For those who don't examine reality too closely, St. Thomas undergraduates often are stereotyped as rich, trendy business majors whose parents pay for all their college education.
The reality is something else, of course. An Air Force cadet likes theology and philosophy courses. A senior from a public high school who was concerned about making new friends found many while studying in France. A psychology major works about 25 hours a week, many at a nearby home for autistic children.
A Lutheran, a mechanical engineer who wasn't sure about "living in a Catholic environment," made lifelong friends here.
Every student has a story, and every story is different - and more real than any stereotype.
During the academic year, 35 percent of seniors work 20 or more hours a week and more than 70 percent of all students work 10 or more, close to the national average.
In 2005-06, tuition will be $22,880; adding in room and board and technology fees will bring the comprehensive fee to $30,380. St. Thomas ranks sixth in comprehensive fees and ninth in tuition among the 17 private colleges in Minnesota. How, then, could one senior say he had considered going to the University of Minnesota-Duluth but found "UST was cheaper"?
At St. Thomas, federal, state, and institutional aid programs are available for students who demonstrate need. The university is committed to students who demonstrate academic achievement and who have contributed to their community, school or church.
The university offers $20 million annually in merit scholarships and need-based grants to outstanding students. More than $1 million is awarded annually in university-endowed scholarships from private foundations, individuals, alumni, families, and friends of the university. In 2003-04, more than 75 percent of all undergraduates received financial aid - scholarships, grants, loans and campus employment. For fall 2004, 99 percent of freshmen received some form of financial aid; the average award was about $13,000 to those who applied. The average institutional award to new freshmen has increased 46.5 percent since 2001.
Almost 10 percent of undergraduates are students of color, 52 percent are Catholic, and 51 percent are women (a few points less than the national average). Senior class president Patti Riippa would like to see more diversity. "I think a broad representation of viewpoints would help students with critical thinking skills," said the journalism major from Maple Grove.
The university offers bachelor's degrees in 91 major and 59 minor fields of study. "St. Thomas is beautiful and has the feel of a small campus but has the opportunities of a large institution, with a wonderful academic reputation," said psychology major Chailee Hogan.
Each spring since 1985, St. Thomas has conducted the American College Testing Student Opinion Survey of seniors. In 2004, 41 percent responded.
Overall, 87 percent are satisfied with the university's fulfillment of their academic, social and spiritual needs, and 80 percent talk to their teachers outside of class in a typical week. Compared to seniors at other colleges, St. Thomas students are more satisfied with class size (it averages 21 and the student-faculty ratio is 14-1), availability of instructors (93 percent), attitude of faculty, instruction in major field and concern for the individual.
They are less satisfied with athletic facilities, student union, availability of student housing and racial diversity.
Slightly more than half report studying 10 hours or less a week, again the national average.
Interestingly, 32 percent rate themselves tops in intellectual confidence, just a little less than those (39 percent) who plan to attend graduate school right after graduation.
Their greatest area of growth, seniors report, was in stronger general knowledge, analytical skills and job-related skills. Sarah Larson, a biology major in the R.O.T.C. who works 10 hours a week at Methodist Hospital, said, "I am thankful that St. Thomas requires theology and philosophy classes. It's important to have a well-rounded education."
On the next seven pages are profiles of more seniors. Each has a story that fits well with the St. Thomas motto of "Challenge Yourself, Change Our World."
Amy Kittelson: Future doctor to finish college in three years
At age 21, Amy Kittelson will finish college in three years, was captain of the women's basketball team, and will attend the University of Minnesota Medical School.
How easy is college life? The outgoing Kittelson is enjoying it all. "It's not easy, but I wanted to do it all," said the biology major who has minors in chemistry and psychology and will graduate magna cum laude.
At Brainerd High School, where she was all-conference in basketball and academic all-state, Kittelson took 10 college classes in the Advanced Placement Program (AP). Students who pass a national test at the end of each AP course get credits for both high school and college. She also played tennis, participated in track and field, and played cello in the orchestra.
"It was a gorgeous day and my mother and I had just visited the University of Minnesota," recalled Kittelson about choosing St. Thomas. "My mom on a whim said let's go by St. Thomas, and I saw that beautiful campus and just fell in love with it. St. Thomas had what I wanted - a strong academic reputation, a smaller school in the Twin Cities and basketball. The new science center really helped. I felt at home."
She said, "Great teachers at the university include Dr. Nancy Hartung, biology, and Dr. John Tauer, psychology. Dr. Hartung and I did an independent study of the genetic basis of behavior, and she made it interesting in how it applied to life. And I never had more fun than in Dr. Tauer's class. He uses real-life examples, and students participate a great deal. My favorite class was Motivation and Emotion."
Motivation certainly drives Kittelson, the daughter of two teachers, but so does having fun. She mentioned "spring break road trips with friends and bonding with the basketball team." Basketball is important to Kittelson, who was recruited by colleges that, unlike St. Thomas, give athletic scholarships. "Being on the court is a release from thinking about labs or exams. It's that perfect sound of a three-pointer. While winning is great, there is more to it than that. I love my teammates, even though they sometimes laugh at my hollering and enthusiasm."
Sports help balance time and have the right importance here, she said. The team practiced two hours every afternoon during the season but classes and labs took precedence. Her difficulty was "finding time for school, basketball, sleep and a social life." She worried a little about being a Lutheran at a Catholic school and the required theology courses, but especially liked two of them - Christian Marriage and Christian Morality.
Financing her own education with academic scholarships and loans, Kittelson works two jobs and 80 hours a week in the summer. She's been a nursing assistant and a bartender in Crosslake. Last summer she was a chemistry research assistant at St. Thomas and bartended weekends. "My parents think I am a little crazy sometimes but they are very supportive," she laughed, noting she may take this summer "off" and work only one job.
Her volunteer work at Regions Hospital in St. Paul for a year - organized for pre-med students by St. Thomas - "was eye-opening, diverse and really rewarding." She will become a doctor, perhaps an orthopedic surgeon, because "I like being hands on and when I look back, I want to feel as if my life meant something.
"I'm excited about graduating but will miss St. Thomas. It gave me a great education, which got me early admission into medical school. And I have a great circle of friends here."
Carolyn LaViolette: 'You can't grow up thinking you have it all'
Carolyn LaViolette, who always attended and liked public schools, found a private college "so new and so different and I wanted to take advantage of it all. The best things about being here are simply that I've learned what I believe. If it weren't for the St. Thomas atmosphere, I would not be the person I am today," said LaViolette, who will graduate magna cum laude and is the first person in her family to complete a four-year degree.
"If it weren't for financial aid, I probably wouldn't be here," said LaViolette, who earned academic scholarships worth about $10,000 annually and has state grants. She works 12 hours weekly during school and 40 hours during the summer, and - like 60 percent of undergraduates - commutes to save money.
A native of Maplewood, she is an expert in where to park, though she is not happy about the $200 parking fee: "I've found that the best times are early in the morning and sometimes Fridays.
"My parents have done fine but did not have the opportunity of going to college. They think it's great for me and we've enjoyed interesting discussions about my courses. My parents gave me the freedom to try different things. I hope I've set an example for my sister."
She has relished campus involvement - singing in the Liturgical Choir, taking honors courses, serving as a student ambassador, being a tutor-mentor and joining the St. Thomas cheer team. "People kid me about cheering," she laughed, "but I took music and dance lessons all through high school, love to go to games, and thought it would be fun. It was, and - others' stereotypes aside - I got to know some very intelligent women."
LaViolette does not think of herself as a "typical" St. Thomas student because "I like to be controversial, go against the grain. I'll talk to anyone and enjoy it." She enjoyed most a J-Term abroad in London and Vienna to study music. "We heard operas, orchestras and jazz and even went to an Officer's Ball in Vienna. It was the best. I had always lived at home so it was good to gain confidence and a new perspective. It was very interesting to hear European opinions on the war in Iraq."
LaViolette majored in English and minored in women's studies. Dr. Brenda Powell is her adviser and taught her so much about writing that "I still think of her when I write a paper, remembering that she gave me my first-ever D+ freshman year. But she took the time to go over it sentence by sentence, and I know I am a more analytical writer because of her guidance."
Having recognized the historical neglect of women thinkers, the wage gap, the glass ceiling and the "second shift that supermoms work at home," LaViolette appreciated women's studies. "Men and women should be treated equally, but there is still a double standard. And why are women sex objects in the media? Those 'slasher' movies like 'Scream' not only encourage victimizing young women but also combine violence with sexual stimulus. They are hate crimes and very disturbing."
LaViolette will work after graduation and is considering going to graduate school in journalism. An internship at the AFL-CIO in St. Paul has proved valuable. "I never thought I could combine an interest in politics, communications and public relations with a major in English but it was fun. I even built a new Web site for them."
Raised Catholic, she noted that college students either "become gung ho or fall away from faith for a while. But if you challenge your beliefs, you eventually become a better person. Hey, you can't grow up thinking you have it all. There's a lot more to life."
Isaac Schwoch: 'Serving Christ and country with the best of my talents'
No matter where he is assigned in the Air Force as a developmental engineer, Isaac Schwoch will "serve Christ and country with the best use of my talents. I believe in the philosophy of St. Thomas More: 'I am the king's good servant but God's first.' "
"Most people go to college to get a job and make money and that's OK, but I wanted to go into science and to serve my country, to give something back. I've always had a sense of living in a larger world and see how blessed we are in America with freedom of speech and of religion," said Schwoch, who is from Spring Valley, Wis.
When he graduates summa cum laude, the electrical engineering major also will become a second lieutenant in the Air Force. "It all came together here.
The Air Force ROTC pays my tuition and St. Thomas is one of the few universities in the country to give cadets free room and board. The strength of the ROTC program is largely due to the efforts of the late president Monsignor Terrence Murphy." (Murphy served as an Air Force chaplain and as a reserve brigadier general for many years.)
About 100 ROTC cadets are at St. Thomas and graduates must serve five years in the Air Force. Freshmen get the chance to try it out, but by the end of sophomore year and a summer boot camp "doing crazy military things to ensure that we are tough enough to survive under pressure," students must commit.
Schwoch puts in 15 hours a week in ROTC - and 25 when he was Wing Commander - and works 40 hours a week in the summer. "It was a lumber mill my first summer," he laughed, "but the next year I worked in the Engineering Department and then interned at Honeywell after that."
He has had students come up to him on campus when he is in uniform and tell him, "Thanks for serving." As a whole, "Students here support the military, though foreign students sometimes are wary and I remember that in the U.S., the military is a friend of the population. That's not always true elsewhere."
At St. Thomas, diversity is "more than skin color," Schwoch said, "it's how people practice the values they say they hold. I loved seeing all the political signs in dorm rooms last fall, and the rooms with both Bush and Kerry signs really made me laugh. It was pretty cool that so many students voted."
Schwoch is the first in his family to graduate from a four-year college, "but I don't put a lot of stock in it. Twenty years from now, what matters is how we use our education." Dr. Jeff Jalkio was his favorite engineering professor. "He's an absolute genius who has probably memorized all he has learned in his life, and he's passionate about always taking time to help students," Schwoch said.
His most memorable experience was a 2004 J-Term class called Pilgrimage to Italy. "It was awesome. To study St. Peter, we went to his tomb in Rome. To study St. Francis, we went to Assisi, followed in his footsteps and prayed his prayers. It was an incredible trip. I met 30 great students and learned more about my faith."
Schwoch volunteers in St. Paul's Outreach, where young adults study different aspects of their faith, and with Teens Encounter Christ, facilitating retreats for young people. "To me, living life completely is trying to do what Christ would do. It transcends politics and false ideology; it emphasizes charity toward others and personal morality."
He has found philosophical and theology courses to be "fun - partly, I admit, because engineering and ROTC are so demanding that I have no room for electives. Dr. Christopher Thompson's theology class made a dramatic impact on me. A lot of my friends are in Catholic studies and they rave about him as well."
Andretta Colley: Jamaican student teaches as she learns
Andretta Colley's path to St. Thomas began when she was a third grader in Above Rocks, Jamaica, where St. Thomas alumni volunteered and the university donated used computers. One volunteer, Michelle Miller LeBlanc '90, became a good friend of Colley's family. When LeBlanc came back for a visit in 1999, she invited Andretta to come to Minnesota.
"So I became an exchange student at Benilde-St. Margaret's High School, and played soccer and ran track," Colley said, "living at first with Michelle and her husband John for one semester and then with friends of theirs, Karen and Mark Rauenhorst. They are very nice people, and they have a daughter at St. Thomas and two boys who attended here."
One disappointment in Minnesota was snow, Colley said with a smile, "because I can say that snow is not what I saw on TV - nice white, fluffy stuff that people play in. What I experienced was very cold."
A communications major with minors in American cultural studies and sociology, Colley, 23, finances her education with a presidential grant scholarship and as a student manager in the Grill. "We work together well. I have good co-workers in a fun environment, though it is challenging at times."
One of her best teachers has been Dr. Bill Banfield, whose American studies class on black American music and history fascinated her. "He is an intellectual, musician, writer and composer who focuses on many areas," said the B+ student. Another teacher, Dr. Bernard Armada, "takes us to all the places and things we can do. I recommend communications classes to all students. Communications opens the mind to the diversity of how people communicate in the workplace and environment.
"At St. Thomas, most teachers give individual attention," she said. "I love classes where issues are being attended to, but I see some students afraid to speak on diversity or enter a race-based discussion. However, each year I have seen the university try to do more for cultural diversity, and that tends to open up minds."
She has never been faced with racism at St. Thomas but says some friends have experienced "subtle rather than overt" discrimination. Colley served on the All College Council and is involved in the Black Empowerment Student Alliance at St. Thomas, which through events such as Hip-Hop Night and Ebony Mic talent shows hopes to get all students involved in "the enjoyment of cultural differences."
Her favorite activity has been varsity track and field, where she is a sprinter, triple jumper and long jumper. "I was the long jump conference champion in 2004 and a NCAA competitor. I will compete this spring in both triple and long jump at the NCAA É and we will see how that works out. We are a very supportive team. I tend to be very competitive," she said, "though I don't show it." Athletics make women "stronger physically, mentally and socially. Sports help you communicate with different people and different aspects of life."
In the future, she would like to work in video production or television "to make the media right. Our media is not balanced," she said. "For example, TV might show the bad side of a foreign country, but not the good. Also, popular media mainly stresses the appearance and morals of what an individual should be like (usually Barbie) to be accepted in society, but some people want to be themselves and that is not encouraged."
Colley hopes to intern and get a master's in communications, then return to Jamaica where her parents and two younger brothers and one sister live, and continue her youth volunteer work. "I am a teacher wherever I go," she said calmly. "And that I will use as a gift while I, in turn, learn from others."
Brian Casey: 'I want to go my own path, to play and compose'
When he writes commercial music with his friend, Danny Burke '05, Brian Casey is just doing what music business majors with a touch of entrepreneurship do. They have sold music for commercials, including two for Coca-Cola, to In The Groove Music in Minneapolis, which built a new studio to accommodate their production needs. Casey did an internship there last fall.
Casey and Burke, a marketing major and electronic music minor, were college roommates and now have apartments in the same Grand Avenue building. "Our studio is a bedroom with a computer and microphone," Casey said smiling, "and if you listen hard, you can sometimes hear a bus go by on Grand. Danny is a great electronic musician and I sing and play, so our skills complement each other well."
"Music majors can do three things, teach, perform - or something else, like me," Casey said. He won academic and voice scholarships to St. Thomas that covered half his tuition, sings in the Chamber Singers and Concert Choir and plays in the Guitar Ensemble.
A classical tenor who enjoys singing Schumann, Brahms and Mozart in his required recitals, Casey also likes Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Radiohead, and plays experimental rock with his college band, In Glorious Mono.
"I don't limit my interests. I could listen to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" all day because it is peaceful and compelling. Some friends will ask why I am listening to all that depressing music but to me it isn't really sad," Casey said. "Some songs like that have the most hope in them.
"I want to go my own path, to play and compose. You can make a living in music but it takes more than talent. In the music business, you must learn to know what to do in the real world." Eventually, he hopes to get into scoring films. His six business classes ranged from accounting to microeconomics and he clearly recalls the "very enthusiastic and very realistic Dr. John McVea in entrepreneurship."
Musically, Casey took private composition lessons from Dr. Bill Banfield, endowed chair in the humanities. "He pushed a philosophy of writing for yourself, not trying to imitate the Beatles or Bach. What I love about music is finding your own voice, a lifelong process," Casey said.
Voice teacher Dr. Alan Bryan let him "discover what I liked to sing most," and Dr. Angela Broeker, Concert Choir director, "really made the choir program blossom here." One of his fondest college memories is the 2003 choir tour of Prague, Austria and Germany. Casey is very grateful to have taken guitar from Joan Griffith: "My best experience has been establishing personal and long-lasting relationships with great profs."
The Kennedy High School graduate from Bloomington chose St. Thomas because he wanted a smaller, private, urban school that offered music business. The youngest of three, Casey, who will graduate cum laude, says he is "lucky because my parents started putting money away early for college - and it helped that my older brother won a full scholarship to Boston University."
On campus, being "an outspoken liberal in a conservative environment" has been fine. "Actually, I hang out with a lot of music majors who are not conservatives," Casey laughed, "and not too many teachers are either. But I find some students are firmly grounded in their parents' ideologies. On the other hand, many students are more open-minded than I expected.
"I enjoy being a liberal advocate in classes and raising questions. I was brought up Catholic and one of the classes I enjoyed most was World Religions. I also enjoyed philosophy and psychology. It's important to know how one feels about existence, and talking with intelligent students and teachers about that is valuable."
Michael Anderson: First service trip had a 'profound effect'
Michael Anderson has taken seven service trips - to Chicago, Ecuador, the Texas-Mexico border, Kentucky, Selma (Ala.), and Indian reservations at White Earth (Minn.) and Ft. Belknap (Mont.). Students pay their own way, and usually live on site.
"My first trip to the Tex-Mex border had a profound effect on me, as I saw the world from someone else's perspective," he said. "I realized then that I had been born to great privilege." He also spent a semester in Guatemala City, studying politics and the development of the city. "These experiences have hands down been my best UST experience. They have integrated my education and desire to serve.
"I was all over the place coming here from high school," recalled Anderson with a grin. "I changed majors from math to accounting to business to education until I found out what I enjoyed most."
That led to three majors: justice and peace studies, sociology and Spanish. He has been accepted into the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, where he will get a master's in public policy. "Humphrey graduates usually end up working in public sector areas like city planning, education or housing policy. My relatives keep asking me, 'But what will your real job be?' " he laughed.
"I've really enjoyed being a student here. I chose St. Thomas for its good reputation, it's urban and close to home," said the Apple Valley native, "but I got more than I expected.
"St. Thomas has equipped me with the knowledge of how the world works and challenged me to do something with that knowledge. Professors ask students to think critically and act wisely. My biggest concern for graduate school is that I've been spoiled by such great profs here in departments across the board. They are the university's most valuable assets." He also appreciates that "certain call to action that comes along with being a Catholic institution."
His favorite professors include Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer in justice and peace studies "because he challenged my conventional way of thinking;" Dr. Meg Wilkes Karraker, sociology, "who empowers students with confidence in their abilities and knowledge;" and Dr. Fred Nairn, theology, "whose open-mindedness facilitates classroom learning and humanizes global religious conflicts like that in Northern Ireland."
Anderson, 22, the second oldest of five children, has financed his education with scholarships, federal and state grants, loans and "a random assortment of part-time jobs, including paper routes that start at 3 a.m., tutoring kids in Spanish and waiting on tables at Ciatti's Restaurant in Burnsville." He will graduate magna cum laude.
Anderson, a high school athlete, hopes his summer includes one of his favorite things: coaching baseball at the West Side Boys and Girls Club. "I love kids. I love baseball," he said. "It's a great combination."
What he enjoys most is being a student director for VISION (Volunteers In Service Internationally Or Nationally). "We have a massive volunteer force here; the challenge is making it effective," he said, speaking of the 140 people who go on VISION trips during January and spring breaks and more than 300 tutor-mentors who serve the Twin Cities area.
In his senior sociology thesis, Anderson wrote about the impact of different approaches to volunteering and how they solve social problems, such as poverty, racial and ethnic division and education. "For example," he said, "many people might serve food one night a week to the homeless and that's good. However, perhaps politicizing one's approach also might help solve a problem at its source."
Ben Nakagaki: 'Working in a tough neighborhood was eye-opening'
He's already out in the real world and Ben Nakagaki finds that teaching math to high schoolers "is a blast. I love watching them understand a concept." Nakagaki, who is practice teaching at Irondale High School in Mounds View, teaches five classes a day from 7 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and takes two college classes.
"Seeing what problems my students might have is important. When a concept makes sense to them and they get it, their eyes light up," he said. Nakagaki, a mathematics and education major, has found the only drawback is that student teachers must pay the state thousands of dollars to practice teach.
He likes math because it has "clear answers" and sees math in daily life, from the most efficient way to walk to school to playing poker. His most memorable teacher was Patrick Van Fleet, who showed students the history behind the theorems. Only two courses away from an actuary science major - where graduates immediately make large salaries - Nakagaki laughed and said "as much as I like money, I like to be with kids, help them learn and problem solve. I get motivation and fulfillment from that; sometimes going a different way is beautiful."
He will end up a teacher like his parents in Owatonna, he is sure, but for the next year or so he will serve as after- school director at St. Philip's parish in the Hawthorne neighborhood in Minneapolis, where he has volunteered for two years and now will work, funded by a small donor grant. "God's grace kind of led me there, starting with a wonderful theology class in Christian Morality taught by Matt Maruggi," said Nakagaki, a Catholic studies minor.
"Working in this tough neighborhood has been eye-opening. These streets are filled with crime and drugs and the schools have little government money. It is sad to see the disadvantages these kids face every day, but St. Philip's, led by the late Father Greg Tolaas' mission, and now by Father Pat Griffin, has worked very hard to get these kids opportunities. Volunteers tutor, go on field trips and, most of all, care about the kids.
"The church has allowed these kids to have a childhood and have fun, knowing they are loved. If everybody stopped focusing on the results of crime and drugs and building more jails, and instead enriched kids' lives with programs such as Head Start, tutoring and after-school sports and activities, it would change the world. Kids are smart and like to belong somewhere. I can see St. Philip's has made a significant difference in their lives. And it has shown me what living out one's faith really means."
Nakagaki won scholarships that funded half his tuition, has help from his parents and has small loans. He has worked between 15 to 20 hours a week in student life and leadership.
As a resident adviser and then operations manager in Ireland Hall, Nakagaki received free room and board. "It's an easy and fun job if you like working with people who form a family," he said, "from playing intramurals to the snowball fights to rallying around each other during times of loss or trouble."
He and his two sisters are half Japanese-American ("well, actually, I call myself 'JapIrish' because my mother is Irish," he laughed), and his family has been American for generations. His father's parents met in a World War II Japanese internment camp in Arizona.
He sometimes gets annoyed with the "numbers game" and the overemphasis on racial diversity, "forcing it instead of letting it naturally happen. Sometimes students of color are sought after by faculty while other students are ignored. As a student of color, this often makes me second guess my accomplishments," he said. "People are people, period."
When he graduates magna cum laude, he will look back on "a lot of fun, cool friends and wonderful teachers, a school that was open and let me try new things that were good for me."