The University of St. Thomas is in the midst of an ambitious strategic planning process. You can learn more about the process at www.stthomas.edu/strategic-planning. We have identified eight strategic priorities with focused programs and objectives we will pursue over the next several years. Each of the priorities builds upon existing strengths of the university. As the preeminent unit within the university, the College of Arts and Sciences will make significant contributions toward each of these strategic initiatives, just as it already is an important contributor in these areas.

One of the eight strategic initiatives is Catholic-Inspired Community Engagement. Faculty and students in the College of Arts and Sciences long have addressed community needs through service-learning opportunities in the courses we teach, in the research we conduct with community partners and as general service projects, all of which are intended to advance the common good, as stated in our university mission.

While I do not have nearly enough room to share with you all of the stories I might like to tell about Catholic-inspired community engagement, perhaps a few examples will give you a general flavor for some of these activities. Dr. Susan Callaway and her English students work with recent immigrant students in area high schools to improve their writing skills. In a January study abroad course, Dr. Kim Vrudny and her theology students work with homeless individuals, refugees and hospice patients in South Africa. Supported by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Chip Small and his biology students are working on a research project that uses lakeside hydroponic gardens to remove excess nutrients from urban lakes, including Como Lake in St. Paul. Dr. Adam Kay and his environmental science students, in collaboration with local high school youth, provide a means for distributing fresh produce to corner stores in lower-income neighborhoods in Minneapolis. They soon will collaborate with students from across the College of Arts and Sciences and the University of St. Thomas as they seek to expand the reach of their program.

St. Thomas has been recognized for our successes in community engagement. In 2006, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching chose St. Thomas as one of only 76 U.S. colleges and universities to receive its “Community Engagement” classification. This year, the Carnegie Foundation renewed UST’s classification in recognition of our continuing success in, and commitment to, community engagement.

Although we long have been engaged in our community, I look forward to seeing what more the College of Arts and Sciences will accomplish as a result of our new planning efforts. I will keep you updated on our new successes. In addition, I look forward to introducing you to some of the seven other strategic initiatives and the progress we are making with those in future columns.

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