Mark Brown / University of St. Thomas

DFC Scholars Share Impact of College

Second-year student Koko Agbobly, a Phi Theta Kappa and peer mentor to first-year students at the University of St. Thomas’ Dougherty Family College (DFC), wants to enter the medical profession but isn’t quite sure what path to take. She hopes to have a better understanding once she completes an internship at Mayo Sports Clinic that DFC arranged for her. 

DFC student Koko Agbably
Mark Brown / University of St. Thomas

The internship, she said, “will allow me to assist physical therapists and learn more about what they do.” She said it will also provide her with valuable work experience. 

The internship program at Dougherty Family College is one of the reasons Agbobly said she wanted to attend the two-year associate degree college in Minneapolis before continuing with her bachelor’s degree. “Not many people can say they got an internship as a sophomore,” she said. 

Agbobly was the emcee at the Dougherty Family College (DFC) fall Scholarship Spotlight Reception, which gave DFC scholars and alumni a chance to connect with one another and to thank donors and corporate partners who provide scholarships and other resources to DFC scholars.  

“DFC has made my transition into college so much easier than I could have imagined,” she said. “The scholarships I received made going to college so much more affordable for my family and allowed me the freedom to not worry about how I am going to pay for college, which means I can focus on my academics.” 

On average, DFC scholars pay $2,970, while more than half pay only $1,070 for the academic year after all grants and scholarships are applied. Books, a laptop, meals and metro bus passes are included in this amount. The affordability of a DFC education is made possible due to the generosity of the donors who support the school and its scholars. A show of that support is through a recently received $10 million anonymous gift to DFC – the largest gift received in the college’s five-year history. A challenge associated with that gift is for DFC to also raise another $10 million, bringing in a total of $20 million by the end of the academic year.  

“Dougherty Family College was the core belief that we as a Catholic university are called, even compelled, to create opportunities to create economic inclusion, to create beloved communities characterized by justice, and genuine and empathetic encounters. In a nutshell that is what the Dougherty Family College does,” St. Thomas President Rob Vischer said.   

The rate of DFC graduates who are currently earning their bachelor’s degrees or have earned their bachelor’s degree is 75%, said Dean Buffy Smith. To date, DFC has seen 36 students graduate with their bachelor’s degree. 

Koko Agbably and fellow DFC students pose for a group photo during the Dougherty Family College Scholarship Spotlight event in Schulze Hall in Minneapolis on Sept. 29, 2022.

Smith outlines a few accomplishments DFC has achieved and how administrators want to strive to achieve more. She said this is so that DFC can go from being a “good program” to an “exceptional program.” 

This program or its model benefits from Smith’s sociological research. “We have a proven track record for high educational outcomes,” she said. “For instance, when you think about our graduation rate, we have the highest two-year graduation rate in the state and nation.” The two-year graduation rate is 56%. 

“We are reducing poverty in the state,” Smith said. “One of our partners did a cost-benefit analysis study, and according to their economists and researchers, for every one dollar spent at DFC you get $4.81 in benefits that reduce poverty,” she added. “This shows that DFC is doing its part to reduce poverty cycles in Minnesota. Which transforms students, families, and their communities’ lives. Last year, 92% of students who earned their associate degree at DFC graduated with zero educational student debt and that was because of donor support.”

 A 2020 DFC alumni, Jaime Diaz Martinez, said, “I’ve worked multiple jobs throughout my college career even with my scholarships, so not having (the scholarships) would have been the end of the road for me. That is why I can honestly say that without the scholarships and support I wouldn’t have been here today,” he said. 

Student Jaime Diaz Martinez speaks during the Dougherty Family College Scholarship Spotlight event in Schulze Hall in Minneapolis on Sept. 29, 2022.

Diaz Martinez and his family are immigrants who had few finances. He said he needed a career that would help pull him out of poverty. He is currently pursuing elementary education at St. Thomas after bonding with educational leaders who showed him the impact he could have on other students. He will graduate from St. Thomas in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in education.  

While reflecting on how this scholarship has helped him achieve higher education debt-free, he said he realized how this will not just impact him, but it will also impact his future students and how he sees and teaches each of them. He will see in his students all the potential that so many teachers saw in him. “Many people have placed their bets on me, and I can say with great confidence that your investment is going to positively impact a lot of students, my students,” Diaz Martinez said.   

Other DFC students have similar gratitude for their DFC education. 

“I’m a first-generation college student and the DFC donors’ corporate partners and intern partners have made going to college without a heavy financial burden possible,” Janette Mendoza said. 

Student Janette Mendoza speaks during the DFC Scholarship Spotlight event in Schulze Hall, Minneapolis.

While at DFC, Mendoza found that an internship she was placed in during her sophomore year would result in her majoring in human resource management. Her internship taught her about the different parts of HR, and also helped her find her interest in talent acquisition. She graduated from DFC in 2021 and will graduate from St. Thomas in the spring.  

While reflecting on her time at DFC, Mendoza felt grateful to the program because it helped show her that she is a leader in both the academic world and the professional world. “One value I’ve learned at St. Thomas is paying it forward for the common good. Donors and partners embody and practice this value when they support DFC scholars,” she said. “As scholars we feel the impact and we strive to continue this legacy, all for advancing the common good. I sincerely say thank you to everyone for encouraging us scholars to pursue our dreams.”