Julie Sullivan

Up Front: An Education That Transforms

President Julie Sullivan reflects on the impact St. Thomas has had on alumni.

I have had the opportunity to speak to thousands of alumni in my three years as president, and I always leave inspired by one comment that I hear over and over: “My St. Thomas education transformed my life.” Our job today is to ensure that our current students say the same thing as alumni 10, 20 and 30 years from now.

The comment comes from alumni who graduated from a small men’s college as far back as the 1940s and from alumni who graduated from a comprehensive, coeducational university as recent as 2015, as well as alumni from all years in between. As different as these alumni are, they have one remarkable thing in common. They go out of their way to express their gratitude for an education that helped shape who they are today – an education that contributed to their career success, shaped their values, inspired their commitments to their families and communities, and put them on a path of making anything within their reach better as they advanced the common good.

Kristen Heimerl ’89 graduated from high school in Hopkins as a self-described “immature” 17-year-old who struggled in deciding where to go to college. She enrolled in a small private school and transferred to a large public university but still was unsettled. “I was at a crossroads,” she said, “and I started to wonder if college was the right thing for me.”

Her parents had friends whose daughter had gone to St. Thomas, and they suggested she take a look here. “Right from day one, I was hooked,” she said. “It was a combination of things: the warmth of the campus, the ability to connect with professors, the liberal arts curriculum. St. Thomas tapped my intellectual curiosity.”

Kristen graduated with a business degree, earned master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota and Carnegie Mellon, and today is a marketing consultant. She recently published Inspector Dewey, a children’s book.

Peter Gamber ’57 grew up in Chicago, where he met Anthony Del Vecchio, a St. Thomas Academy teacher who was pursuing a doctorate at Loyola University. Del Vecchio suggested to Gamber that he should look at the College of St. Thomas.

He majored in sociology, played football and was in Air Force ROTC. After graduation, he worked in marketing at Montgomery Ward’s in St. Paul before returning to Chicago, where he went into the insurance business.

“I got a good education,” Peter said, “and I was taught the moral, ethical importance of helping your neighbor and the importance of living life as a good Catholic. I always will be grateful for that.”

Daniel Kaffine ’02 credited a professor, Dr. Marty Johnston, for helping him find his vocation. The Owatonna resident majored in physics and mathematics and decided to pursue a career in higher education. He earned a master’s degree and doctorate in economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has taught at the University of Colorado Boulder since 2013.

“Marty was fantastic and the environment was great,” Dan said. “The undergraduate research aspect was awesome.”

The experiences of Kristen, Peter and Dan both invigorate me and motivate me to ensure that we will continue to provide an education that makes a difference. I hope to tell many more stories ... and with your help, I will. Please contact Vice President Doug Hennes to share how St. Thomas transformed your life and contributed to the person you are today. We will publish your stories as part of an online collection featuring Tommies for the common good.

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