University of St. Thomas Campus News
The Office for Mission has hired a Presbyterian minister, Jewish rabbi and Muslim imam onto its pastoral staff, another step forward in the university’s push toward supporting all faiths on campus and throughout the St. Thomas community.
Those new leaders include Father Medhat Yoakiem of the Presbyterian faith; Tamara Gray of the Islamic faith; and Rabbi Alan Shavit-Lonstein of the Jewish faith. Patrick Tobin, who has been an associate chaplain in the Office for Ministry at St. Thomas since 2012-13, will continue in his role alongside the three new associate chaplains. Each will support the pastoral care of four of the largest faith contingents within the student body, as well as promote the interfaith dialogue and respect among all faiths that has been a growing priority for St. Thomas.
“It’s a very exciting time,” said Father Larry Blake, chaplain and director of campus ministry. “As a Catholic university we are committed to enabling the spiritual growth of all our students. We recognize they come from diverse faith traditions and we want to honor that.”
Yoakiem is originally from Egypt and has held several spiritual leadership roles over the past decade in Egypt, Wisconsin, Rhode Island and Minnesota. Gray is originally from Minnesota and graduated from Macalester College, and for 20 years lived in Syria before returning to Minnesota, where she started doctoral work in leadership at St. Thomas. Shavit-Lonstein has been the rabbi-in-residence at the Jay Philips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas, and was previously the rabbi at Temple of Aaron in St. Paul from 2002-14.
The hires and added dedication to interfaith elements of the St. Thomas community help bring the university more in line with the Catholic Church, said Father Larry Snyder, director of the Office for Mission.
“There’s a piece in Ex Corde Ecclesiae where Pope John Paul II says the university has an obligation to foster the spiritual development of all of its students, comma, especially Catholics. He’s not being exclusive at all. Our current efforts are to try to bring the university into compliance with that,” he said.
The new leaders already have begun making contact with students and becoming a part of the faith community at St. Thomas, Blake said, and all are looking forward to helping students in their respective faiths and creating more opportunities for interfaith dialogue.
Last spring also saw the initiation of an interfaith council, which features six students, six faculty and six staff, who meet three times a semester to discuss what the St. Thomas community is doing – and what it can do more of – to promote interfaith dialogue and learning. This fall, Student Affairs, the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning and the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center collaborated to form Tommies United. Tommies United is dedicated to bringing together student leaders from clubs and groups around campus and encouraging them to find ways to connect with and support one another.
“There was a great melding of conversations [at the first event], and it’s wonderful to see what students come up with when you put them to the task,” said Ed Kim, assistant director of campus life.
“We have these many cultural clubs, intercultural events, this pluralistic society on campus with so many international students. Even as we are a Catholic school we have people from many religions. We’re all for the common good, and more communication is really helpful for us,” added senior Jingru Liu. “As we meet with different people, communicate with different people, make the whole environment on campus more open, we can accept and understand and respect the differences and the similarities.”
Those thoughts embody the same interfaith ideals Pope Francis spoke of when he visited Sri Lanka in 2015.
“As experience has shown for [interreligious] dialogue and encounter to be effective, it must be grounded in a full and forthright presentation of our respective convictions,” he said. “Certainly, such dialogue will accentuate how varied our beliefs, traditions and practices are. But if we are honest in presenting our convictions, we will be able to see more clearly what we hold in common. New avenues will be opened for mutual esteem, cooperation and, indeed, friendship.”
The recent additions build on an already strong foundation of interfaith resources at St. Thomas, including the longstanding Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning and Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center. The Jay Phillips Center is a collaboration with Saint John’s University and, after many years of fostering Jewish-Christian relations, has expanded its mission to promote interfaith learning, friendship and service among people of various religions, which it does by sponsoring a host of interfaith activities, including artistic performances, lectures, panels, conferences, retreats and service programs. The Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center, an initiative of the theology department, is dedicated to developing Muslim and Christian leaders who grow in mutual understanding and advance peace, justice, and harmony in the world.
The Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center, an initiative of the Theology Department, is dedicated to developing Muslim and Christian leaders who grow in mutual understanding and advance peace, justice and harmony in the world.
At some point, almost every young person talks about the cold.
“Even on the warm nights, it’s still cold somehow,” a young woman said.
They express the emotional toll, the shame, the embarrassment, the sense of failure. The fact that none of them chose to be homeless.
These are testimonials given to Hope 4 Youth by some of the more than 4,000 homeless young people in Minnesota. Their stories now are interwoven with Hope 4 Youth’s, a nonprofit organization in Anoka County that has been working since 2012 to help homeless youth in its community. Two St. Thomas alumni, Lisa Jacobson ’88 and John Sitarz ’88, have been at the heart of Hope 4 Youth’s efforts: Jacobson as the organization’s executive director and Sitarz as a board member and lead fundraiser.
“When people think about it, they can all think of a kid who if they knew they didn’t have a place to lay their head at night, it would kill them. They don’t want that. Especially when they realize these are kids in their own community,” Jacobson said. “We can’t have this.”
Sitarz’s daughter introduced him to the issue when she took part in a fundraiser at Andover High School, where six of their students were homeless in late 2012, Sitarz said.
“When I first got involved I was shell shocked that this was going on in our community,” Sitarz said.
For Sitarz and many others around the Anoka County area, Hope 4 Youth soon became the conduit for their energy to do something. After extensive fundraising through that winter, the organization opened the doors of a drop-in center in Anoka in March 2013. That center remains open 2-7 p.m. every weekday and provides basic needs such as food, showers and laundry facilities, as well as resources for accessing jobs, education or health care through its on-site clinic.
“You start meeting with these kids there, hearing their stories, it’s devastating,” Sitarz said. “The first child we welcomed in had been sleeping in a tent for two years. They were 16 years old.”
The volume for the drop-in center has continued to quickly increase, with 732 youth using it in 2016, according to Jacobson. Hope 4 Youth’s leadership began planning for a more permanent option to help young people in their community. A successful fundraising gala in 2013 gave way to an even bigger one in November 2014, where Sitarz pledged that he would raise $1 million by Jan. 1 or spend every day he didn’t hit that mark in 2016 sleeping outside too.
“The vision on that $1 million was us being able to buy a place where we could house kids,” Sitarz said. “There were 400 people there and you could have heard a pin drop [when I announced that]. Everyone was coming up, ‘Are you crazy?’”
It turns out he wasn’t, and his efforts were crucial in Hope 4 Youth securing what is now their permanent housing for 12 youth in Coon Rapids, which opened last November.
“I get so emotionally pumped to know there are 12 kids that have warms beds every night,” Sitarz said, adding that all the residents pay to be there, work or are in school, and are being supported through an 18- to 24-month window before they transition into other living arrangements. “We did one [permanent housing center], we’ve got 12 beds, but we still have so many in need. There are more than 4,000 homeless kids in Minnesota and we’ve got 720 beds for them. For kids. That doesn’t make any sense. We have to change that, somehow.”
Getting to the root cause
Under Jacobson, Hope 4 Youth has emerged as a leader and crucial partner for the state in the campaign to end homelessness completely. The organization has worked extensively with the state office, Jacobson said, to think more strategically about not just the symptom of homelessness but what causes it.
“By the year 2020 we have big goals to not necessarily need our drop-in center. We want other things in place so that the moment someone walks out their door or gets kicked out, there’s a system in place to make sure they’re not homeless,” she said. “We’ve spent a lot of time identifying and talking to our homeless youth or those who were homeless. What was it that happened in your life … where we as a community, if we would have known or stepped in to do something, that your life might be different today?”
While striving for that level of change marks Hope 4 Youth as a very forward-thinking organization addressing youth homelessness in Minnesota, there’s also a balance of serving the needs of thousands of people who are currently homeless. Even with the daunting reality of having so many still in need, Jacobson said it has been inspiring to see people’s willingness to be part of a solution.
“It’s exciting to watch the community as the need is more well known. The community comes around it like nothing I’ve ever seen. … I’ve been involved with other nonprofits where people support it, but I’ve never seen it to the level I’ve seen this supported,” she added.
Jacobson recently had the opportunity to bring the lessons she’s gained from Hope 4 Youth back to her alma mater: She took a justice and peace studies course based around social problems.
“Youth homelessness is definitely a social problem,” said Jacobson, who worked in the legal field for a decade after graduating and then moved into nonprofits. “All these years later we’re still Tommies to the core. We still have the heart for it and we’re being Tommies in different ways.”
For Sitarz and Jacobson, the impact of their work can be felt in the stories of those who have encountered Hope 4 Youth’s helping hand. All too often, it’s a dangerous difference between having and not having that support from their community, as one young man’s testimonial to Hope 4 Youth illustrates so clearly.
“Hope probably saved my life,” he said.
Some of the most joyous moments in the St. Thomas community take place as high school seniors find out they are a recipient of the Dease Scholarship, a four-year, full-tuition scholarship generally awarded to students of color, first-generation students and graduates from urban high schools who demonstrate commitment to academic excellence, leadership and their communities. Named after St. Thomas’ 14th president, Father Dennis Dease, the scholarship focuses on diversity by bringing underrepresented students to St. Thomas’ community of scholars. Twelve to 20 scholarships are given out each year, and the program has brought more than 200 students to St. Thomas since its inception in 2004.
One of this year’s recipient, Vanessa De La Vega Meza, currently attends Harding Senior High School in St. Paul, and was surprised to find her “interview” morphing into a celebration.
Before taking Business 200, many students are uncertain of what to expect or even nervous about balancing the class with the rest of their schedule. To be fair, Business 200, a longstanding tradition at St. Thomas, is unique: Instead of learning about the business of nonprofits from a theoretical angle, students are called to volunteer and give back to the community.
Through Business 200, a graduation requirement for all business undergraduates, students dedicate 40 hours to a nonprofit of their choice. During that time, they also examine their experience with their classmates, considering what they’re learning and how it will pertain to their careers.
“We create effective, ethical leaders,” said Barbara Gorski, who has organized Business 200 since its third year at St. Thomas. It is now in its 25th year. “We teach why you need to understand that the community has to be healthy to support business.”
While students may enter Business 200 nervous, they leave with a richer understanding of themselves and the community surrounding them.
Business 200 strives to educate students on how they can be both successful business people and make a positive impact on the world, particularly the community surrounding a business.
The students are instructed to pick a volunteer site that will both challenge them by meeting people they may have not interacted with before, and also will help them develop skills that will benefit their careers.
“We ask them to think about what you need at this point in your life,” Gorski said. “Look at where you are now and where you want to go.”
Sophomore Steven Widlowski, a seminarian at Saint John Vianney and a business administration minor, used his Business 200 time teaching religious education classes at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Mendota, Minnesota – a likely beneficial experience for a future priest.
“Being able to gain real-world experience was very valuable,” Widlowski said. “The goal for everyone, and I was able to experience this, is to get involved and feel that we directly relate to our career path.”
Gorski said that one of the primary objectives is to support St. Thomas’ mission by teaching the students empathy.
“We press that [the students] need to experience groups and cultures more diverse than what they have experienced so far,” Gorski said. “Whether that means being with elderly, people of color, special abilities or religious people. … They really understand the other. They see the complexities.”
Junior Tri “Tony” Vo took that message to heart when he decided where to volunteer: He volunteered with a Keystone Community Services food shelf and in an adult development classroom with Resource Minnesota. He said he wanted to understand, “What kind of situations cause [adults] to need these programs,” and to better unpack his own preconceptions.
In the classroom
Throughout the semester, students keep journals and occasionally meet to discuss what they are each doing, useful resources for thinking critically about the nature of volunteering and learning more about the community.
“Asking questions, thinking in this gray space, is what matters most,” Vo said. “What responsibility does a business have to serve these communities at expense, or is it an expense to cut down profits to lift up these communities? … Business 200 talks about social responsibility to argue against views of business that the bottom line is the most important.”
Senior Hadley Ryan, who volunteered with Junior Achievement and taught second- and third-graders about business literacy concepts, said she was amazed to learn about all of the nonprofits just in the local area.
“It makes you extremely thankful for the support you realize your community has for each other,” Ryan said. “There’s amazing resources for all different people at different stages in their lives with different problems. … There’s a nonprofit for every type of problem, and I think it’s important people know there’s a support system behind you.”
A ripple effect
As is often the case with a volunteer experience, many of the students found themselves changed. Ryan volunteered in a classroom again this semester and will participate in JA in a Day in May.
“I feel obligated because I see kids smiling and having fun and not realizing they’re learning,” Ryan said. “You realize how important it is to teach kids about good financial choices and what it means to run a business. … This was a really valuable experience and I’m extremely thankful I got to do it.”
Widlowski continued teaching his religious education class this semester while Vo went on a VISION trip to Colorado. Vo said his career expectations have changed as a result of Business 200: He now wants to work for a company that is “centered around a meaningful goal or serving the community.”
Ryan’s experience already has paid dividends for her impending career: She has secured a job with SPS Commerce, a technology company in Minneapolis. The individual with whom she interviewed also had connections with Junior Achievement.
“That was a huge deciding factor that we clicked and related on,” Ryan said.
Gorski said she is incredibly proud of the work they do in Business 200, both in terms of how it affects the local community and how it affects St. Thomas students.
“You see all these ripples,” Gorski said. Since 2008, Business 200 has averaged 762 students and 30,629 service hours a year. That’s a lot of ripples to send out into the world.
“You have the students who talk about helping a fourth-grader learn to read and his mom came to thank them,” Gorski said. “This required involvement has not only helped the fourth-grader get up to grade level but also impacted our student in their view of how they could impact the world. It may be one student at a time, but our students leave realizing the power they have to be changemakers.”
In an effort to help reduce the education and prosperity gap in Minnesota, the University of St. Thomas will open The Dougherty Family College for the 2017-18 school year. The college is now accepting applications for its first class of students.
The Dougherty Family College Associate of Arts degree is uniquely designed to help ensure the success of underserved students who may be the first in their family to attend college, or those who have limited support or financial assistance to pursue a four-year degree. Students will need a 2.5 or higher grade-point average and must have a high level of financial need (e.g., meeting the eligibility requirements for federal Pell Grants and/or state grants). In addition, students must participate in a qualifying interview to determine their readiness and motivation. (ACT is not required.)
“Human beings cannot flourish and realize their potential without access to education and access to job opportunities,” shared Dr. Julie Sullivan, president at St. Thomas. “Dougherty Family College is about expanding access, in particular for those students who have limited financial resources or have faced challenges in their life.”
The Dougherty Family College plans to admit about 150 students to its inaugural college class. Classes will be held four days a week, from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. The two-year college will be located on the St. Thomas campus in downtown Minneapolis. It will offer students an Associate of Arts degree in liberal arts, with courses that meet Minnesota Transfer Curriculum guidelines. The annual tuition will be offset by state and local grants, scholarships and corporate support, bringing final tuition costs to just $1,000 a year for the most under-resourced students.
Structured and intensive mentoring, a directed curriculum, generous financial aid and small class sizes will help prepare students to succeed in their first two years of college and prepare them to matriculate in a four-year program with minimal student debt. St. Thomas also will connect its two-year college students with paid internships through collaboration with regional employers.
“These internships will offer valuable, hands-on work experience that will help our students develop professional and life skills,” said Pat Ryan, chair of the St. Thomas Board of Trustees, and an early advocate for making a connection between the school and the business community.
Students will take a core curriculum of liberal arts classes, which will meet the academic standards of the St. Thomas four-year program but will be delivered in a different way. Each student will attend classes with the same group of 25 students throughout the two-year program. They will take a first-year experience seminar focusing on study skills, time management, financial and information literacy, preparatory skills for conducting research and professional development etiquette. In addition, students will participate in leadership development advisory groups to hone their critical thinking and leadership skills.
“A college degree is one of the best ways to beat poverty,” said Mike Dougherty, lead benefactor along with his wife, Kathy. “My wife, daughters and I want to give motivated, hardworking students the opportunity to succeed in college so they can use their talents and support themselves in the future. One day, I believe these students will be giving back to our community. But for now, this is a way for our family to give back to the community that has been so good to us.”
“Inspiration for the Dougherty Family College came from within our school, from our generous, community-minded donors and from our own mission to be morally responsible leaders, who work to advance the common good,” Sullivan said. “Addressing Minnesota’s achievement gap requires not only compassion, but the commitment to take action – and we intend to be part of the solution.”
For more information on the Dougherty Family College, visit stthomas.edu/dfc.
Michael Stevens has a special fondness for squirrels and video games, listens to Japanese music and his middle school classmates voted him most likely to become a theologian.
Or so his relatively short bio section as president of the Theology Club told me. I was delightfully intrigued at the prospect of spending an hour or so in conversation with him to connect some of the dots of his personality.
When we did meet in person, I appreciated how easily and unselfconsciously he closed his eyes for bricks of time to contemplate his responses to a handful of my weightier questions. Stevens, a senior, answered me thoughtfully and with a thoroughness I don’t encounter often, which made our hourlong talk truly interesting. I imagine those who are fortunate to enjoy a conversation with him find it time well spent.
Why do you think your young classmates voted you most likely to be a theologian? That seems unusual for someone in middle school!
Well, I went to a Catholic middle school and we took religion classes, so it might be a little more plausible. But I’m sure I showed some interest even at that level. It wasn’t until high school, though, that I realized how most Christians have a very childish understanding of their faith, as I did. I started reading Pope Benedict and other books to help me grow and understand it, and I wanted to take it further by being a theology major in college.
Have your career aspirations always included theology?
Probably in some regard. When I was a kid, since my father is a physician, I thought that I would be a doctor and an astronaut and an actor all in one. It didn’t quite pan out. But the thing is you have fairly limited options if you want to use a theology degree for a job. At this point, I don’t know where I might end up teaching, at the high school level or the university level, but I’ve never regretted my choice of a major, and I’m going onto graduate studies in theology. My quest for a better understanding of theology has not been exhausted yet.
Are you open to possibilities outside of teaching?
Since I was 10 I’ve done a lot of creative writing and work on it every day I can before I do my homework even, because I think of it as more important. I probably have several thousand pages worth of material at home. It may sound strange, but the creative writing may help me get an academic position at a university because open positions are so limited these days. They’re looking for someone who has something unusual to offer. And if you look at the theology faculty here, you’ll find that each one has something that’s a little bit unexpected that helps them contribute to the department in a unique way.
What do you read?
I prefer genre fiction. One of my favorite writers is Brandon Sanderson. He’s a fantasy writer who wrote a series of novels called Mistborn and a more recent series that’s really good.
Tell me about your penchant for video games.
I am a Sony faithful, so I play on PlayStation products. I have the PlayStation 4, which is the newest. I also play on PlayStation Vita, which is their mobile console. My favorite game series is Dark Souls. I’ve played all five games in the series, and I’ve beaten all five. Some more than once. It’s a Japanese game, which I tend to gravitate toward. Japanese role-playing games tend to be over the top and very stylized, although Dark Souls isn’t that way. Most of the time in Japanese RPGs you’re assigned one particular character to play – versus in Western role-playing games you make your own. And while personalizing your character is nice, it’s also a disadvantage because the writers have to account for every possible character a player could make, so there ends up being a sort of vagueness in the plot.
That must have taken a lot of time.
It did. I spent about 200 hours over a year or two on Dark Souls I.
Name one thing you’ve been meaning to do for awhile that you haven’t done.
I so desperately want to go to Japan. I originally wanted to study abroad in Japan last year. In the end, I chose Rome instead for various reasons. One thing is that Japanese is not very useful for theology because there aren’t many Japanese theologians in comparison to French or German or Italian or Spanish. So I went to Rome and I’m glad I did, but I still want to go to Japan. … And also as a Catholic, it can be difficult to get to the Sacraments if I stay there for any length of time because there are so few churches. There, this one church, though, at Sophia University where I was originally planning on studying abroad … has Mass three times a day. So, if someday I’m able to go, I’m going to park myself right next to that church, then make excursions to other parts of the country.
Where does your interest in Japanese culture come from?
Like a lot of people my age, I grew up watching a lot of anime and Japanese shows and playing a lot of Japanese games. I have a particularly strong interest in them because of a few factors: When I was 8, I saw the film “Spirited Away” by Hayao Miyazaki that blew my world and introduced me to the beauty of Japanese animation. One of the nice things about animation is that it allows the creators to use a lot of fantastical elements without having to pay extra for CGI because it costs about the same amount to draw a dragon as it does to draw a human person. So I like that because I think one of the primary uses of entertainment like that is to pull us out of our drudgery and mundanity of day-to-day life. I find the fantastical elements are appealing in that regard. Like an anime. Believe me, most anime is garbage I would say, and that’s true of just about any medium because it’s difficult to make a work of art. But in anime, there’s generally a much higher preference of fantastical stories of one kind or another … it’s a kind of sci-fi or fantasy that doesn’t exist in the U.S.
Also the Japanese have a certain sense of aesthetics that’s appealing to me. If you think about a Japanese garden … with the Western garden everything is laid out and you have neat rows of plants and hedges and it’s all in geometric patterns. If you go to a Japanese garden you may not realize it’s a garden at first because everything is laid out in a way that seems very natural. And in reality, every one of those plants is laid out just as carefully as it would be in a Western garden. But because Japanese aesthetics has more of a focus on asymmetrical beauty than Western, it creates a more natural feeling.
I get the sense that you’re a fairly deliberate person.
Yes. All my life. I’ve always been a planner. I think that plays into having good reasoning skills because with me when it comes to making any decision of importance I like to lay out the pros and cons, make a decision and stick with it, because if you waiver afterward it usually doesn’t get you anywhere.
How do you spend your Sundays?
I don’t work at all on Sundays. Usually, after I go to Mass, I eat a nice big brunch at The View. I have my eggs and my hash browns and my pancakes and my muffin and my fruit. A little bit of fruit! Sunday is my day to splurge. Oh, and French toast – I can’t forget about French toast. Occasionally it’s burnt but usually it’s good. Then I go home and I play video games for a few hours, and I watch anime. Then I usually spend some time in the chapel in the afternoon. It’s nice because usually no one’s there so it’s quiet and private … though there’s sort of this silence that hangs over the chapel and I like to pray aloud, I still don’t dare to break the silence even when I’m alone because it feels kind of sacred to a degree.
Do you have a favorite quote?
One phrase that comes to my mind is from Scripture. It’s Paul’s famous line that “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” When I went to Rome, that was a particularly difficult semester for me. I panicked when I first arrived because I had never lived in a foreign country before. I didn’t know the language, and the schoolwork was more difficult than a normal semester. So that was a great experience of learning to depend on God.
The other quote is just a fragment of a phrase from one of Brandon Sanderson’s recent novels. One of the characters tells a story about … “Two men sat contemplating the end of an era.” That really struck me because it made me think about the ways in which our own era feels like an end to many trends and the beginning of many others. We’ve had a lot of ways in which the culture of the past has been rejected and there are new technological possibilities and new theological possibilities as well.
It’s difficult to know whether to call it an inside story when more than 100,000 people are in on it. But with how often you see the knowing smile and nod when someone says, “Tommies hire Tommies,” the secret is probably out.
For decades, the “Tommie network” has been one of the university’s greatest strengths, a foundation of loyalty and pride, and a recognition of the high-level education and career preparation students get at St. Thomas. That manifests itself in a robust alumni network that helps current students with informational interviews, mentoring, job shadowing, and internship and job connections.
The results are profound: 95 percent of both the classes of 2015 and 2016 have reported employment, enrollment in a graduate program, volunteer service or enlistment in the military within a year after graduating; and 65 percent of the class of 2015 reported having an internship while at St. Thomas.
“As a hiring manager you want to put aside your biases, but it sticks in the back of your mind throughout the interviews that you have an expectation St. Thomas students will come through. … St. Thomas students are just more polished and better prepared,” said Brad Meyer ’04, administration, finance and planning manager for St. Paul Parks and Recreation. “Sixty to 70 percent of the internships we’ve hired since I’ve been here have been St. Thomas students … and I haven’t had a bad experience once.”
A powerful combination
With so many contributing factors, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what has made the Tommie network as strong as it is today. One reason is undoubtedly the size and range of the alumni network, which spans the state, region, country and globe.
“A lot of schools don’t have that vast network we do,” said Jenna Johnson ’14, who started her career in admissions at St. Thomas and now works in Alumni Relations. “My area [for admissions] was southern Wisconsin and a lot of students wanted to know if we had Tommies in Milwaukee and Madison, so if they wanted to go back home to work they had support there. The answer is yes, we have alumni there. We have alumni pretty much everywhere.”
Locally, the depth of the St. Thomas network is invaluable for current students: Tens of thousands of St. Thomas alumni have remained in the metro area and throughout the state, meaning they’re easily accessible for students in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“There are Tommies at pretty much every company here in the Twin Cities. … You’ll have some connection to every large company here,” said Chad Grossmann ’16, who started a career at General Mills last year by having coffee with a fellow Tommie alum. “Tommies really do help each other. I’m a prime example of how it all worked out.”
The willingness to help one another seems to come naturally thanks to a combination of school pride, recognition of the quality of students and desire to keep momentum going.
“People feel that this network, this school, helped form them into what they are now in the professional world. They want to give back so people can have that same experience,” Grossmann said. “These people helped me, I want to help that sophomore looking for an internship, that junior who doesn’t know their career path, that senior who missed out on some opportunity. I want to be a sounding board for them for advice. You realize the benefits the school has offered you … you want to return the favor and continue this legacy that this network truly does help them.”
“Tommies recognize the value of the St. Thomas education and realize they’re coming from a good, high-level institution,” Johnson added. “And Tommies are nice people. It’s easy to connect with them. Tommie alumni have a large presence, especially in the Twin Cities. If, as a student, you’re looking at doing an internship or job at one of the employers around here, you’re usually going to find a Tommie.”
Jennifer Rogers, associate director of the St. Thomas Career Development Center, works with employers that come to campus to recruit students. She recognizes, on a daily basis, the presence and strength of Tommies looking to hire.
“We have an informational questionnaire for visiting companies, and just this fall, 56 percent – over half the employers that came here in the fall – have management who are alums. The year before, that was 60 percent. That network is out there,” she said. “Another option they can say is, ‘I’ve had success hiring Tommies.’ That number is well over 80 percent. In 2015, it was 90 percent.”
More options than ever
With such a well-established tradition and loyalty already in place, St. Thomas has taken more steps in recent years to make it as easy as possible for students and alumni to meet and help one another. Alumni Relations has answered the call of President Julie Sullivan to raise the number of student-alumni connections: Last year the Student-Alumni Mentoring program – which has been around for almost 20 years – nearly doubled in participation, with more than 1,400 students and alumni connected. Alumni Relations also has created a more formal young alumni network to help those one to 10 years out from graduation, so “that value proposition of support continues well out of school,” Johnson said.
“This network is more developed and prevalent. The tightknit nature of the St. Thomas network is just there. It’s inherent,” Grossmann said. “With other schools, are students using their four years to get their degree and be done? Or to be part of this lifelong community? With St. Thomas, it’s lifelong, and that’s much more the case than other schools you see.”
Resources like webinars, virtual networking and national visits are growing in number and scope, Johnson said, and will continue growing as Alumni Relations shifts to new and improved online platforms. Increasing options and accessibility are all about making it possible for everyone to do what they want to do: Help fellow Tommies.
“We all are for the common good here. We say that and it’s true, but we really all are for the common good and that includes for each other,” she added. “Not everyone has financial means to give back as young alums, but everyone can give back their time and expertise. That’s a good way to start.”
When health and human performance professor Lesley Scibora stressed to students that cellphones were not to be used during class, something about that emphasis stuck with junior Chris Hornung.
So, after reading a book about reclaiming conversations and considering doing research on how cellphone use by students at St. Thomas fit in, he approached Scibora for direction. Not because it was directly in her field (“I didn’t know if it was something she would go for at all,” Hornung said) but because he had gotten to know her throughout the semester and felt comfortable approaching her.
“It really just kind of clicked,” Hornung said.
Since then Scibora has helped Hornung connect with other resources on campus to kick-start his ongoing research project, which has continued under her guidance. Looking back on how the whole process played out, it was surprising to Hornung how organically such a strong mentor-mentee relationship flourished.
“I was looking for a mentor, but I don’t think when I got into conversation with Lesley that’s anything I had in mind. … It kind of just happened. I just got a mentor. It’s great,” he said. “I don’t feel I had to necessarily work to try to find one; it kind of came out of nowhere. It was in the back of my mind, and I didn’t think I had a mentor until I realized I had one.”
Countless similar relationships have cropped up between students and faculty at St. Thomas, especially when research can be a catalyst for more time together outside the classroom.
“You get to see them grow and learn something in an area that totally interests them. It’s what jazzes them, and you can get behind it and support it,” Scibora said. “You see them grow and learn and take responsibility and leadership. What’s better than helping provide an opportunity and letting them run with that?”
Scibora said it’s no accident she ends up with multiple students asking to work with her in any given semester; she “plants seeds” in class and makes a point to be available to everyone if they want to pursue something with her.
“I try to show up to class early, talk with them, get to know them. And I make it a point the first day of class to let them know that I’m here to help them succeed. I’m here to help you learn and be successful. They always know I’m on their side, and to me that’s important they know that,” she said. “That has made for good relationships with my students.”
“I didn’t think I would be doing research, but the ability to have a relationship with your professors is there, here at St. Thomas. You get in contact with them, they’re always there before classes to talk about the course or talk in general,” Hornung said. “Conversation opened up the avenue to build a relationship and then to do research and have other opportunities in general.”
Scibora said she has been impressed with Hornung’s ambition and independence, while Hornung pointed out the benefit of having someone like Scibora in his corner.
“I just think it’s awesome, and I think the school does allow those relationships to grow. It allows that mentor relationship more so than other schools,” Hornung said. “The idea you can get in contact and have off-the-cuff conversations and not be intimidated, and that you can talk with professors and not a [teacher’s assistant] or something; you can go right to the person with all that knowledge. It’s great.”
Editor’s note: One of the most common benefits students cite about their St. Thomas education is the ability to connect personally with faculty members, which supports students’ academic work and their growth as people; the value of knowing they are “not just a number” is immeasurable for students. With the “Tommie Mentors and Mentees” series, the Newsroom has sought to illustrate what that value means for specific student-faculty pairs.
Dr. Corrine Carvalho, professor of theology and executive adviser to the president at the University of St. Thomas, will become interim dean of the School of Social Work, effective July 1. Dr. Barbara Shank will begin a year’s administrative leave before retiring at the end of the 2017-18 academic year.
Carvalho received her B.A., magna cum laude, with a major in Latin and a minor in theology at the University of San Francisco in 1980. She received an M.A. from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, in 1984 and received a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Old Testament studies from Yale University in 1991.
After beginning her teaching career at Florida State University, she joined the St. Thomas Department of Theology faculty in 1996. She served as director of St. Thomas’ Luann Dummer Center for Women from 2006-12, when her faculty peers chose her Professor of the Year.
President Julie Sullivan appointed her co-chair of the university’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee in 2013 and co-chair of the Strategic Planning Oversight Committee the following year. She served as chair of the faculty in 2014-15 and in that role served as a member of the President’s Cabinet. She also served on the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate from 2013-16.
The two university presidents and provosts are committed to a strong, vibrant, joint School of Social Work. The intent is to begin a nationwide search for a permanent dean once the provosts update the affiliation agreement.
Art Cullen didn’t want to sound cocky or overconfident, but he had a hunch – the classic gut hunch of a good reporter – that he would win a Pulitzer Prize this year.
The 1980 St. Thomas journalism alumnus and editor of the Storm Lake Times, a twice-a-week newspaper in northwestern Iowa, sat in his newsroom on April 10 and watched a livestream telecast of the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes announcement.
“I felt I was going to win,” he said. “I just knew I had a winner. There were 21 categories, and editorial writing was No. 18 to be announced. My heart was just about coming out of my chest. But the closer we got, the more confident I was.”
And then the announcement came: Gerald Arthur Cullen of the Storm Lake Times, circulation 3,000, won the Pulitzer Prize – the highest honor in American newspaper journalism – for editorial writing:
“For editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”
Cullen exploded at the news. “We won! We won!” he exclaimed, with a colorful cuss word tossed in. His brother John, founder and publisher of the newspaper, “sits about 5 feet away from me, and we gave each other a big hug. It was so cool.”
The news reverberated around the country as newspapers with far larger circulations tried to define the iconoclastic and “sarcastic” editor described by one writer as having “Mark Twain’s hair and Sam Elliott’s eyebrows.” A sampling of headlines:
- The Poynter Institute, a school for journalism: “Tiny, family-run newspaper wins Pulitzer Prize for taking on big business.”
- New York Times: “Iowa town’s editor wins Pulitzer Prize for taking on farm groups.”
- Los Angeles Times: “In a small Iowa town, a Pulitzer-winning editor defends immigrants and tries to bring a community together.”
The winning entry was a 2016 series of 10 editorials. They accused drainage districts in three countries of funneling high levels of nitrates into the Raccoon River and said agricultural groups secretly funded the counties’ legal defense against a lawsuit filed by the Des Moines Water Works. The result, Cullen wrote, was that Iowa “has the dirtiest surface water in America.”
Several days after the Pulitzer announcement, Cullen took time to take a call from his collegiate alma mater and talk about what he said had been a crazy week. “I’m exhausted,” he said. “But it sure has been fun.”
Cullen never expected to become a journalist. The youngest of six children, born and raised in Storm Lake, he told his mother he intended to go to the University of Iowa. “The hell you are,” he recalled her saying. “You’re going to St. Thomas.”
His mom had gone to the College of St. Catherine and had harbored wishes that at least one of her children would go to St. Catherine or St. Thomas. That didn’t happen with the first five, so when it came time for No. 6 to go to college, St. Thomas was it.
He enrolled in 1975 and intended to major in music, “but it was explained to me that I couldn’t play the piano.” He considered theater and then business, but gave up the latter when he flunked out of an 8 a.m. accounting class.
His next choice: journalism. It took him more than four years to earn his degree, and he gave credit to several professors. His best courses were Persuasion in Writing, taught by Father James Whalen, and what he called the required “philosophy sequence” of Logic (Dr. Harry Austin) and Ethics (Dr. Fred Flynn). His best professor? Dr. Lon Otto of English.
“Lon taught me how to write,” Cullen said. “I took a creative writing class from him and it opened up the world to me.”
He wrote briefly for The Aquin, the student newspaper. One of his stories was about how the college’s associate housing director alleged he was fired because he was gay. Cullen was proud of the story – and that The Aquin was willing to publish it.
After graduation, he returned to Iowa to take photos and write for the Algona Upper Des Moines and Kossuth County Advance, where his brother (John) was editor. His first stories were for a special 96-page section on the town’s 125th anniversary, and on the night the presses ran, Algona was hit by a tornado “that destroyed half the town. It was my baptism by fire,” he said, “and we covered the hell out of it.”
Once he became a professional journalist, Cullen changed his byline. Known as “Jerry” in college, he switched to his middle name. “It was a better byline,” he said. “Jerry” reminded him of comedian Jerry Lewis, and “Art” brought memories of columnist Art Buchwald.
After seven years, Cullen moved to Ames, Iowa, and served as managing editor of the Ames Tribune for three years. He spent a year at the Mason City Globe Gazette before he took a call from his brother that he was starting a paper in their hometown. They joined forces in 1990 and since have been together in Storm Lake.
The newspaper is truly a family affair. Cullen’s wife, Dolores, is a feature writer and photographer and his son Tom is a writer. All four of the couple’s children have worked one time or another at the Times, and Cullen gives credit to Tom’s stories about agricultural runoff problems for providing the grist that led to the Pulitzer editorials.
“Tom deserves the Pulitzer as much as I do,” Cullen said. “His name should be on it too.”
Cullen expects the Pulitzer excitement to die down soon, and then he can get back to the daily grind of editing his newspaper. He expects to take a larger role in management as his brother nears retirement but expects to be around for a while. He will turn 60 on May 10.
“Look us up,” he said. “We’ll be here.”
Gene McGivern, sports information director at St. Thomas, worked with Cullen 30 years ago at the Ames Tribune and has stayed in touch with him. McGivern wrote about his former colleague in Gene’s Blog in TommieSports.com.
Perhaps it was in part because my wife and I had been binge-watching “Parks and Recreation” on Netflix in the days leading up to my meeting junior Jonathon Shields, but several things about the music performance and music business major reminded me of the show’s musician character, Andy Dwyer.
Last summer Shields, who was born in Canada and grew up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, created an alias, Whitney James, so he could more comfortably make music different than the acoustic- and folk-based material he has developed for years under his own name. Shields, a “Parks and Recreation” fan himself, and I laughed about how much harder it was for him to come up with a new name than it was for Dwyer, whose band performed under more than a dozen names.
Besides the names, though, both men express heartfelt joy at their music’s ability to make others happy: Dwyer finds his passion is hosting a musical kids show, and Shields talked about the great feeling that comes from performing with Harmony Crew, a St. Thomas group he leads that plays at elderly homes and children hospitals throughout the school year.
“We usually play jazz and people just light up, sing along to all these great old songs they know,” he said. “It’s really cool to see.”
Raised in a musical family alongside two brothers and with a mom who taught piano, Shields switched to guitar from piano when he was 11 and hasn’t looked back since. At St. Thomas he has dove into musical theory and honed his performance skills as a member of the jazz band and through playing around the Twin Cities on his own. With a music business major and as president of the Music Industry Club, he is sharpening skills to support his own performance career or to have other options in the music industry.
“Since coming here I’ve learned a lot more about how music works and how I can use that for my own career,” Shields said. “It has given me a better idea of how to conduct myself, why to conduct myself the way I do.”
Dressed in black T-shirt and a jacket for a performance later that day, Shields was more than happy to jump away from the topic of music to discuss his biggest fear, the best vacation he ever had and a very special Canadian rock.
What is the best money you’ve ever spent?
This last spring break one my of high school buddies who goes to Northwestern and I road-tripped down to Florida – took us 22 hours – to see one of our other high school friends who’s in the Navy and is stationed down there. That was the trip of a lifetime.
What is your biggest fear?
Growing old and looking back and having a regret, wishing I would have taken a chance on something I didn’t.
What’s the most difficult assignment you’ve ever had to complete?
I have to go back to high school for that one. Freshman year I was in principles of engineering … and we were tasked with building a boat out of … tinfoil. It was me and two other guys. The hardest part was working with those two other guys. We just didn’t click. I love collaborating; it’s a great way to get results. Just not with these two guys.
Who’s your favorite teacher ever?
[St. Thomas music professor] Chris Kachian. I have pretty good relationships with my other teachers, but his is just a whole different level. He’s so relatable, such a down-to-earth guy. He really is just looking out for the best for his students.
What’s the best vacation you’ve ever been on?
The spring break trip was a good one, but my best vacation was as a senior in high school where my family decided to take a cruise with some other family friends who also had seniors. So, like a senior last vacation thing. Went down to Florida and had a day before the cruise left. I’m the biggest Disney nerd you’ll ever meet, so we went to Disney World for the day. My little brother woke up sick so my dad stayed with him at the hotel, so it was just my mom and me at Disney World for the day. It was the best day ever.
What’s one thing you’re really curious about?
I’m interested in psychology. I find – I’m more introverted unless I’m up on stage where you need to be extroverted – that people watching is one of my favorite things to do. Or talking to people and thinking back on why they said something or acted a certain way. That’s very interesting to me. If I had another four years I might study psychology.
What was your most prized possession as a kid?
When I was in Canada when I was 11 [and we had moved back for a year before coming back to Grand Rapids], I really didn’t want to go to a new school. We were going to walk to school, about a mile every day, and I met this guy from Finland; we were neighbors and our dads worked at the same company. There was a rock we kicked to school every day. I still have that rock, so that’s probably my most prized possession from when I was a kid.
Editor’s note: One of the most common benefits students cite about their St. Thomas education is the ability to connect on a personal level with faculty members, which supports not only students’ academic work but who their growth as people; the value of knowing they are “not just a number” is immeasurable for students. There are countless such relationships across St. Thomas, and with the “Tommie Mentors and Mentees” series, the Newsroom has sought to illustrate what that value means for specific student-faculty pairs. Please let us know in the comments section, on social media or at firstname.lastname@example.org what these relationships have meant to your education at St. Thomas, and if there are others that would be good for us to highlight.
As engineering professor Sarah Baxter pointed out, mentor-mentee relationships can come in many forms. Often, a mentee is looking to follow in the same path as the mentor, exploring similar steps along the way.
That is not exactly the case for Baxter and junior Anna Schellpfeffer. Instead, Baxter has focused on helping Schellpfeffer have a multitude of experiences and explore all her potential choices.
“This is all helping Anna say, ‘Oh, I have choices. I should look into all these choices and see what’s there for me,’” Baxter said.
Baxter first tapped the junior to be a peer mentor in the department’s statics lab.
“We had a brand new lab this year dealing with springs and trusses, and that was so much fun to be part of,” Schellpfeffer said. “[Students] are doing this really cool stuff, and seeing them do this and succeed is so cool.”
The pair also worked on research together last summer thanks to a St. Thomas-funded grant.
“She is the most independent of any of the researchers I’ve worked with so far,” Baxter said. “And I have dragged her into other things. I was thinking about the word ‘mentor’ and it’s so fraught with ideas. … Mentors really can’t be assigned; you have to pick them for yourself. One makes the gesture and then you accept or reject. I’m not giving her life guidance; she doesn’t want to necessarily do what I do, but I’ll say, ‘Do you want to try this?’ And she has said yes.”
That includes continuing their research together in the spring semester with a Collaborative Inquiry Grant. Working with Baxter has been a huge part of her academic experience, Schellpfeffer said.
“It’s absolutely great, and part of the reason I picked St. Thomas. I was looking at the University of Minnesota, University of [Wisconsin] Madison, but I wanted a smaller school where I could get more attention, find more opportunities on my own and through teachers,” she said. “It’s been really great. I wouldn’t have had these opportunities at a small school, so I absolutely love that I’ve been able to do this.”
Baxter said she is looking to develop more undergraduate-friendly opportunities in her field of computational mechanics, so Schellpfeffer has been a huge help in helping develop new projects.
“She’s an excellent student so I don’t have to do a ton of mentoring like, ‘Here’s how you budget your time so you don’t fail that class,’” Baxter said. “I think she would be a great candidate for grad school, but that’s not entirely the direction she’s sure she’ll go. … She’s talented enough she may just get one of those jobs that’s so fun in the industry. We need to let her see as many experiences as we can.”
Theresa Ricke-Kiely has been selected as the new executive director of the Center for the Common Good. The center will serve as a central point for all the community engagement efforts, both curricular and co-curricular, that happen across the University of St. Thomas.
Ricke-Kiely is the current executive director of the Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies and an associate professor of the practice at the University of Notre Dame.
Father Larry Snyder, vice president for mission, said that he felt Ricke-Kiely was right for the position because she had experience running a well-respected, substantial center and also is a faculty member.
“It’s going to be essential for the Center for the Common Good to have strong relationships with the faculty on campus and she’s had that experience,” Snyder said.
Ricke-Kiely said she is looking forward to collaborating with the campus community, emphasizing that she appreciated there were so many individuals who are excited about the mission statement and strategic plan.
“I’m looking forward to working with this dynamic group so we can further the common good mission and help students understand the importance of social justice and action including how this service will enrich their own lives,” Ricke-Kiely said.
She said helping students understand how they can contribute to the common good for the entirety of their lives is an important part of Catholic social teaching. “It will be the center’s responsibility to teach students that this is a lifelong calling and commitment, not a random volunteer experience. Students have an opportunity to create stronger communities in solidarity, making sure that everyone is afforded dignity and a sense of agency,” Ricke-Kiely said. She will start at St. Thomas on July 1.
The new center will comprise the former Center for Global and Local Engagement, which coordinated curricular community engagement efforts; Tommies Together Volunteer Center; VISION and Volunteer in Action trips; and volunteering done by clubs. The aim of the center is to provide consistency and guidelines for when students go into the community and purposeful reflection when students return.
In addition to Ricke-Kiely, Kelly Sardon-Garrity will serve as the associate director; Dustin Killpack will serve as assistant director; and Jacob Cunningham, director of the VISION and VIA programs, will join the center. A faculty director also will be hired.
“We’re all very excited for this to happen,” Snyder said. “We think there’s going to be a lot of synergy.”
Eighteen sets of eyes followed Jim Wetherbe as he moved throughout the third-floor classroom at the Opus College of Business’ Schulze School of Entrepreneurship on Friday on St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus. Wetherbe, a Richard Schulze Distinguished Professor from Texas Tech University, talked about different communication models that could be used to negotiate difficult conversations those listening would undoubtedly have in their future.
“You have to honestly feel like it’s a win-win,” Wetherbe said in response to a question about whether a conversation could be steered toward a solution for both parties.
It would all be valuable information, because those listening were in the business of promoting their ideas: They were about half of the college students on hand for e-Fest, a three-day conference and business competition where $200,000 was awarded for the country’s top undergraduate business ideas. Wetherbe’s was one of several seminars throughout the conference, which culminated on Saturday night with the awarding of $100,000 to a team of undergraduates from Virginia Tech University for their idea Park and Diamond, “an attractive, packable bicycle helmet that resembles a baseball cap and gives bicyclists protection without bulk;” $50,000 to Northeastern University’s Eat Your Coffee, “a breakfast bar loaded with caffeine for students and others who don’t have time to pick up coffee but need their caffeine hit;” and $25,000 to Auburn University’s Yellow Card, “a digital currency similar to Bitcoin, but with many features that make it less challenging to use, especially for those traveling in other countries.” An additional $25,000 in grant funding went to the three respective universities to support entrepreneurship.
“It’s so inspiring to be surrounded by so many successful people and to see there are people who think like you and have the same passions,” said Lizzy Svigelj of University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose company, Torridity Instrument Heating Solutions LLC, creates products that allow musicians to move and use their instruments in adverse outdoor conditions. “It’s just an absolutely incredible and humbling experience. We started as just a design team and now we’re here pitching our idea at a national entrepreneur competition, so it’s an amazing opportunity no matter what.”
With 25 teams vying for the awards not everyone was deemed a “winner,” but the value of the gathering went beyond just the competition for many.
“I appreciate how all of our ideas are so vastly different. I don’t regularly interact with engineering entrepreneurs, with artificial intelligence, with medical devices,” said Fitzgerald Robertson II of Seton Hill University, whose company, Sensor4Safe, designed a system to alert car owners when a child or pet is forgotten in the vehicle. “Having those opportunities to see not only the differences but the similarities, the common threads and strategies and tactics we all use. It’s been very interesting and helpful.”
Both Robertson and Svigelj cited the keynote address from Richard Schulze, former CEO of Best Buy, on Thursday night as a highlight.
“He was incredibly humble,” Robertson said. “Ethics and morality are at his core, and that’s something I appreciate and aspire to.”
St. Thomas students Meghan Sharkus (EspressionMed) and Sam Rystrom (FinMoto) also participated as two of the 25 finalists invited to e-Fest.
Hundreds of St. Thomas students, faculty and staff, and other community members filled James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall at St. Thomas on Friday to hear Ross Douthat and Dr. Cornel West discuss Christianity and politics in today’s United States. Some 1,100 people watched the prominent intellectuals discuss, debate and often bring levity to some of the most serious issues facing our society today.
“This was the best program I have attended at St. Thomas in the the 25-plus years that I have been part of the community,” said Father Daniel Griffith of the School of Law. “The dialogue was relevant, substantive, humorous, humble, prophetic, inspiring and rooted in authentic Christian faith.”
Bringing the two to campus to lead such a dialogue showcased for many the possibilities for civil debate and exchange of ideas between people of two seemingly competing sets of beliefs: Douthat, as the youngest op-ed columnist in the history of The New York Times, is well known for helping the conservative movement find a new relevance and constituencies in 21st century America; West is a prominent intellectual and adviser to Bernie Sanders.
“This kind of respectful dialogue is something we cherish and look to promote at St. Thomas,” President Julie Sullivan said in her welcoming remarks. “In a world that often seems polarized, we know we must resist categorizing those with opposing views or beliefs from our own as evil, stupid or ignorant. In fact, they may know and understand things we do not. It is only when we start with this assumption that no one has negative intent … that rational discourse can begin.”
Together the pair waded into a wide range of issues, from the current situation in Syria; to John Dewey and the splintered legacy of democratic education in capitalist-driven America; to the Black Lives Matter movement and its shifts and continuity of the spiritual core of the civil rights movement; to the role of Catholic universities; marriage; and the similarities and differences between Sanders and Donald Trump.
“It’s almost as good to hear two fine-tuned minds explore meaning-of-life issues as a John Coltrane solo,” one audience member said during the lengthy Q&A session of the evening.
In response to the evening’s final question, from a 16-year-old asking for advice on how to live her life in a country seemingly becoming more racist and xenophobic, Douthat encouraged her to seek out her experience of things in her everyday life.
“It’s useful to remember that real life is not the internet. The internet is a magnifier of anxiety. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have anxiety about the presidency of Donald Trump … but you should be most anxious about how they affect things in your real life,” he said. “There is a temptation to seek out virtual experiences that magnify your anxiety and don’t reflect everyday life, and the reality of life in 2017 is that America is decadent … flawed, fragmented, split apart … but most periods of history have had evils, some even greater than the ones we face now. People in those contexts have found ways to live their lives heroically and courageously without falling into a palsy of anxiety and victimization, where heroism and courage is what is called for. That’s the right way to live. … Live as fully as you can in fleshed reality whenever the possibility presents itself.”
The event was hosted by the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law and Public Policy. Co-sponsors included the Black Empowerment Student Alliance; Black Law Student Association; Catholic Students Incorporated; Center for Catholic Studies; Christian Legal Society; College Democrats; Lex Vitae; Minnesota Justice Foundation; Office for Mission; Office of Diversity and Inclusion; St. Thomas More Society; School of Law; Students for Human Life; and Students for Justice and Peace.
The sanctity of our campus was shaken on Friday night when there was an accidental discharge of a firearm in Flynn Hall, one of our residence halls. St. Thomas is a weapons-free campus and the safety of our students, staff and faculty is a top priority for all on campus. We are reaching out to all St. Thomas community members to ensure you feel supported.
If you are experiencing fear or anxiety, please reach out to our student affairs, residence life, or campus ministry staff. We all stand ready to support you as you process the situation.
Last night, the student who was injured was in a separate room from the firearm and not visible to the student handling the weapon when it accidentally discharged. This was a terrible accident. The injured student was transported to the hospital. We have learned the injuries were more severe than originally identified. Surgery was required, but the student is recovering and is stable. Out of respect for the student, we are not releasing the name. Please keep the student and family in your prayers.
All involved last night were St. Thomas students. This was not an act of violence. It is being investigated by St. Paul police as an accidental discharge of a firearm. The weapon from this incident is in police custody. The individual who discharged to weapon is not on campus. There is no current threat.
Possessing a firearm on university property is a violation of the student code of conduct. The university takes this violation very seriously and is conducting an immediate and thorough investigation. The outcome will be handled through the student conduct process.
The University issued an alert to all students, staff and faculty immediately after receiving the report. If you did not receive an alert, please log on to Murphy online and update your notifications. Many parents have asked how they can be notified as well. There are three alert sources to share with your family:
- Follow the Department of Public Safety on Twitter.
- Add your parent’s phone number to your emergency alert notifications through Murphy online. Each student can register two phone numbers in addition to email addresses.
- LIKE and follow the University of St. Thomas MN on Facebook.
We appreciate the cooperation of everyone on our campus and the support from St. Paul Police Department and Ramsey County Emergency responders. Together, as a community, we all work to maintain a safe campus community.
Two St. Thomas College of Arts and Science professors – Mark Neuzil of Communication and Journalism and Edward “Ted” Ulrich of Theology – will travel to the Czech Republic and India, respectively, during the 2017-18 school year as part of the prestigious Fulbright Scholar Program.
The Fulbright Scholar Program offers opportunities for American scholars, artists and professionals to conduct research, lecture and consult with other scholars and institutions abroad.
“Our faculty are well positioned to be awarded these competitive and prestigious fellowships, and they are receiving them with greater regularity, with Heather Shirey in the Department of Art History having only recently returned from her spring semester in China in 2016,” CAS Dean Terry Langen said. “However, to my knowledge we have never had two [College of Arts and Sciences] faculty members win Fulbrights in the same year, so this is a very exciting development.”
Neuzil will be a teaching scholar at Charles University in Prague, where he will teach undergraduate students journalism ethics and graduate students journalism history during the fall semester.
“It’s just a real thrill for me. If you look down the list of people who have been Fulbright [Scholars] before, holy cow. There’s a lot of heavy hitters,” Neuzil said.
Neuzil – whose family is Czech on his father’s side and who grew up in a Czech neighborhood in Iowa – has been to the country several times before, and said he is looking forward to working with their students. (He will be teaching in English to students with a required level of proficiency.)
“I’m also interested in working in another media system for a while. Czech Republic is relatively new, really only been a couple decades or more, so their media system is pretty new,” Neuzil said. “The training of prospective journalists has to be different than what I’ve lived. I’m really curious to see what the students expect, what we can teach them, what they can teach me, how their system is different from ours. I’m eager to meet the people who run TV stations, newspapers and radio and see what they expect from their journalists. It will be exciting.”
Ulrich will be making his eighth trip to India, building on several study abroad courses he has taught there and a 2015 sabbatical. He said that familiarity helped him earn the prestigious scholarship. Over his nine-month stay Ulrich will teach Hindu-Christian Dialogue: A Historical Survey, and write a paper documenting his teaching experiences. He also will conduct research and produce a second article-length paper comparing the development of the views of Aurobindo Ghose and Mahatma Gandhi on passive and active resistance. All of this will take place through the Department of Gandhian Thought and Peace Science at Gandhigram Rural Institute in Tamil Nadu.
“I’m looking forward to just being out there in the environment, in the countryside for nine months,” he said. “My longest trips have been three and a half months; the longer you’re there the more you penetrate into that culture.”
It’s easy to assume everything is ready to continue smoothly in the growing field of urban agriculture: Urban home and community gardens pop up more and more, and the evidence of sustainability and social benefits continues to grow. More of a good thing is a good thing, right?
Well, hold that thought. As is often the case with the complexities of modern life, there’s a bit more to the picture. Freshly armed with a $500,000 grant over five years from the National Science Foundation, St. Thomas biology faculty Chip Small and Adam Kay, and their students, are primed to contribute some much-needed science: They will be studying what effects recycled nutrients have in the soils of community gardens, which could greatly help shape the future of how urban ecosystems handle food.
“The main focal point of the grant is on the use of nutrients and how to recycle them efficiently. That’s such a general issue for an expanding population,” Kay said. “We know the stats of how 40-some percent of food is wasted in the agriculture system, so thinking about how the human civilization collectively can operate more efficiently, we’re going to need that moving forward.”
Small, who secured the funding as an early career grant, has been studying nutrient recycling in different ecosystems since his Ph.D. research and recently has shifted his lens to urban ecosystems.
“I’ve been asking questions about how efficiently we can recycle nutrients from food waste into new food through composting, coupled with urban agriculture,” Small said. “Something like nearly half the food imported into cities ends up as waste, and we compost maybe 5 percent of that waste. Theoretically that could be scaled up and provide lots of nutrients for urban agriculture.”
Of course, scaling anything up means increasing the amount of everything in play and, when it comes to growing food, that means increasing the amount of phosphorus.
“There’s sort of a nutrient mismatch between compost and what crops need. Compost, food waste, manure tend to have a lot of phosphorus relative to nitrogen,” Small said. “What we’re seeing is a lot of urban gardens that … are leeching out phosphorus. We have laws in Minnesota that you can’t just put phosphorus fertilizer on your yard because we’re concerned about water pollution and phosphorus going into lakes. But, you can put as much compost as you want in your garden and you might have the same effect. Nobody has really looked at that. That’s the research question.”
Finding their niche
Over the past six years Kay and his students have worked to develop a physical infrastructure that will be more crucial than ever for this expanding research: St. Thomas’ on-campus sustainability garden and two community gardens in St. Paul have been – and will continue to be – fertile grounds for experiments.
“There have been many students who have … worked long days, going above and beyond to establish these sites on campus, at community centers, and making everything run professionally, building up goodwill with neighbors, community members, government officials, local organizations,” Kay said. “Putting themselves out to make this work, and now it feels like the gamble paid off.”
Having such a strong base of gardens to experiment with is a rare resource for a university, which definitely helped secure this new funding, Small said. Another aspect was how under-researched urban agriculture has been to this point, meaning Small, Kay and their students are wading into relatively uncharted waters.
“This is kind of outside-the-box stuff we’re doing; it’s a niche that I think is really good for us,” Small said. “Obviously land grant universities are good at doing big-scale agriculture stuff, but urban agriculture is a totally different thing, different scale, different management processes. There’s gotten to be some good social science surrounding this … but there just has not been much of this [kind of] science at all. There are some interesting science questions here.”
Small said they have worked with leaders in Minneapolis and St. Paul, including city councils, to better understand what information could be most beneficial for shaping how food is treated within their cities.
“We’ve gotten a pretty good feel for what some of the relevant questions that cities are asking,” he said. “The information we can provide with this research will be very applicable and we’ll make it readily available. … We want to make this as accessible as possible for the whole community.”
Watering St. Thomas’ scholarly model
Another aspect of the grant Small said St. Thomas was suited for was an emphasis on integrating students’ research with teaching. That “works perfectly here,” Small said. “I’ve already got research incorporated into the courses I teach and we can keep building off that.”
“This award not only recognizes the importance of the research itself, but is also a testament to our commitment to the teacher-scholar model,” said Biology Department chair Jayna Ditty. “This award reflects how much we as a community value the integration of education and research, and I am excited to see what Chip, Adam and their students are able to accomplish in the next five years.”
Senior Katherine Connelly – who’s taking Small’s Urban Ecosystem Ecology course and will stay on this summer to help with research – said her experience already has expanded her ideas about agriculture after growing up on a large family farm in Wisconsin.
“Cities depend on rural areas for their food, but now we see that cities are constantly expanding and are only going to get bigger. With the increasing size you have more need for food in these areas, so urban agriculture is a way for cities to have more food independence,” she said. “Urban agriculture won’t necessarily be able to feed everyone, but it has a lot of other benefits – economic, community benefits – that we can potentially take more advantage of.”
With more and more students like Connelly having the opportunity to contribute thanks to the NSF’s additional funding, there’s increasing optimism about the contributions they will make toward the community’s common good.
“The thing that’s most gratifying is that it did seem to emerge from the commitment to making the world a better place. It wasn’t just an abstract, scientific pursuit … it was people realizing there were broader social benefits that come out of this,” Kay said. “That’s a real inspiration and something I hope people can see, how there’s ways of having people have their scholarship be connected to our mission and broader goals, and still be viable in your field.
“We use the food we produce for farmers markets, for generating enthusiasm about nutrition on campus and for all the work we do in communities like with Brightside Produce … the work at the community centers where students are ambassadors for the projects, working with small children. All these projects are possible because of the nature of food production in these settings,” Kay added. “This resonates with a lot of people.”
In a rapidly changing world, university students seek solution-oriented learning experiences; they want to make a difference in the world and begin to solve complex social problems. Students want to become “changemakers” – people who are empowered to help find lasting solutions to social and environmental problems.
Now, the University of St. Thomas has received the distinctive honor of being named a Changemaker Campus by Ashoka U, a global consortium working to inspire a culture of social innovation in higher education. St. Thomas becomes the first in Minnesota and the 40th Changemaker Campus in the consortium, which includes Arizona State University, Boston College, Brown University, Duke, Marquette, Monterrey Tec in Mexico and Singapore Management University.
A Changemaker Showcase event and celebration at noon today outside the Anderson Student Center (or inside Dorsey Way in the case of poor weather) will kick off a year of changemaking to celebrate the designation.
“By designating St. Thomas as a Changemaker Campus, Ashoka U recognizes our deep commitment to creating an educational environment in which all can collaborate to create a more equitable and sustainable world,” said University of St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan. “It also recognizes the university’s innovative social entrepreneurship education and research across disciplines.”
A direct outcome of the Strategic Plan, St. Thomas 2020, the Ashoka designation matches perfectly with university’s mission to create morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good. By engaging all the university’s stakeholders and giving students more resources to learn about social innovation and then actively do social innovation, St. Thomas’ changemaking focus as part of Ashoka will help create exciting, engaging educational opportunities for all current and future Tommies.
Today’s students’ expectations from their educational experiences are changing: 72 percent say that having a job “where I can make a difference” is very important and 65 percent expect to make a social or environmental impact through their work, according to a 2012 Net Impact study conducted by Rutgers University and supported by the MacArthur Foundation.
“The needs of society are changing very rapidly, including the educational needs,” Sullivan said. “We have the opportunity to have the flexibility, the adaptability to anticipate those needs, to develop new programs to really be leading and preparing people.”
“The educational goals of students are changing,” said Marina Kim, Ashoka U’s co-founder and executive director. “These student demands add a new dimension to the call for innovation in higher education: How can colleges and universities foster the knowledge, skills and dispositions that equip graduates to address increasingly complex global challenges? Every student should get the chance to acquire the skills necessary to make a difference in the world.”
Ashoka recognized St. Thomas for creating a culture of changemaking, which is built on a long tradition of social innovation and entrepreneurship at the university. They noted St. Thomas’ commitment to service through volunteer activities and extensive class partnerships with community organizations. They cited efforts in the Opus College of Business to spawn and support social ventures such as Love Your Melon, an apparel brand that donates half its profits to pediatric cancer research. They also pointed to St. Thomas’ unique interdisciplinary offerings such as Peace Engineering, a collaboration between the School of Engineering and the Department of Justice and Peace Studies.
Other key changemaking initiatives at St. Thomas increase educational access and enhance collaboration. Ashoka praised St. Thomas’ commitment to reducing the educational opportunity gap by launching the Dougherty Family College, which will provide mentorship and other support to help low-income students thrive in college. St. Thomas’ leadership in interfaith cooperation also drew particular attention, including its programs that engage people of all faiths on and off campus.
As part of the selection process, Ashoka was briefed on many of the programs and resources St. Thomas already has in place, among others, that position it as a changemaking leader:
- The Makerspace, which provides 3-D printers, laser cutters, sewing machines, and space for lectures and collaborative programming.
- Tommies Together Volunteer Center, which coordinates co-curricular opportunities for volunteer and advocacy work.
- Business 200, the service-learning program required for all undergraduate business majors.
- St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) center, which provides equipment and training for technology-enhanced instruction.
- Sustainable Communities Partnership program, which pairs courses with environmental projects identified by local municipalities.
- Living-Learning Communities, which connect a cohort of students to shared curricular and co-curricular activities organized around a theme.
- Educating for the Future Strategic Planning Task Force, which is working to revise the undergrad curriculum.
- Study abroad programs and the great capacity for global changemaking.
- Alignment across the strategic plan.
- A social entrepreneurship focus across both undergrad and graduate programs, already seen in many existing service-learning programs.
- New educational opportunities for underserved communities, particularly with Dougherty Family College, collaboration with Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and ThreeSixty Journalism.
- Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services (IPC), which provides clinical training opportunities for graduate psychology, social work and law students.
- Brightside Produce, a financially sustainable model for delivering produce to underserved neighborhood corner stores.
- Cleantech Open Midwest, the new business incubator program in the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship.
This designation is only the beginning of a process to help students find meaning while working to create a more just and equitable world.
“Being a Changemaker Campus will open doors to significant, long-term partnerships with global institutions and within our own community,” said Adam Kay, St. Thomas director of social innovation. “We look forward to the increased opportunities for our students, faculty and staff to help solve some of the really tough social challenges we are facing.”
Poet Katie Donovan of Dublin will receive the 21st annual Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry of the University of St. Thomas Center for Irish Studies.
Donovan, 54, is the author of five books. She will read from her work at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 21, in the auditorium of the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts on St. Thomas’ St. Paul campus. The reading, free and open to the public, will cap a week of events, classroom visits and public appearances by the poet.
The $5,000 O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry, established in 1997, honors Irish poets. The award is named for Lawrence O’Shaughnessy, who taught English at St. Thomas from 1948-1950, formerly served on the university’s Board of Trustees and is the retired head of the I.A. O’Shaughnessy Foundation.
Born in 1962, Donovan grew up on a farm in County Wexford and was educated at Trinity College Dublin and the University of California, Berkeley. She spent a year in Hungary teaching English before returning to Ireland to work as a journalist with the Irish Times. She has published five poetry collections, all with the British publisher Bloodaxe. Currently she works as an Amatsu practitioner and has taught creative writing at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dun Laoghaire. She is widowed and has two children.
Her books include Watermelon Man, 1993; Entering the Mare, 1997; Day of the Dead, 2002; Rootling: New and Selected Poems, 2010; and most recently, Off Duty, 2016, a collection that focuses on the year in which her husband died of throat cancer.
She will take part in a public conversation with Minnesota poet James P. Lenfestey titled “Deep Heart’s Core: Poetry and Mystery.” The event begins at 7 p.m. Monday, April 17, at the Merriam Park Branch Library, 1831 Marshall Ave.
After a career in academia, advertising and journalism, Lenfestey embarked on a career as creative writer in 2000. He has published five poetry collections and edited two popular poetry anthologies, including last year’s If Bees Are Few: A Hive of Bee Poems (University of Minnesota Press, 2016). His memoir Seeking the Cave: The Way to Cold Mountain (Milkweed Editions, 2014) was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award.
Both the conversation and the reading are co-sponsored by the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, a nonprofit group that advocates for the library.
Previous winners of the O’Shaughnessy Award are Eavan Boland, John F. Deane, Peter Sirr, Louis de Paor, Moya Cannon, Frank Orsmby, Thomas McCarthy, Michael Coady, Kerry Hardie, Dennis O’Driscoll, Seán Lysaght, Pat Boran, Mary O’Malley, Theo Dorgan, Leanne O’Sullivan, Gerard Smyth, Leontia Flynn, Catherine Phil MacCarthy, Paula Meehan and Tom French.
For more information, contact Jim Rogers, director of the Center for Irish Studies, at (651) 962-5662 or email@example.com.