After more than a decade at some of the Twin Cities’ most beloved arts institutions, including the Guthrie Theater, Cowles Center for Dance and Performing Arts and Northrop at the University of Minnesota, Sarah Thompson ’04 is living proof of what you can do with an English major. Now, as the first director of development for the College of Arts and Sciences, she reflected on her time as a student, what influenced her most and the exciting future she sees for CAS.
Looking back, what is the most important thing you took from your undergraduate education that you still value today?
From music to journalism, English, and justice and peace studies, St. Thomas fed my wellspring of curiosity. In four years, I managed to dip into all of these disciplines with many other stops along the way – in and out of the classroom. It was an amazing time of exploration and discovery. In retrospect though, I not only experienced exactly what a liberal arts education sets out to deliver, I also was imprinted with an undeniable call to service, which, at the time, I didn’t realize is uniquely St. Thomas. Almost through osmosis, the St. Thomas mission of advancing the common good was knit into my DNA. It is fitting, as we rebrand the university to reinforce this identity, that this is ultimately what I hold most dear from my time at St. Thomas. In all of the career, volunteer and personal ambitions that have followed, I have made a passionate commitment to making whatever corners of the world I touch a little better.
Coming back as the first director of development for the College of Arts and Sciences, what have you discovered?
CAS is the largest college at St. Thomas. Last summer, I visited every CAS department, center, institute and interdisciplinary program to better understand its breadth and activities. I met with more than 60 faculty members in 45 areas. I was blown away by how much is happening in CAS and by how much there is to be proud of. The faculty’s commitment to “teaching first,” interdisciplinary learning and student research is remarkable. What’s more, there is an optimism and collaborative energy that is infectious. All these years later, I still feel like I am on a daily journey of exploration and discovery when I come to work at CAS.
What excites you most about St. Thomas today?
There is a lot to love about St. Thomas right now, but what excites me most is the ambitious spirit of transformation that is visible throughout campus. Whether it is the Center for Global and Local Engagement, the Office of Sustainability Initiatives, new student living and learning communities, implementation of the St. Thomas 2020 strategic plan, “All for the Common Good” branding or our bid to become an Ashoka Changemaker Campus focused on social innovation, St. Thomas is making a bold statement about what is next for our institution and our students. It is truly exciting to be part of realizing this inspiring vision for the future.
What are your hopes for the future of the College of Arts and Sciences?
It is no secret that I have a big liberal arts heart. I found ways throughout my career to marry a love of art, literature and writing with the world of business and management. I am grateful that CAS taught me how to hold and nurture both. Looking at the complexities of our world, a liberal arts education never has been more relevant and I believe that CAS is about to have its time in the sun. As the heart of our university, CAS defines a St. Thomas education through its core curriculum and opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. In the years to come, I believe these hallmarks will shine even brighter, attracting our next generation of students. Looking to the future of CAS, I also wouldn’t mind an opportunity to leave the legacy of a new arts facility. That would be an amazing contribution toward making St. Thomas a little better for our students.