St. Thomas Campus News
The scene is almost something out of a movie: Snow covers the St. Thomas campus in December 1981. Four friends huddle around the piano inside the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, the lights around the chapel dimmed.
Then-junior Dan Kantor’s hands move over the piano’s keys, the sound joined by the student voices of Joanne Wagner and Dan Swanson, while classmate John Seiwert plays guitar. The song is “Night of Silence.”
That winter evening was the first time Kantor’s original hymnal composition was heard. Little did any of the four St. Thomas students know it was destined to become a true classic, a song played in dozens of countries, on famed singers’ CDs, and performed by countless orchestras and choirs the world over.
“It was truly magical,” said Wagner – now Joanne Pauley and a St. Thomas employee – of being part of the genesis of a song that has garnered so much fame. “It was so understated because he said [the original recording] was something to give to his parents for Christmas. … Who knew that not too long after it became really, really popular, and now it’s amazingly popular.”
“It was a magical moment,” Kantor said. “We just played the tape over and over again, and it was clear to us – at least me – that this was going to work.”From St. Thomas’ campus to the world
That final product was thanks to some pointed guidance on the original draft from Rob Strusinski. At the time, he led the St. Thomas – St. Catherine Liturgical Choir and Campus Music Ministry program at St. Thomas. Father Jan Michael Joncas was another influencer, who was already famous in the composing world for “On Eagle’s Wings,” which has since gone on to become one of the more famous hymns in the world.
Kantor’s second attempt yielded the beautiful product so many know today, a quodlibet, a partner song that can be sung simultaneously with another song, in this case “Silent Night.”
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh. This is a work of genius,” said Joncas, who is now St. Thomas’ artist-in-residence after many years of teaching here. “This particular form is very hard to write. It’s a counter melody that stands on its own and is perfectly, legitimately sung without any reference to another melody. When that other melody is brought in and they play against each other, that is just glory.”
Whether paired or on its own, “Night of Silence” has journeyed from that magical night in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas around the world.
“It’s gone beyond Catholic liturgical music,” Kantor said. “For that I’m grateful.”
Please remember in your prayers Michael Plumb, father of Richard Plumb, executive vice president and provost of St. Thomas.
Michael, 85, died Sunday, December 10, while in hospice care near his home in the suburban Syracuse, N.Y., area. He also is survived by another son and two daughters, 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. His wife of 63 years, Joan, preceded him in death in 2015.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Halle Mason’s eyes light up when she talks about Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. The trio of fictional characters is from one of her favorite novels – Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” a beloved story that has resonated with romantics for more than two centuries and spawned numerous adaptations. It’s also the inspiration for Mason’s popular blog-turned-Instagram account – Looking for Mr. Darcy – a place where the Nebraska native takes Austen’s characters and applies them to the 21st century world of dating, much to the delight of her nearly 7,000 followers.
A senior majoring in English with a renaissance program minor, Mason recently won the International Virginia Woolf Society’s undergraduate essay prize for her piece, “A Modern Gothic: Septimus Smith Haunts the Streets of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway,’” that she originally wrote for Professor Emily James’ fourth-year course on the Metropolitan Mind.
The Newsroom caught up with Mason to talk favorite words, romantic comedies and connecting with her fans.
What place on campus do you like to spend time?
The fourth floor of the library where all the 19th century literature is. It’s all in four rows and it’s all up there. I like to go there and visit the books.
In one description of Looking for Mr. Darcy, you say it has the tone of Carrie Bradshaw, but the content is Jane Austen. Tell me more.
I grew up watching shows like “Friends” and “Will & Grace.” I’ve always loved “Sex and the City” and rom-coms. I feel like the whole premise of Looking for Mr. Darcy is romantic comedies. That’s kind of where it started, but then it adapted into Austen where the fantasy is associated with watching rom-coms all the time and reading Jane Austen novels all the time. And the way in which that fantasy starts to infiltrate your reality and affect your perception of reality and, in turn, affects your expectations out of the people that you date and what you expect your love life to look like. So I was really interested in exploring that with the blog. I thought “Sex and the City” – Carrie Bradshaw is such a fascinating love writer and I’ve always identified really strongly with her perspective on things. I know she’s a fictional character, but that’s kind of the whole thing – allowing fictional characters to infiltrate your reality and affect you in a really personal deep level. I’ve always loved the tone. I feel like it really fits into my audience level.
I get a lot of girls like ages 16 to mid-20s from all over the world who reach out on Facebook. It’s a really broad audience and I think that that tone really sits well with that audience. You don’t take it too seriously, but it’s like you’re talking to your best friend over cosmos at a bar or over coffee.
When your fans reach out to you, is there a common question they ask?
A lot of it is dating advice, which I don’t fully feel equipped to give. Especially with very complicated situations. Some people reach out and they just want book recommendations. I was very open with the blog and I was open with a lot of my personal dating life, so basically any guy who goes on a date with me is going to end up on the blog at some point.
Is that a disclaimer you throw out there when going on a first date?
Yeah, I have let most of them know that in advance. My audience has been very attached to certain stories. I get messages like, “Hey! So has anything happened with you and that guy?” and I’m like, no. … I feel like my audience is more invested in those relationships than I am at some points.
Do you have a favorite word?
Gamophobia. It’s the fear of commitment – I’ve researched it a lot. I really got into the psychology behind romantic comedies and there’s also this whole psychological study out of Germany where they have a word for the disillusionment we feel between our reality and our fantasy – weltschmerz. I wrote an entire piece on it. Those are two of my favorite words because they’re two big study words for me. They’re just rife with research.
I read you teach yoga. Do you have a favorite pose?
I was. I’m not currently teaching, but yes. I trained with CorePower my freshman year of college. I love crow. So, it’s like you’re balancing with your knees on your triceps. It’s an arm balance, but it’s nice just to kind of get off your feet for a little bit.
The image of a crow seems to go nicely with your love of Gothic literature!
It is Gothic actually! Very Edgar Allan Poe yoga.
You said you’re a fan of romantic comedies. What modern day rom-com is underrated?
I’m a sucker for Hallmark Christmas movies. I would say an underrated rom-com that I watch frequently is “The Decoy Bride.” It’s super obscure. It’s about a writer who goes to the island of Hegg. It’s bizarre and low-budget, but I just love it.
What was the last thing you ordered online?
A copy of Carmen Machado’s “My Body and Other Parties” from Graywolf Press. I have a copy for myself that I had signed by Carmen at a Graywolf event. My best friend’s birthday is next week, and I ordered her a copy.
During high school, what did your fellow students think you’d end up doing for a career?
People used to tell me that the career they saw me in when I grew up was Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada.” My original plan coming into college was to become an editor. I worked as an intern and freelance writer for both Omaha Magazine and then Minnesota Monthly. I loved it. I love that kind of work and I love those magazines and I love publishing as an industry. I would love to become a lit agent or something like that in the future. That’s not really in the cards right now, but maybe down the road.
The University of St. Thomas English Department has a new master’s program, Creative Writing and Publishing.
Fresh off the unveiling of a new Professional Writing Emphasis track in its undergraduate major, the department is adding its new master’s degree with the goal of fulfilling creative writers’ need to be trained in publishing. The program also will look to leverage the Twin Cities’ robust publishing infrastructure, which Publishing Trendsetter called “the publishing capital of the Midwest.”
“Everybody is excited by this growth and development. It’s always empowering when you can take your vision for the future and make it manifest,” said Associate Professor Matthew Batt, who helped guide the program’s development over the past five years. “It’s an exciting time for all the programs in the graduate English Department.”
The MA program in Creative Writing and Publishing is focused on intensive practice in the craft of creative writing, as well as training in the theory and practice of publishing. In addition to participating in poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction workshops, students have the opportunity to take courses in literature, pedagogy and cultural studies. Classes are capped at 14 students, which should allow for lively classroom engagement and personalized attention.
Students also will tap into the area’s publishing scene, building on faculty members’ relationships to some of the region’s best publishers.
“A lot of people are realizing this is the golden age for small, independent presses. … We’re hoping to cultivate a relationship with them and work with some of the best presses in America that just happen to be in the Twin Cities,” Batt said.
In emphasizing publishing to support creative writing master’s students, St. Thomas is filling a major void in the Midwest.
“There are fewer than five programs nationwide that focus directly on publishing,” Batt said. “Ours is intended to be a degree for creative writers who want to study publishing along the way.”
Enrollment is open for students looking to begin in the fall, and a summer publishing institute will begin this year and be a cornerstone of the program in the future.
“We’re hoping to engage current students, prospective students and community members nationwide,” Batt said. “We want to do something that isn’t really being done in the Midwest, despite the fact we have this powerhouse of publishing forces in the Twin Cities.”
Updated Dec. 6
Events leading up to Super Bowl LII begin Jan. 26, and the Office of Public Safety would like to inform the St. Thomas community that plans are underway for potential impacts to our campuses. As additional updates become available, they will be added to this page.
Our Minneapolis campus in particular will see significant impacts. Preparations have been underway for months and have involved the NFL, the City of Minneapolis Public Works, Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, Super Bowl Host Committee, Minneapolis Police Department, Department of Homeland Security, Minneapolis Office of Emergency Management and others. As many as 1 million visitors and 10,000 volunteers are expected during the Super Bowl events. The majority of the visitors are expected to be in town Thursday, Feb. 1-Sunday, Feb. 4.Super Bowl LII is not a one-day event.
Super Bowl Live is 10-day series of events running Jan. 26-Feb. 4.
Activities including free concerts, national media broadcasts, ice sculptures and food will take place on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. Events will be held in the evenings beginning at 4 p.m. during weekdays and all day on weekends. During this time, streets from 12th Street to Sixth Street will be reduced to two lanes where they cross Nicollet Mall. Eighth Street from Marquette Avenue to LaSalle Avenue will be closed from Jan. 19-Feb. 7.
The main impact for our Minneapolis campus will be along its northeastern border. The Minneapolis Police Department will have officers along LaSalle Avenue. Intersections in the area will have police and National Guard presence.Think now about how and when you access the Minneapolis campus.
Plan for increased auto and pedestrian traffic during this week.Avoid scheduling events on the Minneapolis campus.
Departments and individuals planning meetings and events on the Minneapolis campus are encouraged to avoid scheduling them during the Super Bowl activities to avoid operational issues.Plan for changes to parking and shuttles.
The surface parking lot near the School of law (Lot 3) has been rented by the NFL and will not be available Jan 26-Feb. 4. Alternative parking for up to 300 vehicles will be available in the Harmon Ramp at the corner of 11th Street and Harmon Place.
Members of the community who work and attend class on our Minneapolis campus are encouraged to carpool. Information about using public transit is available on the Super Bowl website.
Public Safety will evaluate the traffic conditions between St. Paul and Minneapolis for shuttle use. Shuttle users are asked to plan for delays due to increased traffic in the area. Visit the Shuttle Tracker on OneStThomas.Classes will go on as scheduled.
The deans of each of our colleges and schools are having ongoing discussions about the impact Super Bowl activities could have on campus operations. At this time, all classes will go on as scheduled in their assigned classrooms in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Students are asked to stay in contact with professors for any changes to class locations.See something? Say something.
Safety of our campuses and community are the top priority. Informed, alert communities play a critical role in keeping our campus safe. Suspicious activity is any observed behavior that could indicate criminal activity. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Unusual items or situations: a person wandering the halls, not on the main skyway; a package or luggage is unattended; a window or door is open that is usually closed; or other out-of-the-ordinary situations.
- Eliciting information: A person questions individuals at a level beyond curiosity about a building’s purpose, operations, security procedures and/or personnel, shift changes, etc.
- Observation/surveillance: Someone pays unusual attention to buildings beyond a casual or professional interest. This includes extended loitering without explanation, particularly in concealed locations.
Public Safety urges you to be proactive and alert to help prevent crime and create a safer community. To report suspicious activity, contact Public Safety at (651) 962-5100 or for emergencies, (651) 962-5555. Describe specifically what you observed, including:
- Who or what you saw;
- When you saw it;
- Where it occurred;
- Why it’s suspicious;
- Last known direction of travel
To request an escort, call Public Safety dispatch at (651) 962-5100.
Martha McCarthy Krueger and Emily Pritchard met like many first-year college students – in the residence halls. In 2007, they both moved in early to Dowling Hall – Krueger to be part of the Tommie Ambassador program and Pritchard to play on the volleyball team.
The two laughed when recalling their first St. Thomas encounter.
“I moved into this dark basement and there was no one around. About an hour later I saw someone down the hall and virtually ran to go introduce myself!” Krueger ’11 said.
Pritchard ’11 added: “I think what also clicked is that we were both athletes and from out of state. Our floor had a lot of people from out of state, too. We were there on the weekends. We didn’t have a lot of family around. We made our group of friends faster.”
Fast forward a few years to their final semester at St. Thomas when the two entrepreneurship majors launched The Social Lights, a social media marketing agency. A lot of attention was paid to their startup story and rightly so – they started a business while in college, during a recession and without any outside investors.
Seven years later and The Social Lights has shed that startup label. With more than two dozen employees who are as passionate about social media as Pritchard and Krueger, the Minneapolis-based company has worked with brands that have anywhere from 5,000 to more than 190 million social media followers. Taking on accounts of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies, The Social Lights shows no signs of slowing down. Since 2016, the company has more than doubled its revenue and its staff has grown 35 percent.
“When it comes to social it’s changing so fast, it’s a very even playing field,” Pritchard said recently from The Social Lights’ bright and welcoming office. “We feel the opportunity is just as much ours as it is an agency’s that’s been around for 100 years, if not more so because we have figured out a new model that is agile. What we can take from being founders and entrepreneurs and starting a company is that mindset to always be nimble, always be innovating, always be breaking things and making it better; that’s the part of the startup story that’s in our DNA and we get to that carry forward.”
The Newsroom caught up with Pritchard and Krueger to find out how their business has evolved over the past seven years and what’s in store for the future.
What are some of the changes The Social Lights has gone through since you founded the company during your last semester at St. Thomas in 2011?
Krueger: “I remember in 2013 being at the Forbes Under 30 Summit and I heard the Rent the Runway founder talk about her business. It’s a global company, so it’s logistically very challenging. She reflected back and said, ‘If I had any idea how hard this would be to pull off, I never would’ve started building it. But I’m really glad that I didn’t know, because here I am.’
“Similarly, if we knew how difficult it would be to develop and scale an agency, we might not have taken that initial leap. Looking back, each six-month period could be defined as a different chapter in the book or a different challenge or opportunity. Agency life, social media and startups – they all inherently have a lot of highs and lows. It’s like riding a roller coaster. We’re really proud of navigating all of the change and recognize that we’re still navigating as we continue to grow. We have 25 full-time employees now. In 2011, it was just the two of us. There have been many iterations along the way.”
Pritchard: “I don’t think starting a business out of college is for everybody. We’ve had a lot of friends who went into the work world who are now entrepreneurs or were entrepreneurs and decided that it wasn’t for them. You have to figure out the right path for you. I think we are both called to be entrepreneurs – it’s in our blood. The last seven years have taught us that we’re meant to be doing this. You go through a lot of changes in your 20s. It’s a crazy decade and your friends are going through changes, too. I think we’ve both struggled with relating as an entrepreneur to some other people who aren’t entrepreneurs. They don’t get why you bring things home with you and never really shut off. You have to figure out your own way to deal with that. I surrounded myself with other entrepreneurs to have a support network. St. Thomas has been huge in that respect. Our St. Thomas network has been extremely valuable to us.”
Why did you decide to stay business partners and settle in the Twin Cities after graduation?
Pritchard: “We were having a lot of fun with it. That’s something our professors always challenged us on, ‘Is this still fun? Do you guys still want to do it?’ That was always our gut check – ‘Do we still want to do this?’ The answer was always yes. The opportunity is still there and there’s a lot of interest.
“It also comes back to our value systems. We are both from family businesses, we both have similar foundations of what it takes to be successful. Both being athletes, we have the drive and the perseverance to keep going.”
What makes The Social Lights different from other marketing agencies?
Pritchard: “Culture is something we talk about a lot at The Social Lights. But we don’t just talk about it, we live it and our team helps us form it. A couple years ago, Martha and I went through an exercise as the business was growing beyond the two of us – to set what the vision was and what the core values of our organization were. But we don’t write our core values on the wall. We set up all our processes and procedures internally to demonstrate that that’s who we are and that’s how we do what we do.
“In terms of what sets The Social Lights apart from other agencies, in particular in the advertising and marketing world, is that we are social only. We are social first. That has been in our DNA since the beginning. That’s been a differentiator because there’s been a lot more emphasis put on specialty and specialization within marketing, especially as it becomes more segmented. We need to be really specific in what we focus on, but go very deep and very thorough with the services we provide. We see social as the future. The future is here, but it’s constantly evolving. We’re able to evolve with it and help our clients evolve, too, which is unique. We’re not just tacking it on or selling them something else along with all the other things we do. That’s why we are the trusted partner when it comes to helping our clients prepare for the future.”
I hear you’re involved with the Super Bowl. What can you tell us about what you’ll be doing?
Pritchard: “We are working with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee to help them power a social media command center for the Super Bowl. We’re helping them structure how to manage the flow of conversation on social to ensure that Minnesota residents and global international visitors alike have a positive experience here in the Bold North.”
If you could give your college-aged selves advice, what would it be?
Pritchard: “Don’t take yourself so seriously, because then that puts all the pressure on you to make sure you don’t fail. They talk about entrepreneurs being scared of failure. I think that’s crept up sometimes in our business, but then we’ve always caught each other and shifted the mindset to be opportunity. Risk is OK. We’re comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s when we know we’re doing something right.”
Krueger: “Be more confident. Own it. It was hard that last semester when people would say, ‘What are you doing after graduation?’ I’d tell them we’re starting a company. And they’d say, ‘Oh, OK.’ There’s a lot of pushback and people thinking they’re steering you in a better direction. People saying we’re in a recession, you’ve never done this before, social media is a fad, the list goes on. There were a lot of naysayers and some days you would let it get to you. The advice I’d give myself would be to own it. It’s your decision. That’s what you’re doing with your life. Be confident in that decision because it’s going to be OK.”
What’s the future look like for The Social Lights?
Krueger: “The future is very bright. There’s a lot of growth opportunities in our future. We know there are global companies that need what we do. For the ones that align with our core values and what we are trying to do, we want to help them. We also want to keep employing talented people because it’s so gratifying for us when people come here and say, ‘I love working here. I’m able to be client-facing, and publish my content and ads on brand pages for some of the world’s largest brands.’ We like being able to create jobs that are different than what’s out in the marketplace and take pride in the work we’re doing for our clients. At this stage, we’ve gotten over the startup thing and now we’re business owners and consultants ready for the next growth phase.”
St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan will hold office hours 2-4 p.m. in St. Paul on Tuesday, Dec. 12, in Room 100, Aquinas Hall, and in Minneapolis 2-4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, in Room 289, Terrence Murphy Hall.
Appointments are available on a first-come, first-served basis. To schedule a 15-minute appointment with President Sullivan, please call Karen Hennes, (651) 962-6500.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the effect of the Anderson Student Center (ASC) is the widening eyes of a first-time visitor. Or maybe it’s the head shake and smile of an alum standing in the atrium during convo hour, comparing the building’s buzz to the lack of anything like it during his own college days. Or maybe it’s the adjectives that get thrown around talking when talked about the ASC: awesome, beautiful, great.
However it’s best described, the ASC – since it opened its doors in 2012 – has become an integral part of the St. Thomas landscape, a crown jewel in the center of campus, both physically and in spirit.
“It’s the heart of campus. It brings so much energy and life,” said Jenna Johnson, a 2013 alum who now works in alumni relations. “It’s one of the best things to ever happen to St. Thomas.”
Johnson is one of the alumni who were at St. Thomas before, during and after construction of the ASC. These alumni provide a good personal barometer for the changes the building brought to the school. In some ways those developments are large and obvious (225,000 square feet is quite a bit of change), and in other ways more subtle. Many are centered around the cultural shift that comes from St. Thomas having a true, main hub on campus.
“There’s a common term that’s thrown around, and that is that student centers are the living rooms of campus. That’s a big piece of what the ASC does: It provides a comfortable place that’s really the heart and soul of the university,” said Ed Kim, assistant director of campus life, whose office is in the ASC. “There’s a lot of benefit for having a space like that, and it allows for so many wonderful, powerful interactions.”
As ASC director David Lemon is quick to point out, a building doesn’t bring life to campus; people do. However, having a building where so much of that life is centered offers a visceral view into how much goes on at St. Thomas every day.
“It was really surprising when I was a freshman seeing how many people were in here all the time,” said Herbie Li, a junior accounting major who works at the ASC’s main desk. “It’s basically a one-stop shop for everything. … This place can really help expand your college experience in a lot of different ways.”
Lemon said the ASC averages about 10,000 visitors per day throughout the year, a number that reflects the vast range of reasons to come to the building: to eat; meet with friends, classmates, faculty or staff; study; attend a social or club event; bowl, play video games or play pingpong; buy clothes at the Tommie Shop; or create something in the MakerSpace. For more and more Tommies every year, the ASC is where they spend the bulk of their time on campus outside the classroom. As that has become the case, the ASC in has helped rewire the way Tommies think about coming together.
“When people use that term ‘home’ and think about campus, they’re not thinking about their residence hall necessarily. It’s where they spend their downtime. That’s the student center, that’s the power and draw of it,” Kim said. “That’s the home away from home, where you let your guard down to an extent and connect with other people. It’s a powerful thing.”
Student clubs and St. Thomas Activities and Recreation (STAR) have taken advantage of the facility’s gathering power to pull together Tommies for all kinds of reasons: STAR hosts events there every Thursday, Friday and Saturday throughout the school year, and the many, many meeting rooms have become a destination for clubs and study groups.
“It’s a great, neutral, nonacademic place to hang out,” senior Erin Engstran said.
The idea of a neutral place goes a long way in a healthy higher education setting, a place where students, faculty and staff all mingle on equal footing.
“We see more and more staff and faculty members having informal meetings in the atrium, which is nice because students get to see them in a setting that’s not them behind a desk. It makes everyone more accessible,” Lemon said.
Designed that way
With so many services and functions within the ASC, it’s almost easy to take for granted the intentionality that goes into making everything feel like it belongs under the same roof. In pointing out why it has become her favorite place to study, Engstran cited the gorgeous natural light throughout the building, which is indicative of the open design plan that has become such a hallmark element of the ASC as a whole, with light, sights and sounds everywhere.
“It definitely does help [the culture of campus]. Pretty much everything is either visible or audible,” Lemon said. “It’s an open, vibrant space. You can see the activity here, and our traffic is never hidden. It’s here and you can feel it.”
Much of that feel is possible because the ASC was designed from scratch; most colleges or universities have to renovate or build off an existing student center or union.
“We got to build something from the ground up, something really unique. Our open floor plan, open concept, you don’t see in a lot of other buildings because it wasn’t the style. … Having a five-year-old building feels different than other campuses, but it has afforded us a lot of opportunities of what we can do,” Lemon said. “When you look at it from the outside, with the [hallmark St. Thomas] Mankato-Kasota stone, it fits in. But when you come inside it has a perfect balance of very modern, clean, new appearance, but it doesn’t feel like we’re in some 22nd century future. It has a contemporary feel, it feels comfortable. People come in and, for the most part, are always impressed.”
Impressive is a word that comes up often in Johnson’s interactions with alumni returning to campus, and it’s one that’s used readily during the many community events the ASC hosts. James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall has a capacity for nearly 1,000 seated people. The ASC can accommodate everything from two people meeting for coffee at The Loft, to wedding receptions, to town hall discussions hosted by Congresswomen, to the monthly First Friday Speaker Series.
“It’s kind of the missing puzzle piece that St. Thomas needed. St. Thomas has great academics, great classroom facilities, but didn’t have that central location for everyone to meet. Now we do,” Johnson said. “And not just students, but alums, prospective students. We hold camps there. The community can use those resources too.”
Pulling all those elements together, it’s easy to see why it can be difficult to find the best way to describe the ASC; it is so many different things to so many different people. The main commonality, though, seems to be that the ASC is now a part of St. Thomas, and the entire community is better off because of it.
“I feel fortunate to have something like this on our campus,” Li said. “I can’t imagine it not being here.”
St. Thomas community members gathered Saturday, Nov. 25, at the Mayflower Pub in London to celebrate Thanksgiving. Those gathered included current study abroad students, U.K.-based alumni and London Business Semester program directors.
A group of London alumni hosted the celebration, with sponsorship from St. Thomas Office of Global Learning and Strategy. Alumni said they were grateful to meet current students and to feel more connected to their alma mater.
“The Thanksgiving dinner was very special; I really felt connected again as a Tommie, even from this far away,” Mavreen Ananura-Kabagambe ’08, ’11 MBA said. “It was fun to hear about the students’ exciting study abroad experiences and I felt very proud of St. Thomas’ international spirit, especially as a former international student myself. I immediately bragged to my family in the U.S. after telling them about my ‘London UST Thanksgiving.’”
“Some of us stayed after dinner to chat and talk about the things we love, about our time at St. Thomas or our lives here and in Minnesota,” said Maria Eugenia Sestini ’05. “There is a strong sense of community that makes St. Thomas such a unique university, and I definitely left the Mayflower feeling grateful!”
Attendees also took the opportunity to reflect on life in London.
“I was surprised with how much of a global city London is,” said current LBS student Matthew Deakin. “Every morning on the tube I am taken back that there are people from all over the world speaking in different languages to one another, making this city so diverse and unique.”
Throughout 2018, Mark Weeks ’92 and Kate Jeter ’00 will look to increase engagement with other U.K. and European-based alumni. They plan to partner with the university to collaborate and network with students spending time in their home country.
“The Tommie network of alumni can be a support system for new arrivals as well as for those of us that have made London our home,” Jeter said.
Expanding the St. Thomas global network is a priority for both the university and Senior International Officer Tim Lewis.
“The world is shrinking and there are Tommies across the globe. International Tommies are forming alumni groups, with London leading the way,” Lewis said. “We want to reach out to any of you alumni living outside the United States. If you would like to join our international alumni network, just email Sam Boyd, Office of Global Learning and Strategy, at email@example.com.”
Juniors Alice Ready and Emma Rinn trekked through the tall prairie grass alongside Dr. Paul Lorah, carrying what appeared to be hefty plastic suitcases. It was a warm and sunny summer day, if a little overcast – a perfect day for hikers and picnickers to enjoy the Weaver Dunes Preserve.
The preserve sprawls across 819 acres in Wabasha County, near Kellogg, Minnesota. Just west of the Mississippi River, the Weaver Dunes Preserve was acquired by The Nature Conservancy in 1980 and features sand dunes that reach up to 30 feet.
Ready and Rinn unpacked their bags, assembled their equipment and looked skyward. With well-developed dexterity, they began to fly their drones.
Throughout the summer, Ready and Rinn returned several times to fly a pair of drones. They are researching how aerial images can best be used to gather data and support the work of the Minnesota Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit that protects ecologically important lands and waters, such as the Weaver Dunes Preserve.
“They’re in a cool position to do work that other people aren’t doing,” said Lorah, associate professor in the Geography and Environmental Studies Department in the College of Arts and Sciences and the pair’s mentor.
Ready and Rinn also were setting a foundation for future geography and environmental studies students: If all goes according to plan, St. Thomas students will continue to provide information to The Nature Conservancy for many years to come.Finding community
Ready and Rinn, of La Crescent and Northfield, Minnesota, respectively, connected with Lorah when they joined the Sustainability Living Learning Community (LLC) during its first year on campus.
Through this community (there are nine total) first-year students live together in Dowling or Brady Hall and explore sustainable human environment systems through multidisciplinary courses. They develop skills necessary to write grants, conduct research and effectively engage with community partners on projects that promote both environmental and social well-being.
Both Ready and Rinn were interested in environmental issues and found the learning community invaluable in meeting others with similar interests, which was one of Rinn’s goals in joining.
“I met Alice, and we work really well together,” she said.
Ready added that having a close relationship with Lorah, as well as community partners such as The Nature Conservancy, helped her grow. She moved from a general interest in the environment to deciding on a major and having a realistic sense of what work she could do after graduating.
“Having close relationships with the community partner, you can see what actual professionals are doing,” Ready said. “That’s what I’m getting the most: actual real-world experience.”
“A lot of it is good networking,” Rinn added. “You really feel like you’re an adult when you’re doing this, because they treat you like a peer.”Learning drone technology
Rinn and Ready approached Lorah after their first year about research opportunities and applied for St. Thomas-funded Sustainability Scholars Grants, which allowed them to do their own research. Using two drones, Rinn and Ready used technology in ways that Lorah described as “groundbreaking” because of a lack of literature on drone techniques.
Rinn’s focus is on best practices for flying the drones, setting a flight path while the drone takes photos along the way. Those images then are stitched together. A lot has to be taken into account during this process, and Rinn and Ready even had to become licensed through the Federal Aviation Administration to fly the drones.
“We designed study areas and discovered the best way to take a picture, at what speed, at what height for the best resolution, the best options,” Rinn said.
A lot of that meant just good, old-fashioned trial and error.
“The drones and software we used were both relatively new, so we made three mistakes for everything we learned, but we improved each week, which is great,” Lorah said.
One example of their work was trying to render 3-D images of trees in order to estimate their volume. Why? Currently, large corporations can pay for carbon credits; they invest in a large area of land to negate their carbon emissions. Rinn and Ready have theorized if they can calculate the volume of a tree, carbon credits can be estimated for a smaller plot of land. That would allow smaller companies, such as coffee shops, opportunities that are currently too expensive to consider.
Meanwhile, Ready mapped out a flight path several times over the summer so students can see, over time, how an area changes after a prairie burn, which will tell The Nature Conservancy how effective that process is. To maintain the prairie, the preserve has been divided into several units, each of which is burned every four years or so. The fire helps cycle nutrients, reduces invasive plants, maintains grasslands for wildlife and benefits pollinators.
“Each year we’re going to have insights into how these landscapes are recovering,” Lorah said.
Once they have their respected parts perfected, Rinn and Ready will create a lesson plan Lorah can use for future first-year students. St. Thomas students will fly the same study areas year after year to analyze landscape changes and the effectiveness of conservation efforts.Changing the world
Lorah emphasized the Geography Department tries to make sure its majors do interesting research projects. This project is representative of that goal, with its combination of a high-quality community partner, learning new technology and a chance to make an immediate and lasting impact.
“We’re giving them the skills, background knowledge and insights to make a difference now as undergrads,” Lorah said. “They’re going to make a difference for the conservancy.”
As two students who entered the field because of a love of the environment, it’s no surprise having an impact is one of the perks of Ready and Rinn’s work.
“I want to be in a career where I make a difference,” Ready said. “For me, that comes out through environmental studies and environmental issues.”
“I want to change the world,” Rinn said. “If we can figure out this mapping volume, that would be groundbreaking, because no one else is doing this. That might just turn into my career.”
Read more from St. Thomas magazine.
With a stated goal of raising $200 million for scholarship by 2025, St. Thomas’ ambitions for supporting its students is taking a major step forward.
The president’s brown bag on Wednesday addressed just that, with Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Erik Thurman speaking on “Harnessing the Power of Philanthropy and the Tommie Network.”
Looking to “stand on the shoulders of giants” from St. Thomas’ long history of philanthropy support, Thurman laid out the university’s goals in cultivating future support and increasing the engagement level of alumni with their alma mater.
St. Thomas’ funding – and philanthropy – priorities are rooted in the strategic plan, St. Thomas 2020. The five specific areas of funding priority are:
- Scholarships and student achievement: endowed scholarships; Veterans Resource Center; and Center for Student Achievement;
- Catholic identity and mission: Center for Common Good; chapel expansion and renovation; Dougherty Family College; and School of Education;
- Science, technology, engineering and math: a new building; programs and faculty; and interdisciplinary opportunities;
- Arts, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship: a new building; programs and faculty; and interdisciplinary opportunities;
- Health and wellness: new platforms for expanding health and wellness.
Scholarships and student achievement are priority one within those areas of focus, including a goal of doubling St. Thomas’ $150 million scholarship endowment by 2025. A step toward that started this year with the inaugural Week of Giving, which included Tommie Give Day (which raised more than $550,000 from 1,518 donors in its third year); Archbishop John Ireland Dinner; and the Priority One announcement event, highlighted by a $50 million gift from the GHR Foundation to endow the GHR Scholars program.
Tommie Give Day in particular fits in with St. Thomas’ desire to cultivate more alumni engagement: 54 percent of alumni agreed or strongly agreed St. Thomas does not need their financial support, which is a major departure from the reality of the university’s financial standing alongside other private schools.
In engaging more with alumni, St. Thomas will also focus beyond philanthropy in helping create a meaningful experience for its 105,000 alums. That plan includes expanding opportunities for alumni to act as ambassadors who encourage students to attend St. Thomas, and career and networking opportunities to engage with one another and current students.
During Madie Ley’s first year at St. Thomas, she spent J-Term in London taking Introduction to Art History. She immersed herself in the rich culture of England’s capital city studying many of its famous museums, contemporary art galleries and significant architectural sites. The trip inspired Ley to become an art history major.
“As somebody who grew up outside the Twin Cities,” explained Ley, who is from Elk River, “being in St. Paul for a few months and then going to London, I discovered there’s so much more to the world.”
Art inspired Ley again last summer, this time while taking a Native American Art History class from Adjunct Professor Jill Ahlberg Yohe, an assistant curator of Native American art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Following the class, Ley interned at the museum and worked with Yohe on research related to the curation of Native American art. Ley, a senior, is continuing this research at St. Thomas thanks to a Collaborative Inquiry Grant, with Art History Professor Jayme Yahr serving as her mentor.
“I’ve been interested in recent events in the world of curating Native American art and looking at the shift of museums pulling from their collections and putting on shows,” said Ley, who is hoping to present her findings in April at a conference at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. “There’s this shift to collaborate with local communities to address issues in museums that originated from a European elitist way of looking at things, which has led to problematic ways of showing non-European and non-Western art. I’m looking at the best ways to facilitate better cultural representation.”Community collaboration and exhibition
In her research, Ley is examining the way three different venues – Minneapolis Institute of Art, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C., and the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, British Columbia – display Native American art and the community collaboration that goes with their exhibitions.
“Throughout the past few decades, museums have played a more active role in saying, ‘We want to separate from this historical ideology of having an exotifying or primitivizing perspective on non-Westerners,” she said. “[Collaboration] can take a variety of forms including advisory boards in museums.”
Ley said one of her case studies focuses on the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s upcoming exhibition on Native American women artists; a lot of the preparation for the exhibition has been working with the artists themselves and descendants of the artists.
“That collaboration is leading to an inclusive and, I think, exciting exhibition,” Ley said.
Ley also noted the NMAI’s strong commitment to collaboration and visitor engagement. Part of the Smithsonian, the NMAI’s flagship museum opened in 2004 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
“That’s particularly interesting for my research because it’s the national representation of American Indian art,” she said. “Its opening was a watershed moment for people who have been working for representation for a long time. Since then, it’s been 100 percent collaborative and trying to engage with visitors as much as possible. “
In her research, Ley also highlights the unique way Canada’s U’mista Cultural Centre displays artifacts and the fact it is run entirely by indigenous people.
“They have done some methods of displaying that are counter to a Western-centric or Europe-centric-type of museum,” Ley said. “Keeping objects outside of glass cases because it ties to indigenous ways of understanding that these objects should be able to breathe – they’re not scientific specimens. Showing objects in the order they would emerge during the potlatch ceremony instead of just these are masks, these are shirts, etc.”Faculty collaboration, too
Yahr said through her research, Ley is thinking through important questions and tackling challenging issues museums face.
“She’ll be able to give three solid and concrete examples on ways you can collaborate from different perspectives. … This is really key to the conversation that’s happening globally,” Yahr said. “There’s not a lot of writing about this, even though there’s a lot of talk about it. All of the resources we have in terms of scholarly articles and books are primarily dealing with indigenous representation outside of the United States.”
Ley, who would eventually like to pursue a PhD in art history, said Yahr has been key in suggesting relevant books and articles, along with helping Ley translate her passion into something she can speak on at a professional level.
“It’s great to have someone who knows what I’m talking about and to bounce ideas off of,” Ley said. “I have consumed all this knowledge reading journal articles and books, but it’s really hard to narrow it down to a single argument.”
“I think Madie can add to the conversation, which is exciting from an undergraduate level,” Yahr added. “This is what we expect from master’s thesis or dissertations. What a cool thing to be funded by St. Thomas and, for me as an adviser, to have an opportunity to work with an undergraduate like Madie, who is passionate, but is also contributing to the conversation.”
Anyone who has seen rock band OK Go’s unique, gravity-defying, Rube Goldberg machine-building, treadmill-dance-choreographing videos knows they’re flat-out awesome. They have racked up hundreds of millions of views on YouTube around the world over the past decade-and-a-half.
Throughout that time the band consistently received letters, videos and emails from teachers saying they show those videos in class as inspiration. While that alone was cool for band members to hear, they harbored ambitions to do something more: They wanted to help those educators take the characteristics that leads their videos’ creations – curiosity, interdisciplinary openness and resourcefulness – and convert them into lessons for students.
“We’ve been wanting to connect better with teachers and educators, but we have full-time jobs, and the world of education is a complicated one to get into,” band member Damian Kulash said. “Thanks to coffee, the answer walked up in the wonderful person of AnnMarie.”
“AnnMarie” is St. Thomas Associate Professor of Engineering and Entrepreneurship AnnMarie Thomas, who also heads the university’s Playful Learning Lab. That serendipitous coffee came at a conference last April where Kulash had spoken; Thomas introduced herself and, after finding out what she did, Kulash realized he was talking to the partner his band had been looking for. Thomas invited him to speak with her about playing with creativity at TEDxUCLA a few weeks later. Soon afterward, the idea of OK Go Sandbox was born: an online portal providing learners and educators a way to engage with concepts in playful and unexpected ways.
“So many of these teachers show these videos, but they don’t have much way to engage them beyond showing them. We said, ‘What if we could use the videos to give design challenges to students?’” Thomas said.Funding, check. So, OK, go
An anonymous donor provided seed money to kick the project off over the summer, and from there it has gotten the full Playful Learning Lab treatment, complete with the support of Thomas and several St. Thomas students across education, engineering, communication and journalism, and computer science. Everything started with soliciting surveys from more than 600 educators on what would be useful for them, and OK Go came to St. Thomas’ campus in September to film several videos exemplifying the product they hope to deliver to educators. More than a dozen St. Thomas students took part in script development and video production, and Kulash and Thomas held a workshop on campus with dozens of local educators.
“It’s been exciting to show how many students we can bring into a project like this,” Thomas said. “Most students wouldn’t think they’ll have the opportunity to work in college with actual rock stars, but here we are.”
One of those students, sophomore Paige Huschka, found in the project a perfect confluence of her engineering and musical loves. Huschka previously had helped with a Playful Learning Lab program called Code and Chords, which blends computer science and music to develop an open code source library for creating real-time visual displays based on multiple vocal inputs. As OK Go Sandbox’s project manager, she has helped Thomas guide the fast-moving collaboration through its connections with the band itself; other St. Thomas students; a professional filming crew; advisement from local K-12 educators; and curriculum testing in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms.
“It’s such an amazing experience I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere else but St. Thomas,” Huschka said. “I’m hoping this project can show these students there are so many different things you can do with science and engineering. … There can be a negative stigma about it being really hard, and it is hard, but it’s something a lot of people can do. Bringing that thinking at a younger age, that you can do so many things with it and it’s totally within your grasp, that’s been really cool to see with this education and engineering coming together.”
The project recently received additional support, which means the aim of OK Go Sandbox has expanded to “a whole suite of tools that will be on the website where students can engage with the content. There will be videos, guides to activities for teachers, ways for students to engage with the band and ask about their process,” Thomas said. “As well we’re working on Q and As with the band, some explanation videos of what they’ve done in their music videos and also a platform where students can send in comments.”
With funding in place, Thomas, Huschka and Kulash all expressed excitement at the possibilities ahead.
“We can only make so many videos, so many songs per year. We can’t scale up the things we’re doing, but if we can facilitate access for teachers to the building blocks of what we’re doing, that can scale,” Kulash said. “This interdisciplinary, resourceful thinking as a classroom-specific subject – that can scale.”
Educators responding to the survey and in adviser roles are excited for the possibilities OK Go Sandbox presents, too.
“I love this idea and your work! As a teacher, I feel honored and grateful that a group of artists are reaching out to us for ideas to help our students learn,” one educator wrote. “I have never before seen celebrities use their success to ask teachers how they can help. … I am so excited that you are inspired to support our classrooms and are asking teachers for suggestions on the best way to do that!”
Please remember in your prayers Mary Theuer, who served as secretary to Father Dennis Dease during 13 years of his presidency at St. Thomas. She died Friday.
Theuer joined St. Thomas in 1979 as secretary to Dr. Pauline Lambert, assistant academic dean. Theuer then was secretary to Dr. Jim Reid, who succeeded Lambert in 1983 and became vice president for academic affairs in 1984. Dease hired her in 1992.
“Mary always had good, practical solutions,” Dease said. “I really liked her philosophy of life, which was sprinkled with humor, and she didn’t take herself too seriously. She was an excellent secretary.”
Karen Hennes, who succeeded Theuer when she retired in 2005 and today is executive assistant to President Julie Sullivan, also cited Theuer’s sense of humor.
“Mary handled sensitive issues and people perfectly,” Hennes said. “She had great balance in her life and was effective in how she dealt with everybody. She was a great gatekeeper for Father Dease and a mentor to me.”
Survivors include her daughter, Jennifer Ruzicka, two grandchildren and six siblings. She was preceded in death by her parents and a brother.
Visitation will be at 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 1, in the Church of the Assumption, 51 West Seventh St., St. Paul, followed at 10 a.m. by a Mass of Christian Burial.
For Joyce Terhaar ’81, being part of the first class of females at the College of St. Thomas didn’t factor into her decision much. She just wanted to get a great education in journalism.
At this point it’s safe to say she came to the right place.
Four decades after enrolling at St. Thomas, Terhaar is the executive editor and senior vice president of The Sacramento Bee newspaper. Her career began in Grand Forks, North Dakota, included a stop in Santa Rosa at The Press Democrat, and has now featured nearly 30 years in California’s capital.
“I know people where they have a job because they need to make money and it’s a job. Maybe they like it fine but it’s not a passion. For me, it’s a complete passion,” Terhaar said. “I feel very, very lucky to have the career I’ve had. I like to organize things, make decisions and be part of the decision-making around how we’re going to cover the community and what we’re going to stand for in this community. That has been very rewarding for me.”
Growing up on a farm with seven siblings, the Rogers, Minnesota, native excelled in school and loved working on the student newspaper. Her college selection process was a big deal because she would be the first in her family to attend, and she settled on St. Catherine’s.
That plan was altered when St. Thomas made the decision to go coeducational in fall 1977.
“I was young and pretty naive. I didn’t think it was a big deal to be the first class coming in that was diversifying the school and making it coed. I just thought, ‘Well, the journalism program’s there. Why wouldn’t I go there?’ It was a good program,” she said.
The faculty was headed by Father James Whalen and offered a journalism education with a strong mixture of practical and theoretical development, and, most importantly to Terhaar in retrospect, a grounding in strong ethics.
“That’s something you carry with you your entire life,” Terhaar said. “So many skill sets are changing and evolving in our profession because of technology, but ethical decision-making is a value. That doesn’t change; you carry it with you all the time.”
For all the emphasis on ethics, Terhaar’s journalistic career at St. Thomas actually started comically with getting busted “sneaking” into the offices of the student newspaper, The Aquin. After venturing down her first weekend on campus to check things out, she found the office empty but unlocked, and a sophomore employee soon found her looking around.
“I felt like I had been caught. ‘I haven’t touched anything!’ He was like, ‘No, this is great. You want to be on the paper? We need people, you’re in,’” Terhaar said. “I got immediately recruited and started writing right away.”
Terhaar excelled academically and, as a self-professed shy person, further discovered her joy and passion as a journalist.
“When you think about what journalists can do, we just have access to people and places the public doesn’t. It’s just so interesting,” she said. “You get to explore and it gives you a structure to do that.”
With just two dormitory floors of women that first year, Terhaar said she and her female classmates were naturally tight knit. Terhaar worked to make sure she and her fellow classmates had all the same opportunities as their male peers, which included helping start a sorority on campus. (She didn’t join; she just wanted her female classmates to have that option.)
“It was an interesting time to be on that campus. I imagine once the first class graduated and went on its merry way it became more routine,” Terhaar said. “But we did have a small group of women who were doing something kind of big in terms of integrating the school. I don’t know that any of us realized at the time.”
These days, Terhaar continues to be an advocate for those around her by using her journalistic role to hold those in power accountable in the capital of the country’s most populous state. Even in the midst of an evolving media landscape, the lessons she learned at St. Thomas continue to serve her well.
“For me, the single most important thing for a journalist is to be a critical thinker. … If you don’t have questions to ask someone when you go out on a story, if you’re not naturally curious, if you can’t recognize when someone’s spinning and you can’t hold them accountable, then you shouldn’t be in this profession,” she said. “When you think about the classes you take at St. Thomas, things like logic, it really does help build that capacity to think through things critically.”
Utilimarc likes hiring Tommies. A lot. Over the past eight years, the Minneapolis-based fleet-technology company has almost exclusively hired St. Thomas graduates. Along with two of the company’s three partners having St. Thomas degrees, nine of the 10 nonpartner employees at Utilimarc are St. Thomas alumni or students.
“We’ve been thrilled with the young candidates we’ve gotten from St. Thomas, so why go anyplace else?” Utilimarc CFO Tom Nimmo ’89 MBA said. “It has worked out well with them coming in as interns. It’s a paid internship. What’s nice about that is you can test them out and we haven’t been dissatisfied yet. Plus, they can learn the skills and then, when we offer them positions, right away they can be 100 percent productive instead of trying to get them up to speed.”
In 2010, Michael Huhn ’09 was the first nonpartner the company hired. When it came time to expand Utilimarc’s workforce, Huhn turned to Mike Axtell, an associate professor and director of St. Thomas’ actuarial science program. Over the years, Axtell has helped Utilimarc get the word out about jobs and internships to students majoring in math, actuarial science, statistics or computer and information sciences.
Axtell believes the St. Thomas Mathematics Department does a good job at instilling analytic and communications skills in its students, making them desirable employees to companies such as Utilimarc.
“A lot of industries have so much data they don’t know what to do with it, so they need people with strong analytic skills who can then communicate the results to whoever needs to consume that data,” Axtell said.
The company wants job candidates who are able to solve complicated problems, said Huhn, Utilimarc’s lead analyst/project manager.
“Our mantra as an organization is trying to automate instead of bringing in extra people, so as we’ve brought on people, we’ve brought on the right people,” he said. “That’s been really beneficial, and St. Thomas has really helped with that because when you bring in the right people who have the skill set you need to be able to make complicated processes simpler, then as an organization you can grow much faster. You don’t necessarily have to be tied up with always waiting for people to come onboard.”
Analyst/product developer Paul Milner ’12 credits his St. Thomas liberal arts education for helping him thrive at the company.
“I know some of the student body thinks, ‘Why would I need this general ed class? I’m just going to be doing science,’” Milner said. “But especially at a small company like us where you need to wear 800 different hats, I think that helps a lot. We need folks who are really savvy mathematically, but are also able to communicate well with customers. Those extra skills you get from the liberal arts programs make everybody here rounded out and allow them to take on those different types of roles.”
Intern Maria Ishmael, a senior majoring in statistics, called Utilimarc a “campus away from campus.”
“It’s been really fun,” she said about her paid internship. “I’ve been learning about different programming things we do here and then just the practical application side of what I’ve been doing in my classes. Because here we primarily work with a lot of data stored in databases and then this semester I’m taking a database management class – it’s a direct application. I feel ahead of the curve in my classes now.”
“He knew we would win,” Roy Martin ’79 said of business partner Chris Pulling when Pulling entered their fledgling company, MicroOptx, into the MN Cup, the nation’s largest statewide entrepreneurial contest.
It turned out Pulling was right. Not only did MicroOptx win the life science/health IT division, it also took grand prize and $80,000 in capital. MicroOptx is a medical device company working to halt the progression of glaucoma, the world’s leading cause of blindness.
Martin said that his St. Thomas education was formative in the path that his career has taken.
“[St. Thomas] opens your mind to all the possibilities and lets you know you can achieve anything,” Martin said.
MicroOptx grew out of another of Martin’s and Pulling’s business endeavors, Integra, which is also a medical device company. During the course of their work they met Dr. J. David Brown, the former chief of ophthalmology at the Minnesota Veterans Administration and an experienced glaucoma surgeon, who created the Brown Glaucoma Implant. The implant stops vision loss by reducing pressure on the optic nerve and redirecting fluid to the eye’s surface.
When Martin and Pulling sold Integra in 2012, Martin said he could have retired, but that he and Pulling wanted to start another project.
“We’re do-ers, not reviewers,” Martin said of himself and Pulling. “It’s exciting to create a business, create jobs and bring technologies that help people.” He added that when they saw the way the Brown Glaucoma Implant device worked and the potential it had to help so many people, it was “a project we couldn’t say no to.”
With the added help of finance partner Keith Bares, MicroOptx launched in 2015 to bring the implant from conception to market. It is about to begin testing in humans.
In addition to being a Tommie alumnus, Martin serves as an adjunct faculty member in the School of Engineering, teaching clinical research, pre-clinical research, and cardiovascular anatomy and physiology.
“It’s very rewarding to come back and share what I’ve learned through the years,” Martin said. “I just find it really enjoyable to be with the students and meet these young professionals starting out their careers. It’s very invigorating.”
St. Thomas’ Schulze Hall was abuzz with students pitching innovative ideas on Friday as part of the Ninth Annual Fowler Business Concept Challenge, where $62,000 in scholarships was on the line.
This year’s event drew students from 30 academic programs who competed in one of two tracks – business or social venture. The top 16 teams were invited to Friday’s semifinals, with the top four in each track awarded scholarships.
For the challenge – held annually in the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship – participating students develop a concept with the potential to become a viable, high-growth business. Entries are judged on originality, clear and compelling value proposition, competitive advantage, market opportunity and feasibility.
“It’s been truly exciting to hear all the different problems teams are wrestling with and all the great creative thinking they’re bringing to it,” said Laura Dunham, associate dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, before announcing the winners. “It’s so wonderful to see many different students from so many parts of the university. We had 90 submissions this year from 119 students, both undergraduate and graduate. There were 30 academic disciplines across the university represented. And it was an amazing thing. There’s a lot of creativity here and many great entrepreneurs.”
This year’s Fowler Business Concept Challenge winners include:
Business Concept Track
- Winner ($15,000): Safe in Sound, Savannah Hufendick (Finance and Entrepreneurship, Undergraduate)
- Runner-up ($7,500): StudyGroup, Jalen Betsinger (Mechanical Engineering, Undergraduate)
- Second Runner-up ($5,000) and Most Effective Presenter ($1,000): STEAM Montessori Kids Care, Grace Gathaara (Business Analytics, Graduate)
- Third Runner-up ($2,500): Isern Biotechnology, Evan M. Kalb (Biochemistry, Undergraduate)
Safe in Sound is revolutionizing hearing-loss protection in the earbud market. It entails a device that would measure the volume of sound from an earbud and pair with a software application, which transmits the data and measurements to set volume at appropriate levels. The earbuds would provide effective standardized hearing-loss protection from variations in sound levels from devices, applications and user volume settings.
Safe in Sound founder Savannah Hufendick said the effects from having your headphones too loud is a “huge problem” and can lead to irreversible hearing damage.
“Once people hear about the problem, they’re in shock,” said the junior. “It’s a growing problem today and I want to solve it.”
Hufendick said she enjoyed competing in the Fowler and is looking forward to advancing Safe in Sound in the future.
“It was a great experience presenting and the feedback I got from all the judges was fantastic,” she said.
Social Venture Concept Track
- Winner ($15,000) and Most Effective Presenter ($1,000): Seraph 7 Studios, Jules Porter (JD/MBA, Graduate)
- Runner-up ($7,500): Language of Learning, Julia Zappa (Middle/Secondary Education and Communication Arts and Literature, Undergraduate)
- Second Runner-up ($5,000): Sun Light, Rose Whitney-Eliason (Marketing, Undergraduate)
- Third Runner-up ($2,500): Esperanza Fellowship, Georgina Chinchilla Gonzalez (MBA, Graduate)
Seraph 7 Studios is an African-American-owned and -directed video game company. It gives diverse communities a seat at the table by telling fresh stories with an unrivaled authenticity, and investing in the next generation of diverse gamers to empower them to tell their stories in an interactive medium. Through work study programs and summer camps, it aims to increase the graduation rates and reduce the achievement gaps of students of color. This develops and uplifts local students, while increasing the cultural competency and nuanced multi-cultural understanding of players.
“I have been a gamer my entire life since I was a little kid playing ‘Mario,’” laughed graduate student and Seraph 7 Studios founder Jules Porter. “But over the decades there are things developers have yet to address such as the way women are portrayed in gaming. We’re scantily clad, we’re hyper-sexualized and it’s unrealistic. I’ve also served in the Marine Corps and I’ve never gone into battle half naked, so why do we keep putting people out there like that?”
“I also looked at the way people of color are portrayed in gaming,” she continued. “We’re barely included. When we are, we’re gangsters or drug dealers. Instead of seeing ourselves as heroes, we’re the bad guys. We don’t get to be the hero and that’s a problem.”
Porter not only won first place, but she also took home “Most Effective Presenter” accolades.
“It was really fun,” she said. “I was intimidated until I stepped up and suddenly I was calm and excited. I wanted to let that excitement flow through and let the judges see it. I think they connected with the positive energy. That’s the type of energy I want to bring to students to get them excited about STEM courses and to build up their confidence when they walk into the classroom.”“Fresh, new ideas”
The Fowler Business Concept Challenge is named in recognition of Ron Fowler ’66, chairman and CEO of Liquid Investments Inc., whose gift to the university has made this and future competitions possible. This year’s scholarships were also made possible by gifts from Fowler; the Cade family; Ernst & Young; Fidelity Bank; William Hoeg; and the Charles Kubly Entrepreneurial Scholarship.
“My perspective on life is jaded by all the years I’ve been here, so it’s nice to hear fresh, new ideas and see the enthusiasm the presenters have for their ideas,” said Fowler, who also served as at judge at the competition. “I had a number of individuals who did not get to the finals tell me how much they enjoyed it.”
Coinciding with the Fowler was High School Innovation and Entrepreneurship Day. More than 100 students and 23 educators from 15 high schools across the Twin Cities took part in a design thinking workshop and learned about entrepreneurship. They also had the opportunity to watch the Fowler presentations, vote on their favorites and take part in a discussion facilitated by Schulze School of Entrepreneurship faculty.
“It’s really interesting and I’ve learned a lot,” said Litchfield High School junior Kelsey Christensen. “I need to open my mind more and be more aware that a lot of these ideas do come from imagination and can be built up to something. I think it’s cool you can turn one simple idea into something big.”
That gust of wind you felt on campus Friday, Nov. 17 may have been from the participants in the One University- One Breath program.
The Project for Mindfulness and Contemplation put together the One University One Breath program with guidance from meditation teacher Eckhart Tolle, who has remarked, “One conscious breath in and out is a meditation.” Participants pledged to take one conscious breath every day from Oct. 16-Nov. 17. They received bi-weekly emails with resources, inspiration and support to assist with their pledge.
“This is something I could practice wherever I was, no matter what time of day, or regardless of what I was doing,” said junior Duncan Anderson, a participant in the program. “It was such an eye-opening experience for me because it allowed me to realize how simple it is to experience a sense of calm, a sense of ease, peace, and happiness, all of those positive things, just in the current moment.”
With the support of the Wellness Center, the Center for the Common Good, the Office of Spirituality, and the Ashoka Changemaker Social Innovation Collaboratory, more than 300 students and faculty, staff, and administration members pledged to participate in the program. Participants gathered Nov. 17 as a community to share their experiences.
Participants discussed how they deepened their meditation practice because they knew they had a community of people alongside them. They said mindfulness and showing up is the foundation of making change, and this program was a great support system.One-month challenge just the beginning
The Project for Mindfulness and Contemplation has a multi-year plan of programming around mindfulness. The programming begins with a video presentation explaining why mindfulness is important, and also challenges faculty, staff and students to make one conscious breath happen for everyone in their communities.
By year two, project administrators expect to have established educational opportunities for those interested in learning more about mindfulness. Additionally, during year two, they also plan to pause and take time to celebrate growing mindfulness as a community. Celebrations would include filling the quad with as many people as possible, both students and neighbors from nearby churches and schools, to take a conscious breath together.
Organizers also plan to populate their website with stories from participants describing their experiences. Finally, they aim to integrate mindfulness into general messaging about the university and its values; they want increased conscious awareness to become part of how the institution orients new people, new students, and new hires.
Overall, the program challenges everyone in the St. Thomas community to come together as one university to take one breath, in and out.
“We don’t necessarily need to sit down and meditate for 30 minutes or an hour to find that sense of calm and that sense of ease,” Anderson said. “We can do it with just one breath.”
The University of St. Thomas English department has rolled out a new English with a Professional Writing Emphasis track.
Amy Muse, chair of the English Department, said the new track allows students to earn a full English major that includes a concentration of four courses in professional writing. The program is focused on teaching students how to write for various work environments. Along with an introductory course, Environmental Writing and Community Outreach is also being taught this semester under the Professional Writing umbrella.
“When we’ve talked to our majors, we’ve seen the need for professional writing courses,” Muse said. “The number of students who meet with me when they’re high school students – or the students who come in and are trying to feel out a major and seeing what English is all about – everyone leads with, ‘I need to learn how to write and I want a wider range of writing on my resume.’
“We thought a professional writing track within English would be really useful to English majors, but it would also be this great complement to all students,” she continued. “They wouldn’t necessarily be English majors; they might be minors or they might just take a couple of professional writing courses to complement what they’re doing.”
Assistant English Professor Fernando Sanchez was hired last year by the university for his expertise in professional writing. He is currently teaching Introductory to Professional Writing and is set to teach Writing in the Health and Human Sciences this spring. He said people might be surprised at how much interpersonal work goes into professional writing and technical communication.
“I want students to get a sense of that interpersonal and intercultural work that’s necessary,” Sanchez said. “Because oftentimes you have to communicate with people who are in-house, who work alongside with you, and you have a very different viewpoint as how things are supposed to work. Or you will actually have to go out and get a sense of what the community needs are before you can proceed with some type of a policy.
“I want students to leave this track more confident in their abilities to actually go ahead and do all kinds of complex analytical work,” he continued.
Sophomore Cassie Froese is an English with a professional writing emphasis major. She’s interested in working with nonprofits and doing grant writing, two things she’s hoping the new track will help her achieve.
“What attracted me to the program was the flexibility it offers for my career,” Froese said. “I felt like there were a lot of different things I could do with a degree like that. What I heard from graduates and alumni, and just research in general, is that it was a degree that allowed you to go a lot of different places.”
Read more about English with a professional writing emphasis requirements and check out a four-year plan and checklist for the track.