Personal Attention Breeds Academic Excellence at St. Thomas

Students at the University of St. Thomas learn quickly that faculty aren't just there to lecture. With small class sizes and a culture built on strong relationships with students, faculty have a vested interest in every student and helping them reach their full potential.

Because of that, there are countless examples of students flourishing under faculty mentorship and realizing just what they're capable of. Every day, first-years through graduate students take advantage of the unique opportunities they can only access at a place like St. Thomas.

At St. Thomas, academic excellence looks like this:

Zach Emond spent his summer with Engineering Professor Greg Mowry figuring out how to create a completely autonomous weather station as part of a microgrid research facility on the roof of McCarthy Gymnasium on south campus. “I love it. I’ve been doing research since my freshman summer, and it’s nice to see a problem and think, ‘I can do that,’ and then go figure it out," Emond said. "I get to class now and class has gotten easier; I don’t just look at the theoretical stuff but about how it’s going to be applied. It’s made everything that much easier.”Zach Emod Weather StationGraduate electrical engineering students Tam Kemabonta and Kiran Guntupalli developed an app to cut down on food waste; users can post food that will potentially be wasted and allow students around the university community to claim it. The project was just one of five accepted in 2017 into the Clinton Global Initiative University, which provides a global network of people and resources to support social innovation. “It’s not just educating for the future so they can solve problems when they’re out of school. Right now, you can do it, and within the context of your education,” said Associate Professor of Biology Adam Kay.

Tyler Ogorek joined forces with 11 other students and Chemistry Professor Tom Ippoliti over the summer to research tuberculosis and help in the battle against diseases becoming resistant to antibiotics. “St. Thomas has what I guess you could call a pledge that you get into research by sophomore year if you want to,” Ogorek said. “I wanted to come to a place where they would really support undergraduate research and I honestly could not be happier with the department.” Students from Ippoliti's team have gone on to graduate school at places such as Johns Hopkins, California Institute of Technology and Yale.

Ippoliti and Ogorek

Students from education, engineering, communication and journalism, and computer science collaborated with Associate Professor of Engineering and Entrepreneurship AnnMarie Thomas' Playful Learning Lab to help rock band OK Go create OK Go Sandbox, an online portal providing learners and educators a way to engage with concepts in playful and unexpected ways. "It’s such an amazing experience I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere else but St. Thomas,” sophomore Paige Huschka said.

“It’s been exciting to show how many students we can bring into a project like this,” Thomas said. “Most students wouldn’t think they’ll have the opportunity to work in college with actual rock stars, but here we are.”

Ok Go band member Damian Kulash demonstrates a tuning fork during the recording of an educational video for OK Go Sandbox on September 24, 2017 in the Facilities and Design Center. School of Engineering professor AnnMarie Thomas and her playful learning lab collaborated with the band OK Go to make the video.

First-year Enzo Vinholi tapped into St. Thomas' vast entrepreneurial resources to grow his virtual reality business, Like It Was Yesterday, which provides VR experiences for elderly people with limited mobility. “Here, there’s so many things that are designed to help people like myself, to help people who have this passion. There are clubs and networking opportunities,” Vinholi said. “It’s a community that really not only fits around my life, but pushes me up and helps me be more efficient.”

Student Enzo Vinholi poses for a portrait with a set of Oculus Rift Virtual Reality goggles October 9, 2017.

Madie Ley transformed her study abroad experience in London as a first-year into years of research and collaboration with art history faculty. She examined Native American exhibits at art museums and explored how communities can facilitate better cultural representation. “I think Madie can add to the conversation, which is exciting from an undergraduate level,” said Art History Professor Jayme Yahr. “This is what we expect from master’s thesis or dissertations. What a cool thing to be funded by St. Thomas and, for me as an adviser, to have an opportunity to work with an undergraduate like Madie, who is passionate, but is also contributing to the conversation.”