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Retiring Faculty Share Reflections on Years at St. Thomas

St. Thomas recently recognized 15 retiring faculty members, thanking them for more than 350 years of collective service to the university.

Retiring faculty include:

  • Gary Atkinson – 40 years
  • Kevin Sauter – 38 years
  • Alan Bryan – 37 years
  • Donald Dziekowicz – 37 years
  • Chehrzad Shakiban – 37 years
  • Dawn Elm – 32 years
  • Stephen Brookfield – 28 years
  • Simon Emms – 23 years
  • Martin Warren – 22 years
  • Sarah Noonan – 20 years
  • Gerald Schlabach – 20 years
  • Brian Shapiro – 17 years
  • Peter Southard – 12 years
  • Patricia Stankovitch – 12 years
  • Robert Gallagher – eight years

Several retiring faculty shared their reflections on what it has meant to teach and work at St. Thomas.

Sarah Noonan, Educational Leadership

I started my educational career as a substitute teacher in 1970, and simultaneously enrolled in a Master of Arts (MA) degree program in teaching from the College of St. Thomas. I later earned an Education Specialist (EdS) degree in educational leadership and administration from the University of St. Thomas. I attended the University of Wyoming and earned a Doctor of Education (EdD) degree in leadership. These degrees and my experience prepared me for careers in K-12 and higher education.

My St. Thomas degrees allowed me to earn teaching and administrative licenses and enjoy a 30-year career in K-12 education. My 20-year career as a tenure-track professor in educational leadership started in 2000. I provide this history to simply share the most important thing about this my education – I started and now end my career at St. Thomas. St. Thomas is my educational home, and I view my colleagues and students as members of my extended family. Over the years, I developed a simple philosophy of a 'good education' and 'good' teachers:

A 'good' education transforms students by inviting them to 'do' something – gain new perspectives, embrace change, use knowledge to interpret experience, offer and receive empathy and kindness, and advocate for the common good. “Good” teachers learn with and from students.

I do not have a plan for retirement except this big idea: I will always seek opportunities to learn and grow with others, and I will always be a Tommie. I thank all who offered me this wonderful opportunity to become and be a lifelong learner and member of the St. Thomas community.

Robert Gallagher, Accounting

I was a short-timer by St. Thomas standards. I came to St. Thomas eight years ago as an adjunct never having taught. I came from the corporate world where I had last been CFO at Stratasys, one of the largest 3D printing companies in the world. Even though I was used to dealing with investors having hundreds of millions to invest, I was scared to death that first night to stand in front of 18 undergraduates and talk about a subject I had spent 35 years living. What should have seemed easy was painfully hard. What I learned that first night and every class thereafter is how respectful Tommies are. As long as I cared, the students cared. My classes were never easy, but I found students willing to try – such an important life lesson. I will never forget the moments when students pleasantly surprise themselves on a final when a mere 14 weeks earlier they thought the semester was going to be near impossible. The sense of pride from these students made every minute at St. Thomas worthwhile!

Brian Shapiro, Accounting

My career as an accounting professor at the University of St. Thomas enabled me to develop my teaching and scholarship in valuable directions I did not imagine beforehand. Among several highlights, I enjoyed sharing ideas with colleagues across campus at several faculty interdisciplinary summer seminars on topics important to the Catholic intellectual tradition, and I loved co-teaching THEO 422/CATH 306 (Christian Faith and Management) with Michael Naughton. I especially appreciate how these and other programs and activities on campus enact our university’s commitment to the integration of knowledge across disciplines, as advocated for example in John Henry Newman’s The Idea of the University and Pope John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae. My exposure to these ideas also shaped my research agenda in directions that I find most meaningful. For example, my recent research integrates philosophy, theology and ethics with business and accounting practice, and has addressed such questions as how managers can embed their organizations’ espoused values in their strategic processes and operational practices. Finally, I am grateful that our campus collegiality, community and commitment to educating our students enabled me to be a more effective teacher in both our graduate and undergraduate business programs.

Dawn Elm, Business Ethics and Leadership

The 32 years I have been a faculty member at St. Thomas have been wonderful years as I've pursued my career educating people about business ethics. Perhaps the most memorable thing about the experience is the community I have been able to be a part of for so long. This institution has a unique culture that is a significant part of why my time here has been so special. That culture is one of family and respect. Those are not empty words here, they are actually how we relate to each other – faculty, students, staff and administrators. Because of this culture, based on human relationships and faith, I have been able to pursue my career in the manner I wanted to.

There are many examples I could point to over the years, but here are two that have had such a significant impact on me that I tell these stories to all of our job applicants and my colleagues and friends at other universities.
The first is that when I joined St. Thomas, as a non-Catholic professor, I was concerned that the religious foundation of the school might be a problem for my teaching expression in the classroom. So, I asked some very hard questions about being at a Catholic school without being Catholic. Here's what I learned: While St. Thomas is grounded in the Catholic faith, it's actually grounded more seriously in faith, period. That grounding is what supports the culture of human relationships regardless of your religious affiliation.
How did I learn this?  Right after I was hired to join the St. Thomas business faculty in 1988 (yes, 1988) I found out I was pregnant with my second child and I had to call my department chair to tell him that I would actually need to know about a maternity policy (which the school did not have at the time) and I would not be able to start my contract as agreed in September. My chair, dean and the provost at the time told me not to worry about when I started and they developed a formal maternity policy in short order. For the next two years, I could not come to campus or teach on Fridays since I didn't have daycare for my children on that day. Here's what I've never forgotten about this community: Not ONE time did anyone say or imply anything negative about my dedication, competency or commitment to the university when I said I couldn't be at a meeting or another event on Fridays. You don't find that elsewhere. I know because I spent time in industry and grad school at another institution that would not have supported my family. St. Thomas did all that and more.
The second is the amazing response of this university to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Our leadership, in particular, Dr. Sullivan and the Board of Trustees, have been proactive about our response since early on and have consistently thought about the implications for all of the members of this community. Case and point, President Sullivan recently held a virtual town hall meeting about the pandemic and our ongoing plans and challenges. She told her staff that she wanted to see all of the faces of our employee community – that would be over 900 people – on Zoom. To have that happen, the staff had to make special arrangements since the typical limit for virtual Zoom meetings of 300 people increased ... and they did it! Thirty-six pages of employee pictures were at that meeting and we all felt the love and support from our leadership.
There's a culture you can't replicate anywhere else that is the root of who we are at St. Thomas. I will miss all of my colleagues, friends and former students who allowed me to have the time of my life here.

Gerald Schlabach, Theology

This pandemic-inflicted semester has been an exceedingly strange way to retire and end one’s formal career. I alternate between relief that I do not have to face the uncertainties of teaching next year and survivor’s guilt for leaving you my dear colleagues to do the facing. My pre-pandemic decision to retire came from a sense that it was time to take up fresh, energizing projects while still in my prime and turn over the struggles of Catholic higher education to another generation. And yet now I almost (though only almost) wish I could stay to take up the opportunities that this moment in history offers to those of us in theology, ethics, philosophy, literature and indeed all the liberal arts: A foundational principle of Catholic social teaching – a lesson that ambitious students formed in an individualistic culture struggle to recognize – may prove far easier to drive home. Namely, we need each other. Everything is connected, as Pope Francis said in Laudato Si’, and if everything then everyone. And so, with a touch of survivor’s guilt even as new scholarly adventures beckon, my charge to you, my colleagues in CAS, is this: We need the liberal arts more than ever. The big questions, which the marketplace alone cannot begin to answer, bear down. Use the moment to focus them anew. You are still the heart of the university.

Kevin Sauter, Communication and Journalism

I had one job that lasted 38 years, but because of the profession and St. Thomas as an institution, I have had many, many 'jobs' over that span. The wonderful thing about being a professor is that it has allowed me to engage in a wide variety of professional activities within the academy, guided by my own sense of entrepreneurship and the opportunities that have come my way. I have been able to do so much: teach classes that range over several areas of my discipline, including a fateful shift to study abroad and internationalization almost 20 years ago; act as chair of several different departments and programs; lead initiatives as part of committees or task forces; and represent the institution through volunteering with admissions, local media and in student affairs. While the work has been engaging and satisfying, the opportunity to meet and engage with dedicated and friendly faculty colleagues, staff and administrators has been a lasting memory of my 'jobs' and I cherish each person I met, every meeting we attended, and all of the conversations we had. When I started all those years ago, President Murphy used to regularly refer to us as the 'St. Thomas family,' and while there are now a lot more relatives in this large and sophisticated family, I still have a sense of personal connection with the place and the people who occupy it. I leave with a thank-you to all of my St. Thomas family members and I wish you well as you continue on. As we often say to our graduating students, I will say to you – let’s stay in touch!

Gary Atkinson, Philosophy

The retiring Class of 2020 itself serves to illustrate my theme – the wonderful people at St. Thomas. How kind and generous and fine. Administrators, staff, colleagues, they have all been a pleasure for me to know and work with, and I will miss deeply my association with them.