Brad Pulles, Associate Dean of Students at the Dougherty Family
Liam James Doyle / University of St. Thomas

DFC Associate Dean Advises Scholars to Be 'Themselves, Unapologetically'

A majority of the scholars at Dougherty Family College, a two-year college at the University of St. Thomas, identify as students of color or first-generation Americans. Brad Pulles, the associate dean of students, can relate to them because his background is similar. Pulles, who was born in Bogotá, Colombia, grew up in Minnesota and attended Osseo High School, once was a St. Thomas student.

Charting his own path is how Pulles has excelled. After he received his undergraduate degree in sociology from St. Thomas, he knew he wanted to continue his education, but cost is always something to consider. Through networking with others, he discovered tuition remission. This allows students to continue their education at a potential discount. St. Thomas offers free tuition to employees who are on staff for at least a year. Pulles discovered that the university also offered a graduate degree and job he was interested in, and he was fortunate enough to get hired in that role, as an admissions counselor for undergraduate admissions.

Pulles has held numerous roles at St. Thomas since receiving his bachelor’s degree from the university in 2008. He’s led strategy at both the department and program level, and has worked in admissions and at the Opus College of Business. His path and hard work sets an example for students to seize opportunities that present themselves – seizing opportunities is what he has done and it has helped him rise to the leadership level at DFC.

What made you want to go from working at the four-year university to the two-year DFC college?

Brad Pulles, Associate Dean of Students at the Dougherty Family
Brad Pulles, associate dean of students at the Dougherty Family College,
Liam James Doyle / University of St. Thomas

I don’t think of it in those exact terms. In my previous role as the GHR Fellows program director in the Opus College of Business, I wasn’t looking for a new role; I was happy and satisfied in that role. I still felt challenged, like there was work there that had to be done. Then the previous associate dean of students at Dougherty Family College (Dr. Doug Thompson) contacted me to share that he accepted a new role at another university and encouraged me to consider applying for this job. I wanted to take it seriously and give it that strong consideration, and so I looked into the role more [and] I could see myself stepping into it. The vision of DFC resonated with me and the values strongly aligned with mine, and I felt like this was a good opportunity for me to step out my comfort zone and try something new.

St. Thomas is about serving the common good. How are you helping to serve the common good and helping others serve the common good at DFC?

I love the mission at St. Thomas. I think it can be a mission that is leveraged to challenge St. Thomas to consistently strive to continuously be better for its students, faculty and staff. I believe that the work that we do at DFC to support the growth and development of our young people is critical to advancing the common good. Education is such a powerful thing.

We talk to our scholars about their ancestors and how proud [their ancestors] would be to see them now. They sacrificed a lot to give us opportunities that we have today, so we want our scholars to have that same sense of duty to those who come after us, so that they will pass that same message on to the next generation. To me, that is what advancing the common good is all about.

What is something important for DFC scholars to know?

Some of the conversations that I’ve had with DFC scholars since I started are about how important it is to just try to stay focused on your purpose and identify what it is that you are most passionate about and how you fulfill a need in this world, or how you can serve to advance the common good. I think that's so important because you know there will be times in your journey, both in college, and professionally and personally, when you're challenged and you feel like your back is against the wall, or you feel like you can’t go on or you wonder, ‘Why am I doing this?’ and you have to be able to identify that purpose and what that means to you.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to current and future DFC scholars?

I would want to encourage them to be themselves, unapologetically. I think that you will most likely have a better experience if you do that than if you’re trying to be someone you’re not. I think that can be hard sometimes, because as a Black or brown student or an LGBTQ+ identified student, or any other number of underrepresented identities, it can be easy to feel like you’re on the outside, especially on a predominately white campus. So, I think that if you stay true to yourself and find your community – [or] build community with those around you – and stay close to your values and who you are, [then] you’ll have a positive experience.

I’ve been impressed with DFC. The students speak highly of their college experience. I think part of that is because of their cohort experience, having faculty and staff who look like them, and an education that appreciates who they are, and tells their stories.

What are some takeaways you hope DFC graduates get out of their DFC journey?

Brad Pulles, Associate Dean of Students at the Dougherty Family Liam James Doyle / University of St. Thomas

One of the huge takeaways that we want for students is to get their degree, but I think it's not just their degree, it's what that degree represents. I think that’s confidence and belief in oneself and belief that when you set your mind out to do something, you can do it and that you don’t have to do it alone. All of those are sort of a byproduct, if you will, of earning that degree, and those are critically important things that mean more than a piece of paper that says you graduated. Those are things you can take with you for the rest of your life, and nobody can take those away from you.

What was your favorite event that was held on the DFC campus and why?

My favorite event hasn’t happened yet because I think my favorite event is going to be graduation. I love graduation because it's that badge of honor. It is that combination of so much hard work and persistence, and I know from personal experience and from working with students for years now, that success is not linear. There are ups, there are downs, there’s success, there’s failure, along the way. It’s a journey for the people who are on it together. In some ways, that can bring you closer together – being able to give people hugs as they cross the stage for graduation, and getting to see their families, who are so proud of them, and seeing their friends and support team. So that day is so special and [it’s] so rewarding. I think that will be my favorite event held on the DFC campus.

Cheyene Bialke is a second-year scholar enrolled at the Dougherty Family College. Cheyene is currently completing her associate degree at Dougherty Family College. Cheyene hopes to major in digital media arts at the University of St. Thomas and potentially pursue a profession around digital media or journalism.

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