FACULTY FOCUS featues Ellen Mrja

EDITOR’S NOTE: Many of you have your favorite classroom mentor – that professor or instructor who made learning fun, who believed in you, who inspired a passion to learn or pursue your dreams. In this issue, the inSIDER introduces Faculty Focus, a new bi-weekly feature spotlighting the human side of Minnesota State Mankato faculty members. Throughout the Spring Semester, we will bring you stories of instructors whose personal interests and ability to connect help make big ideas and real-world thinking a reality. If you have a faculty member you would like to see featured, send an email to csuinfo@mnsu.edu

‘Stay on Your Feet’ Against the Bull May Be a Life Lesson from Mass Media Professor’

By REED CARR
CSU Public Relations Intern

Ellen Mrja, mass media professor at Minnesota State Mankato, once fought a baby bull and won.

While in Mexico, Ellen and her sister saw a demonstration by one of the country’s top bullfighters. When he asked the crowd for volunteers, Ellen stepped into the ring.

“I took one side of the cape and he took the other,” Ellen said. “He told me, ‘Just relax, you’ll be fine.’ He made the bull pass a couple of times and all I could think was, ‘Ellen, stay on your feet. If you can stay on your feet, you’ve got half a chance of living.’ Sure enough, that bull went right through the cape.”

Maybe it’s her spontaneity and willingness to get involved that leaves a lasting impression among Ellen’s students. She loves coffee, she jams to The Beatles and, yes, she believes pineapple belongs on pizza.

And while her perfect day away from work includes reading a good book on her couch with her two Chihuahuas, Jade and Jazzy, she loves her time in front of a class.

“I’ve always known this is what I want to do. I’ve always known it. There are many days that I drive home saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to get paid for doing what I did today.’ It is so much fun.”


‘I hope my students remember me as passionate about their futures.’ – Ellen Mrja


She’s motivated by the energy that is exchanged between her and her students. During her 35 years with the University, Ellen has taught the ins and outs of subjects like media law and public relations, but she has also learned from her students.

“More than anything, my students have taught me that each one of them has a story to tell. I like to take the time to get to know them before we get to subjects in class. I hope my students remember me as passionate about their futures.”

She’d love to live in France where her daughter lives, or even in Italy where the streets are covered in statues from the Renaissance Period. For now, Minnesota State Mankato is fortunate enough to have her in the classroom teaching students about media and showing them how to stay on their feet.


If she wasn’t a teacher, what would Ellen Mrja be doing? 15 Questions With Ellen Mrja

  1. Favorite color? Red
  2. Favorite type of music? Old school
  3. Do you play any instruments? No
  4. Hometown? Hibbing, MN
  5. Did you play sports in high school? No, but I played softball and tennis outside of school.
  6. Would you rather read a book or watch a movie? Read a book.
  7. What is your spirit animal? The bear, because I’m protective of children and small creatures
  8. What word or words best describe you? Passionate, funny
  9. What three things would you need if you were stranded on an island? Coffee, book and I suppose I should take my husband too, huh?
  10. Which superpower do you wish you had? Invisibility
  11. Do you know any second languages? I’m very bad at French. I learned enough Spanish to pass graduate school exams, but I doubt I could read Spanish anymore.
  12. If you could bring one fictional character to life, who or what would you choose? Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
  13. Personal hero/heroine? My mother. She is the kindest woman I’ve ever known.
  14. If you hadn’t become a professor, what do you think you’d be doing? I really think I’d be a reporter In Washington D.C. covering the White House.
  15. What makes you happy? My life makes me happy.

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