President Julie Sullivan’s Legacy Fuels St. Thomas’ Momentum

From the start, Dr. Julie Sullivan, was bound to make history at the University of St. Thomas. Appointed the first lay person and woman president of Minnesota’s largest private university, Sullivan’s nine-year tenure is defined by historic milestones.

On June 1, Sullivan steps down as St. Thomas president and again makes history when she becomes Santa Clara University’s first lay leader and first woman president. Since announcing her departure in March, the St. Thomas community has re-named two spaces in her honor: the Julie H. Sullivan Center for Student Achievement and the Julie H. Sullivan Commons at the Dougherty Family College, but her legacy is embedded in the very trajectory of the university.

In her tenure, Sullivan built a strong team of leaders who made great strides and will usher in the university’s next era. Under this leadership, St. Thomas implemented several transformative priorities. Here’s a snapshot of those accomplishments:

Strengthening St. Thomas' future

  • Morrison Family College of Health - Established the Morrison Family College of Health under the leadership of founding Dean Dr. MayKao Hang to educate future health providers who are culturally responsive and innovative. MFCOH aims to proactively advance health equity in both graduate and undergraduate programs, including nursing at the newly established Susan S. Morrison School of Nursing.
  • Schoenecker Center - Sullivan partnered closely with the School of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences, among others, to fuel plans for the visionary Schoenecker Center, which is scheduled to open in 2024. Bolstering its reputation as an industry leader in STEAM education, St. Thomas broke ground in May on the Schoenecker Center, a $110 million state-of-the-art complex that aims to break down barriers in collaborative learning.
  • Division I Athletics – Led by Sullivan and Vice President of Athletics Phil Esten, St. Thomas became the first university to transition directly to D-I from D-III in the modern history of the NCAA, recognizing St. Thomas’ growing reputation and academic and athletic success and helping the institution expand its mission and impact beyond Minnesota.
  • Two New Residence Halls - Opened Tommie North and Frey residence halls in 2020, adding 740 new first and second-year beds, expanded parking and a new dining facility on campus; established a new two-year residency requirement and secured funding to break down economic barriers and help more students experience the benefits of on-campus life.

Strengthening faith

  • Renovation of the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas - A months-long renovation to the century-old St. Paul chapel restored the sanctuary for future generations of students to worship and grow in faith.
  • Iversen Center for Faith - With a 23,000 square foot subterranean expansion to the chapel, a new interfaith center was created on campus, helping to enliven students' spiritual journey on campus.

Strengthening student success

  • Dougherty Family College - Established a groundbreaking two-year college designed to help underserved students navigate higher education and eliminate the opportunity gap. To honor Sullivan's legacy and active role in establishing DFC, the school recently named its commons the "Julie H. Sullivan Commons."
  • Center for Student Achievement - Established in 2018, midway through Sullivan's tenure, this physical space is a one-stop-shop for many academic and co-curricular resources like the Proud to be First program, which serves first-generation students. Recently, the Undergraduate Student Government renamed and dedicated the space: The Julie H. Sullivan Center for Student Achievement.
  • Veterans Resource Center - When a student asked President Sullivan for a space where fellow military veterans could gather, she said St. Thomas could do more. Sullivan partnered with student veterans to fund and create a center and resources to support veterans and make progress toward the university's aspiration to become the most veteran-friendly campus in the upper Midwest. Among numerous accolades since the VRC opened in 2017, St. Thomas has ranked in the top 100 schools on U.S. News & World Report's Best Colleges for Veterans list for the last three years.
  • Millions for scholarships - Naming it priority one, the university raised $200 million in endowed scholarships over eight years, removing financial barriers to a transformative St. Thomas education.

Strengthening the community

  • Center for the Common Good - Launched to promote collaborative curricular, co-curricular and research initiatives that address civic and community challenges, the Center for Common Good – under the leadership of Executive Director Theresa Ricke-Kiely supports students, staff and faculty to be transformational partners who work tirelessly for social justice in the community and advance the common good.
  • Racial Justice Initiative - In the wake of George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police in June 2020, St. Thomas launched the Racial Justice Initiative – led by Dr. Yohuru Williams – to help drive meaningful reform and change and reimagine a future free from racial disparities.
  • Sustainability Strategic Plan - For the first time, St. Thomas created a comprehensive strategic plan for sustainability in 2019, representing the university's commitment to lead and achieve in environmental stewardship and caring for God's creation.
  • Center for Well-Being - Established a home for counseling and psychological, health services and health promotion in 2020. Opened just before COVID-19 hit, the Center for Well-Being helped the university navigate the pandemic with mass testing, vaccination clinics, contact tracing, support groups and workshops and other community health efforts.