St. Thomas Newsroom

Q & A With Nicole Bernardi

Board member Nicole Bernardi listens during a Catholic Studies Advisory Board meeting at Terrence Murphy Hall on the Minneapolis campus on January 12, 2015. Catholic Studies Professor Dr. Robert Kennedy is pictured to the left. Photo by Mark Brown.

Nicole Bernardi joined the College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board in September of 2015. She also has the distinction of being one of the earliest and longest serving members of the Catholic Studies Advisory Board, and she currently serves as chair of its development committee. She is married to Luigi Bernardi ( 85, MBA ’89), with whom she has two daughters, Francesca ’16 and Antonella ’18. A native New Yorker, Bernardi earned a B.A. in sociology and international relations from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, a master’s degree in social work from Wurzweiler School of Social Work in Manhattan, and a nursing degree from St. Catherine University. She has worked in a local child protection agency and local home hospice program.

How did the liberal arts shape you as child?

Both of my parents were very important in my life [Nicole is an only child], but my father always loved art. He was an artist from a small age, but his mother discouraged it, because she didn’t see it as valuable as a skill. It wasn’t a marketable skill – it harkens forward to a liberal arts education vs. an education toward a marketable skill. My mom had a master’s of social work and worked in the field for 30-plus years. So I wasn’t raised with a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) approach to life; it was a feeling, empathic, cultural and respectful approach. We had art around the house, we read [her parents did not allow a TV in the house] and we listened to the Beatles and every genre of music. [Nicole still reads voraciously, at least one book every day].

How did your time in college sustain the liberal arts upbringing you had as a child?

It came down to a choice between Clark University and Kenyon College, and I liked Clark’s message at that time – “no two peas in a pod are the same.” I didn’t want to be like everybody else. Clark was individual but collective, regimented but open. At Clark I was required to take a cultural anthropology course, and it opened my eyes to seeing things in a completely different way. This took me into women’s studies and soon I changed my major to sociology and women’s studies. So, a class I had to take turned me onto a totally different path in life, and I followed it down the line.

What’s the value of the liberal arts for students at St. Thomas?

When we as a society talk about a liberal arts education, it is about taking on the experiences I had myself as a child, instilling them in my children, and moving them forward, as I want to see society continuing to learn those skills. The liberal arts background allows a participant in society today to fully experience everything that is out there. That’s how you become a citizen of the world.

What is the value of the arts in society and to our students at St. Thomas?

If you look at what art does, it encourages you to problem-solve, think critically and interact. When I’m looking at a painting or hearing a musical piece or looking at architecture, if I don’t like it, I have to ask myself, why don’t I like it? There comes a whole articulation of thought: Does it make me uncomfortable? Do the colors not blend in with my psyche? What is it? The articulation of the reasons why is important and this comes from being exposed to the knowledge process of a liberal arts education. It’s about being able to appreciate the differences.

It is clear from our discussion that travel is a critical element in your life, and the way in which you and your husband, Luigi, have raised your daughters. Why is this so and how does St. Thomas enable this type of experience for its students?

We want our daughters to be citizens of the world. When you travel, you have to learn how to navigate food, art, religion, culture, values and climate. All of this is part of an education. When we talk about the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), the fine arts and liberal arts during CAS board meetings, my focus is always on study abroad. We should promote the programs as best we can – at high schools, in admissions and beyond – that’s what drew both of my girls to St. Thomas.

What’s in the future for St. Thomas?

Hopefully, we will get a fine arts building! Let’s make the arts as important as a business school, as an engineering school. Let’s recognize the value of that and have dedicated space, so even if you don’t want to be a music major, but if you’ve played piano for the last 12 years of your life, there’s a piano that you can go play. Or have a photo studio where you can develop your work. We can put art on display, so it can be enjoyed by all. Or maybe you are a sociology major and you want to do a play, there will be a coffeehouse or space for that. Let’s have this encouraged and accepted as the norm. ■