Big things are happening at the University of St. Thomas, and this upcoming year should prove to be an exciting one.

At the academic convocation at Schulze Hall Auditorium on Tuesday, President Julie Sullivan described the 2019-20 academic year as one of completion, celebration and transition. “We are celebrating the milestone of achieving the vision of the St. Thomas 2020 strategic plan and are looking forward to St. Thomas 2025 and beyond,” she said.

In her speech, Sullivan noted accomplishments and outlined updates on the university’s strategic priorities:

  1. Educating for the future
  2. Flexible pathways
  3. Enhanced visibility and profile
  4. Global connections
  5. Embracing differences as one human family
  6. Catholic-inspired community engagement
  7. Integrated and expanded health and wellness programs
  8. Integrated planning

Educating for the future: Sullivan highlighted the new undergraduate curriculum, which will be implemented with the incoming first-year class for the 2020-21 academic year. “We have accomplished many, many things, and our faculty have developed many programs that meet the needs of the workplace,” Sullivan said.

She also shared the latest updates regarding the STEAM complex, which involves visioning and designing a building bringing arts and design to STEM, and math and engineering to the arts.

Flexible pathways: Sullivan described the enhanced transfer pathways the university offers, proudly highlighting that the university graduated the first class of Dougherty Family College, and that the university’s four-year graduation rate of 69% is the highest ever. “We want to ensure that we’re a transfer-friendly school,” she said.

Sullivan also talked about Continuing and Professional Education (CAPE) – an expanded online education initiative under the direction of Vice President for Information Technology Services and Chief Information Officer Ed Clark – that will focus on workplace skills for alumni and the broader community.

Enhanced visibility and profile: “We want to ensure that there’s a deeper, broader impact of our mission,” Sullivan said. She noted that the university raised its academic profile and is focusing on expanding the geographic diversity of students. Currently, 80% of first-year students are from Minnesota. “We want students from Minnesota, but we need more students from other places as well,” she said.

A noteworthy aspect of enhanced visibility for the university involves the search for a new athletics conference. St. Thomas can compete in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) for up to two more years; an athletics advisory committee is weighing options for moving forward. “At the forefront of [the committee] deliberations is our commitment to culture and values, and our commitment to providing an outstanding student-athlete experience,” Sullivan said.

Global connections: The university has achieved many accomplishments in this area, with total international enrollment growing since 2014, the number of international faculty and staff doubling, and 40 faculty-led study abroad courses offered last year. “Our focus will be to maintain study abroad participation in the face of competition for students’ time in J-Term and summer, and to develop new opportunities for semester-long study,” Sullivan said.

Embracing differences as one human family: “We’ve become more diverse, and we have to continue to become more inclusive,” Sullivan said. She pointed to initiatives in progress under Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence Kha Yang, including an external audit of how the university’s policies and practices compare to external benchmarks, and the development and implementation of strategic diversity, equity and inclusion plans.

Catholic-inspired community engagement: “Our philosophy is that we explore the beauty of all faiths,” Sullivan said. “The Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas have never looked so beautiful,” Sullivan said. “The beauty of that chapel has reemerged.”

She also highlighted the upcoming Ashoka U Exchange St. Thomas will be hosting next spring, when more than 600 attendees will be participating in a conference with the theme “Changemaking for the Common Good.”

Sullivan also noted the continued integration of the university’s mission, including the implementation of the university’s first sustainability strategic plan, as highlights.

Integrated and expanded health and wellness programs: In this area, the future includes the launch of an integrated College of Health, building the foundation for a School of Nursing, and pursuing separate accreditation for the St. Thomas School of Social Work.

Integrated planning: “During the course of this year, emerging from the deep holes of our north campus will be two new residence halls,” Sullivan said. She also highlighted the two-year residency requirement, which goes into effect in fall 2021.

Looking back, looking forward

“By the end of this academic year, we will have achieved our St. Thomas 2020 strategic priorities, likely to a much greater degree than anyone imagined,” Sullivan said. “We have far exceeded our expectations in what we have done together.”

In looking toward the next milestone, St. Thomas 2025, Sullivan said she thinks about Archbishop John Ireland, who was described as bold, entrepreneurial, courageous, visionary and independent. She said the university will stay true to mission of advancing the common good while capitalizing on its strengths.

“We will tackle the grand challenges of our day and be at the table with the strongest partners to advance the common good,” she said.

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