Meet some of the visionaries leading St. Thomas into the future.
Dr. Laura Dunham, Dr. Buffy Smith and Dr. Bill Tolman have a few things in common. For one, they are the newest deans at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. But the similarities don’t end there.
The respective leaders of the Opus College of Business, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Dougherty Family College assumed their roles this summer. Each believe that their college must be innovative in its approach to teaching and learning, as well as be inclusive in faculty and staff hiring practices if the university is to best serve a pool of students that is growing evermore diverse and increasingly conscious of the value of their higher ed degree.
“The market has changed,” Dunham, dean of Opus College of Business, said. “Our world has changed so radically for so many different reasons – a massive technological disruption, new competitors, high cost, student debt … so we have to be able to rethink and redefine what excellence in teaching is.”
St. Thomas magazine caught up with each new dean and the message was clear that these leaders are on the same page with their departmental goals: innovation in teaching and learning; inclusivity in faculty and staff hiring; and student engagement to prepare them for a career in a diverse world.
DR. LAURA DUNHAM, DEAN OF THE OPUS COLLEGE OF BUSINESS
Dunham labels herself “a homegrown dean.” She’s been at St. Thomas since 2003 and directed the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship to prominent fame before being promoted to the dean seat. She outlines four strategic priorities for the Opus College of Business, one of which is innovation. Along with the new associate dean of the Schulze School, Dr. Sheneeta White, she stresses that building an entrepreneurial spirit is key.
DR. BILL TOLMAN, DEAN OF THE COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Tolman is enthused about the level of faculty engagement in the classroom and the experiential learning that occurs outside the classroom.
“It's what makes the university unique,” he said. “This interaction between faculty and students goes both ways – the faculty teaching the students, the students impacting the faculty.”
Across all the departments that comprise CAS, from biology to languages to physics or theology, “the common element is there is this really powerful faculty-student interaction,” Tolman said.
Additionally for CAS, Tolman said, “We have an incredible responsibility and a great honor to play a role in the education of all the students who come to the university.” He adds that every student obtaining a bachelor’s degree at St. Thomas “comes through CAS.”
DR. BUFFY SMITH, DEAN OF THE DOUGHERTY FAMILY COLLEGE
“We have created a very strong and great college. Period,” Smith said, pointing to the two-year college’s two-year graduation rate and that 75% of its graduates are enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program or have graduated from a bachelor’s degree program. “However, my dream and vision is that we will become an exceptional college that sets the standards for equity and excellence.”
Her plan for DFC is to develop and grow strong relationships with community. “We want to be known as a college that is built with the people,” she said. “Because we know that we’re not just changing their lives or impacting their families, but the communities that they represent.”