In 2004, Brad Pulles ’08, then an incoming freshman, walked through the Arches as a student well before most of his fellow first-year undergraduates.
Coming off six weeks that summer as a REAL Program participant at St. Thomas, Pulles already had struck friendships with 15 new Tommies, as well as several staff and faculty, by the first day of fall semester.
“I really appreciated the guidance of the (REAL) staff. They helped prepare me for what college would be like. I also really appreciated the other students that I was able to share that experience with. That social piece was very important. I already felt at home at St. Thomas thanks to my time spent on campus over the summer,” he said.
For 15 years, Student Diversity and Inclusion Services (formerly Multicultural Student Services) at St. Thomas has coordinated the Reaching Excellence in Academics and Leadership (REAL) Program. Every summer, the program provides a selective, (now) five-week academic and co-curricular orientation program for students who are members of groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education (including students of color, asylees, refugees and permanent residents) who are newly admitted to St. Thomas.
It is designed to acquaint students with campus life and resources and to provide experience with college-level course work. Beginning last summer, students enrolled in a credit-bearing course.
Reflecting on the REAL Program’s merits, Pulles often comes back to its gift of encouraging confidence in and support among its participants and mentors.
“I think the biggest thing I gained was confidence. From the first day to the last day, you see growth. I think that any time we walk into an unfamiliar situation and we are on our own, there is a tendency to be a little bit afraid or apprehensive, even if those feelings are mixed with excitement," Pulles said. "After the REAL Program though, you know people. You know all kinds of different people who are here for you if you need help, including the other students. I think there is a kind of bond that develops amongst those in each program cohort … . To me, it is kind of a formative bond that can really set you on the right path for the rest of your four years in college.”
While in the program, during which he lived in Brady Hall and worked in the Modern and Classical Languages Department, Pulles already knew he wanted to continue with REAL in some way. And that he did.
Dr. Tori Svoboda, associate dean of students and Pulles’ supervisor, remembers meeting him as a new student: “He seemed a bit quiet and shy. The REAL program helped him develop meaningful connections with his peers and confidence in himself, laying the groundwork for his success as an undergraduate.”
After serving in student leadership roles within SDIS − as a REAL Program peer adviser and summer resident after wrapping up his sophomore and junior years and as an intern for SDIS’s Linkages Mentor Program, a formal peer-mentoring program in which first-year undergraduates are mentored by upperclassmen, his senior year − Pulles flourished, Svoboda noted.
“I was delighted when he graduated and became an admissions counselor for St. Thomas, as he had emerged as a confident yet humble leader,” she said.
Nearly five years after graduation, Pulles remains happily with St. Thomas, helping undergraduates succeed in college as SDIS’s retention program director, in which he manages three of its signature programs: REAL, Linkages and the Dease Scholarship Program.
It’s a role that suits him well.
Svoboda attested, “While he never needs to be the star of any show, you will no longer find him at the back of the room. He is front and center, confident and assured, a great role model for students and a true asset to our team.”
“The best part of my job is the energy that comes from working with students on a college campus. The passion they bring to what they do is real and inspiring. The students here are the ones who really give our programs life, and it is a pleasure to watch them grow and expand their potential during their formative college years,” he said.
Thinking about the long and promising future that lies in store for him, Pulles said, “If you had asked me years ago, I never would have told you that I was planning for a future in higher education, but I seem to have found something in this field that I think is meaningful and engaging. … I’ve learned through my experience that new opportunities can jump up and surprise you at any time, so right now, my plans are to continue to work hard in my current role to provide outstanding programs for our students with the rest of the Student Diversity and Inclusion Services staff.”