Please remember in your prayers Dr. Mohamed (Mo) Selim, a longtime and much-loved member of the University of St. Thomas community. He died at age 91 Sunday, Dec. 20, at The Waters on 50th, a Minneapolis assisted-living facility where he and his wife, Evelyn, resided. Selim had suffered a heart attack earlier in the week and was with family members when he died.
Selim was buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis on Monday, Dec. 21. A memorial service was held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23, at the Washburn McReavy Funeral Chapel at 5000 West 50th St. (at Highway 100), Edina, Minn., 55436.
He is survived by his wife and three children: Ali, of Portland, Oregon; Rami, of St. Paul; and Mona, of Edina.
A native of Egypt who immigrated to the United States in 1953, Selim received his doctorate in economics from the University of Minnesota. Over the course of 45 years, from the time he joined the St. Thomas economics faculty in 1959 until his 2004 retirement, Selim chaired the Department of Economics for 21 years and founded the Center for Economic Education and Center for Senior Citizens’ Education.
At the time of his retirement, Selim’s 45 years of service was the longest of any lay St. Thomas faculty member. He was named St. Thomas’ Professor of the Year in 1978 and upon his 2004 retirement, received the university’s Distinguished Service Award. In 2011, the Center for Senior Citizens’ Education, which he directed for 31 years, was renamed The Selim Center for Learning in Later Years. Nearly 86,000 students have participated in the center’s short courses, seminars and lectures, and attended college courses, since its opening in 1973.
“He left us personal as well as professional legacies,” said Dr. Susan Alexander. Now the executive adviser to the president of St. Thomas, Alexander was hired by Selim in 1981 and followed in his footsteps as a chair of the Economics Department as well as a Professor of the Year.
“He really put his mark on the Economics Department,” she said. “He hired people who cared about one another, who cared about St. Thomas and who cared for the broader community. And he especially cared deeply about our students; quality of teaching was paramount to him.”
At the time of his retirement, Selim, a Muslim, recalled that when he first came to St. Thomas he told the dean that he would only promise to teach one year. “I said I wasn’t a Catholic and wasn’t sure how I would fit in.”
Alexander observed that “Mo was true to his beliefs but always respectful of the faiths of others. Even years ago, he was an example of how welcoming St. Thomas has been to people of other faiths, including Islam.”
Dr. Agapitos Papagapitos, another Professor of the Year from the Economics Department, worked with Selim on the Economics Challenge for high school students that was hosted by Selim’s Center for Economic Education. “He was a great ambassador for St. Thomas,” Papagapitos said. “He always was so friendly, charming and easy-going. He would invite you into his office and ask how things were going.”
“Mo was a not only a vital part of the St. Thomas community, he was also my neighbor, friend and the father to three great children,” said St. Thomas alumnus Paul Omodt, also an adjunct professor in the university’s Communication and Journalism Department. “He was kind-hearted and always had a good story to tell. His presence will be missed in many, many ways.”
Selim’s presence at St. Thomas was captured in the citation that accompanied his 2004 Distinguished Service Award. Here is the text of the citation:
Dr. Mohamed A. Selim, for 45 years you have enriched the University of St. Thomas and the Twin Cities area by providing educational opportunities for students of all ages and walks of life.
Professor, adviser, mentor and, in the words of one observer, “hyperkinetic guru of economic education,” you have inspired legions of students by instilling in them a lifelong desire to learn.
Born July 9, 1924, in Alexandria, Egypt, you received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Cairo University in 1949, when you became an office manager for your father’s shipping company in Alexandria.
You immigrated to the United States in 1953 to study and teach economics at the University of Minnesota, where you earned a master’s degree and doctorate in economics. You joined St. Thomas in 1959 to teach economics, served as department chair from 1966 to 1987, taught undergraduate or graduate classes until 1999 and were elected Professor of the Year in 1978.
With assistance from grants provided by a local foundation, you established the summer Institutes in Economic Education in 1967 for high school social science teachers who had no previous training in economics. The popularity of the institutes led to a decision in 1970 to establish the St. Thomas Center for Economic Education, which you have directed for 34 years.
At the same time, you began to offer personal finance courses in the community. Senior citizens showed the most interest in the courses but wanted more. “Okay, so now we know about using our money better,” one of them told you. “That’s good, but what’s next?”
College was next. You established the Center for Senior Citizens’ Education in 1974. Over the last 30 years, an estimated 8,100 individuals age 55 or older have enrolled in undergraduate courses at no cost, sitting next to students young enough to be their grandchildren. An additional 46,000 senior citizens have attended seminars and lectures offered on our St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses.
Your philosophy in establishing and maintaining these programs for three decades has been simple: to provide lifelong learning, to keep senior citizens in the mainstream of society and to inspire more collaboration between generations of students. “The young and the old can learn together,” you have said.
Senior citizens have responded with enthusiasm and gratitude. One woman once described the opportunity to attend college as “pure joy,” and another said, “My dream has finally come true.” She described you “as so dignified and refined” and said you had “such a sense of humor. He’s one of the dearest ... there are not enough adjectives to praise him.”
As busy as you were in teaching and directing two centers, you also found time for regular visits to Egypt to do research and serve as an economic development consultant. You are a past president of the Association of Egyptian-American Scholars of the United States and Canada, and you established a chapter of People to People International in Alexandria, Egypt.
For all of your success, you always have carried yourself with humility. You have given credit to faculty mentors and peers who shared your values and, in your words, “showed me teaching is not an occupation but rather a vocation, a commitment to growth, knowledge, sharing and communication for the mind, the heart and the spirit.”
The University of St. Thomas agrees wholeheartedly and thanks the man everybody knows as “Mo” for a lifetime of service. We salute you this day and confer upon you the St. Thomas Distinguished Service Award for outstanding service to the community and the university.
During her morning radio show on Tuesday, Dec. 22, Cathy Wurzer, of Minnesota Public Radio News, interviewed Ali Selim about his father. You can hear the interview here.