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Q&A: Michigan Ross Faculty and Staff Share Their Favorite Holiday Traditions and What They’re Thankful For This Year

As the year 2023 comes to a close and the holiday season is officially upon us, members of the Michigan Ross community celebrate in many different ways. To reflect on the past year and learn how our colleagues are spending the holidays with their family and friends, we asked six faculty and staff members to share what they are most thankful for this year and their favorite holiday traditions.


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Denise Coughlin
Senior administrative coordinator, Administrative Core Team

What are you most thankful for this year at work and/or at home?
I am thankful to be finishing my first year working at the university, and I am always thankful for my family and the love we share.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions that you look forward to every year?
I look forward to attending America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in downtown Detroit, which marks the beginning of my holiday season. This has been a tradition of mine since I was a little girl. Additionally, I look forward to Christmas Eve. I am 100% Polish, and my family, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, share a large, traditional Polish feast known as wigilia (pronounced ‘vigilia’). It starts with everyone breaking and sharing oplatek, which is a thin, flavorless wafer, and sharing well wishes for the upcoming new year. The meal includes mushroom soup, kapusta (braised sauerkraut), fish, pierogies, golombki (stuffed cabbage), fresh and smoked Polish sausage, and ham. For dessert, we serve Polish Christmas cookies and pastries such as kolaczki (cream cheese and jam-filled cookies) and nut rolls made from recipes passed down from generation to generation. It is a delicious meal and a wonderful reminder of my family heritage. I am honored to have been selected to host this dinner at my home for the past five years and hopefully for years to come.


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Akshina Banerjee
Assistant professor of marketing

What are you most thankful for this year at work and/or at home?
I am most thankful for my colleagues at Ross, who make me feel at home every day. At home, I am most thankful for my husband, who has supported me in all my endeavors.

What is your favorite part of this time of year?
The changing color of the leaves!

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions that you look forward to every year?
Gathering with family and opening gift boxes!


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Steve Janssens
Program manager, Desai Accelerator, Zell Lurie Institute

What are you most thankful for this year at work and/or at home?
I’m thankful for the team at ZLI and the supportive environment they all nurture collaboratively.

What is your favorite part of this time of year?
I like gathering together with my family and reflecting and communicating how thankful I am for each of them.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions that you look forward to every year?
I look forward to sweetening up the already sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving and decorating our Christmas tree.


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Anna Ruszkiewicz
Human resources director, Ross Human Resources

What are you most thankful for this year at work and/or at home?
This year has been a journey, both personally and professionally. Through it all, I’ve come to appreciate the significance of the two pillars that have sustained me — my family and my faith. It’s not just the abstract idea of ‘family’ and ‘faith’ but the very real, tangible, and personal experiences over this past year that have strengthened these bonds. Late-night conversations, laughter, tears, and moments of quiet reflection make me profoundly thankful for the extraordinary power of genuine connections and unwavering belief.

What is your favorite part of this time of year?
I love the fall colors and the coziness that it brings! Snuggling up with a warm blanket, making chicken and dumplings, listening to Christmas music in November (yes, I’m one of those!), and decorating for the holidays.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions that you look forward to every year?
Every year, we host a gingerbread house decorating party with our friends and their kids. It’s so much fun — we turn our garage into gingerbread house central, and the competition gets more intense each year. We play Left Center Right, which is an absolute blast! Lots of laughs, food, drinks, and memories.


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Kai Petainen
Manager, Tozzi Electronic Business and Finance Center

What are you most thankful for this year at work and/or at home?
I am most thankful for my family. As time goes on and folks pass away, those family moments are precious to me, and I don’t take that time for granted.

A photo of Kai Petainen's sauna on a lake
Kai Petainen’s sauna on a lake

What is your favorite part of this time of year?
My parents were born in Finland, and so I come from a Finnish cultural background that embraces very hot saunas (80-110 Celsius). And so when it gets cooler outside, it’s refreshing to sit in the hot sauna and throw some löyly (steam) and then jump in the snow or into the frozen lake.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions that you look forward to every year?
As we practice Finnish customs, Joulupukki (Santa Claus) does not visit us on Christmas Day, but he visits us on Christmas Eve. And so, each Christmas Eve, we gather around in the living room, and we wait for Joulupukki to arrive at our front door. Usually, Joulupukki will start by throwing snowballs at our house, and then he comes inside and visits us, gives us a few gifts, and speaks to us in Finnish. It’s a short but magical visit.


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Paolo Pasquariello
Professor of finance, area chair of finance

What are you most thankful for this year at work and/or at home?
I am most thankful for having been able to find chances to spend quality time with my family; I have recently become finance area chair, and my personal time has quickly dwindled. On a lighter note, I am very grateful for my home soccer team, SSC Napoli, having triumphed in the Italian Serie A for the first time after 30 years! I had the opportunity to travel to Naples to watch the first home title game with my son, and these are memories that we will cherish for a long time.

What is your favorite part of this time of year?
The pies! I love all the different types of pies people bake for the Thanksgiving holiday. I don’t know how to bake any of them, but I certainly know how to eat them.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions that you look forward to every year?
I enjoy spending the holidays with my wife and kids, eating good food, and watching every possible soccer game I can find on cable or Roku. Is there anything better?

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