considered how to reposition his business. “It was just one of those ridiculous things where I never thought, ‘this is something she could do for me.’ You don’t see the things you could use when you’re not looking for them,” he said, noting he is still fairly new to business ownership.
Jamie adds that the group of friends has also helped one another explore other business ideas, including when he was looking at providing consulting services. “I came to those conversations appreciative to have friends to just talk to and then to see how we could mutually support and help one another with ideas,” he says.
Staying in touch is nothing new for the group, Susan says, with the friends overcoming busy schedules and distant geography over the years to manage in-person Christmas meetups. It was something that came to be known as the ‘PR Girls’. “There’s a core group of around six women and then Jamie and anybody else home on holiday would join in,” she says. “We would have a gift exchange and then we would just catch up for hours or go dancing. We’ve done that every year since 1997.”
Thinking back to how the friends first got to know one another at MSVU all those years ago, Lynn says it happened naturally. “We were in the same classes and sometimes we worked on projects together,” she says. “I think most of us were in co-op, so we had that whole experience of prepping resumes, getting ready for interviews and sitting in that hallway waiting to go in the interview room. Then when people went away for co-op jobs, we sometimes roomed together.”
“We all just really clicked,” Lynn adds. “I think the PR program brought together people who were smart, funny and amazing – people who were hungry to learn. It was such a great environment, and we had such amazing professors.”
In addition to Lynn, Susan and Jamie, other regular attendees of the group’s gatherings include MSVU alumni members Holly McCurdy Dunn and Sharon Ryan, who is credited with first suggesting the name Mistress Minds.
Susan says the friends’ connection remains strong. “They’re the first people I call when I want to bounce an idea off someone or if I’m having a problem and just need to talk it through,” she says. “I can honestly say that I am grateful to Mount Saint Vincent University for bringing me in touch with the kind of people that not only do I need in my life, but who I will want in my life forever.”
Jamie agrees, saying, “The Mount is a really special place for me. My PR degree has served me so well – both from a functional standpoint from what I’ve learned from how practical and strategic and how relevant it still is today, and the group of us have been friends since the very beginning.”
He adds, “This is an extraordinary group of people. Both where they’ve been and what they’ve done since we first met and the people that they are. It’s just lovely. I’m so appreciative and grateful to have these people in my life.”