A Legacy of Learning

Margo Steck Graves was named for her grandmother—which may help explain why she’s such an impressive young woman.

Graves was born Margaret Louise Steck, the namesake of Margaret Preska, who was president of Minnesota State Mankato when her granddaughter was born. Add to that legacy Margo’s mom, Ellen Steck, whose resume includes leadership roles with multinational companies as well as a term as president of the Minnesota State Mankato Foundation.

“It does come with a little bit of pressure,” Graves says of being third in a line of remarkable women. “But it’s a healthy pressure. It’s pushed me to know that I can achieve anything I want to achieve, because the women who have gone before me have made that possible.”

Graves graduated from Minnesota State Mankato in 2011 with degrees in art history and mass media and spent one unfulfilling year working for an online art media company in Arizona. She was thinking about starting graduate school but wasn’t sure what she wanted to study—or how she would pay for it.

Then, when a family friend started talking to her about opportunities in the military, Graves—whose dad was in the Air National Guard—decided to enlist in the Navy, planning to become a mass communications specialist. “I was attracted to the travel,” she says. “Plus, I wanted to be part of a collaborative environment and to be challenged.”

For the past seven years, Graves has accepted one challenge after another—starting with her assignment as an Information Systems Technician. “The only real experience I had with IT before that was a graphic design class,” she laughs. “I won’t say that it came naturally to me, but I ended up figuring it out.”

Graves, who spent several years in Korea (where she married her husband in 2014) and is now an officer based in Washington, says that although her career has veered down an unexpected path, her education at Minnesota State Mankato prepared her well.

“Art history taught me to look at things with a different perspective and to understand the full story—and also, to write,” she says. “And mass media has also been important—that’s where I really learned about critical thinking and writing. Both degrees have been very relatable for me, even in a completely different field.”

Graves credits her mom and grandmother for being great role models and for inspiring her love of history, art and travel. She had visited her “nanny,” as she calls her grandmother, in the United Arab Emirates as a fifth grader. Graves traveled to Italy in high school and went to Finland with her mom and nanny to visit the home of Margaret’s family.

Graves is still planning to go to graduate school at some point in the future. The military, she says, has been a good stepping stone that has provided great experiences. “The success I’ve been able to achieve will assist with all of my future endeavors,” she adds. But eventually, she’d like to get back to art history. Beyond that, she’s not sure.

“My vision for the future is still developing,” she says.

And her grandmother, who was enjoying a cup of coffee and an hour together during a short vacation recently, was in full support of that outlook.

“You are not afraid of trying,” she told Graves. “Which is good.”

Editor’s note: On Oct. 5, Margo Graves gave birth to Elle Graves, marking the fourth generation of strong women in this remarkable family. We look forward to Elle enrolling at Minnesota State Mankato for fall semester, 2037.