It is no secret that the University of St. Thomas shows pride in the accomplishments of its students who remain committed and dedicated to the challenging work, faith and community that has welcomed and embraced them on campus. Supporting the success of the students enrolled at Dougherty Family College (DFC) is no exception.

Expanding pathways for students through Dougherty Family College is one of 16 priorities for the university that President Julie Sullivan spoke about in the 2021 State of the University address when she discussed the St. Thomas 2025 road map to strategic change. 

Interim Dean of the Dougherty Family College Buffy Smith

Interim Dean of Dougherty Family College Buffy Smith

What might that look like for DFC? Dr. Buffy Smith, who is the interim dean at the Dougherty Family College, answered that question as it relates to how the DFC team is committed to meeting those priorities for its students and college. The main priority for DFC that aligns with the St. Thomas 2025 strategic plan is equipping scholars with bachelor’s of arts and bachelor’s of science major degree plans for all the colleges at St. Thomas, she said. 

The St. Thomas 2025 plan spells out this priority: “As we continue to grow and strengthen the Dougherty Family College, we will set the standard for academic preparation of traditionally underrepresented students by achieving high retention and graduation rates and by creating pathways for scholars to earn a four-year degree.”  

Smith said that one of the college’s goals is striving for an 80% graduation rate. “We want higher graduation rates for scholars within two years.” 

Scholars at Dougherty Family College will be able to complete their two-year associate degree. Additionally, the college is putting mechanisms in place to help ensure that more than 70% of DFC scholars continue to earn bachelor’s degree at the university. One unique feature of DFC  is offering professional development; the goal is 90% internship participation.

Mortaza Ahmady

Mortaza Ahmady in 2017

Smith said that St. Thomas at large is committed to continuing the colleges cycle of success.  In her role in helping the college succeed, Smith is committed to giving students the right guidance in making their goals achievable. Two of those students were highlighted in Sullivan’s State of the University address: Mortaza Ahmady and Khadra Sharif. 

Ahmady was part of the inaugural 2019 Dougherty Family College graduating class and is currently a student at the University of St. Thomas pursuing his bachelor’s degree. Ahmady migrated to the U.S from Iran on his own with the encouragement from his family to pursue his academic and professional goals. That he completed the DFC program and continued on for his bachelor’s degree is the sort of achievement the university applauds.

Khadra Sharif

Khadra Sharif

Sharif, the other student Sullivan celebrated, is a current student at DFC. Sharif was born in Saudi Arabia and grew up in Turkey. She came to the U.S in 2014, where she attended Cooper High School. Her commitment to pursuing her academic goals has been made possible with DFC’s support on closing financial gaps and allowing her to feel prepared in using her gifts and talents. 

During the State of the University, Sullivan read a letter from Sharif, who said she never imagined she’d go to college because of the financial barriers, but a scholarship from DFC made attending possible. 

“If it wasn’t for DFC, I wouldn’t be here [attending college],” Sharif said in the letter Sullivan read. “I wouldn’t be in a cohort where they help me. I wouldn’t have met the best professors who just text you and see how you’re doing.”


Sullivan maintained that Dougherty Family College is a priority for the university because DFC scholars “will contribute to the workforce in our community, and they will be civic leaders and their experiences will be with us not only to transform their lives, but it will put them on a different trajectory.”  

Dougherty Family College scholars enact the common good and showcase how being the change can transform lives. Smith added that the college has “built a village to see our scholars be successful; this means no scholar left behind.”  

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