Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan have named three St. Thomas alumni as state commissioners : John Harrington ’85 MA in public safety education will head the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS); Paul Schnell ’88 will head the Minnesota Department of Corrections; and Mary Cathryn Ricker ’91 will head the Minnesota Department of Education.
Harrington builds on career of excellence
A Chicago native, Harrington moved to Minnesota to begin his police career in 1977 at the Saint Paul Police Department, working his way up the chain of command from patrol officer. He earned his master’s degree in public safety education at St. Thomas and went on to be selected chief of police in 2004 and served in that role until 2010. Harrington was appointed to serve as the Metro Transit chief of police in 2012, and served as a Minnesota state senator for East Side St. Paul from 2010 to 2012.
Harrington teaches at St. Thomas in leadership, demographics, community-oriented policing and gangs. He is the founding member of the Asian American Law Enforcement Association and the National Black Police Association, and helped launch and chairs the board at Ujamaa Place, a nonprofit that works with African-American men to transition them out of prison and gangs into productive community members.
“My St. Thomas education was instrumental in bringing me to serve Gov. Walz and the state of Minnesota in so many ways,” Harrington said. “My master’s degree brought me in touch with what were to be my future colleagues Tim Leslie, Nancy Diperna, Don Winger and so many others who have influenced and shared my passion for both policing and education. St. Thomas started my passion and commitment to lifelong learning that has made education a core value for me, and a requirement for senior staff that I have mentored.
“Dr. William E. Salesses, who was running the program, was a huge influence on me personally as well as academically,” Harrington added. “He reignited my passion for philosophical debate, sharpening my wits and my skills in looking at social problems and recognizing the rainbow of hues and colors that influenced their resolution. He also was a rigorous taskmaster, forcing me to buckle down to survive Statistics 101, which I seem to recall required a slide rule and no calculators. Number crunching is a skill still in play as I study the DPS budget and state crime stats. The other person who influenced me was Debbie Montgomery. She was the first black woman to wear the St. Paul uniform and was the person who told me about the master’s degree program. As anyone who knows Debbie, she was relentless until I signed up and was admitted. She was a true trailblazer serving as the assistant commissioner in DPS during her storied career.”
“John brings broad experience and deep expertise in public safety,” Walz said. “He not only talks the talk, but walks the walk when it comes to diversity and inclusion. We are looking forward to working with him to continue building an equitable, safe and just state.”
Schnell builds on social work foundation
While completing his bachelor’s degree in social work at the University of St. Thomas, Schnell began an internship supervising adult male offenders in a St. Paul halfway house. This internship led to a 10-year stretch of work in a variety of community-based correctional programs in the Twin Cities. In 1993, Schnell moved from his position working with youth offenders at Carver County Court Services to deputy sheriff for the Carver County Sheriff’s Office. In 1999, Schnell joined the Saint Paul Police Department where he served in a variety of assignments, including four years as the department’s spokesman. Over the past eight years, Schnell has served as chief of police for the cities of Hastings and Maplewood and is currently police chief for the Inver Grove Heights. Long interested in effective intervention and prevention practices, Schnell became an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas and Metropolitan State University, teaching courses in criminal justice diversity, criminal justice ethics, restorative justice and victimology.
An outstanding leader in the classroom
A Hibbing, Minnesota, native, Mary Cathryn Ricker studied English and minored in mathematics as an undergraduate at St. Thomas. She is a National Board Certified middle school English teacher with over a decade of classroom experience. She has taught in classrooms from St. Paul to St. Cloud to Washington to South Korea to Yemen. She most recently served as the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and previously served as the president of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 28. Her teaching and leadership skills have been recognized with a number of other honors, including receiving the Education Minnesota Peterson-Schaubach Outstanding Leadership Award, qualifying as a semifinalist for the NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence, and serving as a featured contributor in the Annenberg Foundation’s national professional development series, “Write in the Middle.” The Newsroom talked to Ricker in 2011 about her advocacy for teachers and public education.