The University of St. Thomas celebrated its annual St. Thomas Day on Wednesday, June 9, when the recipients of the Monsignor James Lavin Award, Professor of the Year Award, Humanitarian Award, Tommie Award and Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award were announced.

St. Thomas Day recognizes the extraordinary contributions that members of the St. Thomas community have made to the university and the wider community.

The 2021 recipients are:

  • Monsignor James Lavin Award – Steve Fritz ’71
  • Professor of the Year Award – Erika Scheurer, PhD
  • Humanitarian Award – Latanya Daniels ’01 MA, ’04 EdS, ’19 EdD
  • Tommie Award – Pascale Kunda ’21
  • Distinguished Alumna Award – Maj. Michelle M. Curran ’09

St. Thomas Day didn’t take place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 Professor of the Year, Cara Anthony, PhD, and the 2020 Tommie Award winner, Keanu Daley ’20, were recognized today as well.

Monsignor James Lavin Award: Steve Fritz ’71

The Monsignor James Lavin Award honors an alumnus or alumna for outstanding volunteer contributions to St. Thomas.

The fall 2016 issue of St. Thomas magazine said it best: “Steve Fritz is the Ultimate Tommie.” Fritz was a champion of the university as a student, alumnus and a 52-year staff member.

Fritz has given his entire life to his alma mater and is clearly one of our best-known alumni. His accomplishments as a St. Thomas Hall of Fame basketball player and as a coach and athletic director are remarkable. He built one of the strongest athletic programs in NCAA Division III.

Professor of the Year – Erika Scheurer, PhD

Professor of the Year recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and service. The faculty selects the recipient, and this year’s Professor of the Year is Erika Scheurer, PhD, an associate professor of English. Scheurer also is the director of the Writing Across the Curriculum program and the faculty liaison to the Project for Mindfulness and Contemplation.

Scheurer joined St. Thomas in 1993. She has directed the Writing Across the Curriculum program, a universitywide initiative to nurture a culture of writing across all academic disciplines, since its beginning in 2009. Her research interests include writing theory and pedagogy as well as the work of the poet Emily Dickinson. She regularly teaches Intensive Writing, a course in the Academic Development Program.

Humanitarian Award – Latanya Daniels ’01 MA, ’04 EdS, ’19 EdD

The Humanitarian Award recognizes an individual’s contributions to the betterment of the spiritual and material welfare of the less fortunate.

Before taking her current role as assistant superintendent at Richfield Public Schools, Daniels was blazing a trail as principal of Patrick Henry High School. She helped the school earn the 2015 ranking by U.S. News & World Report of third best high school in Minnesota.

Fast forward a few years. As principal of Richfield High School, Daniels and her team increased graduation rates and doubled the number of advanced courses taken by students of color. No small feat considering Minnesota has one of the largest education achievement gaps in the country.

Throughout her years as a student in the School of Education where she has earned three degrees, including a doctorate, professors encouraged Daniels to define her purpose and become a strong leader. Her persistence, perseverance and willingness to self-reflect have turned Daniels into a powerhouse educator who doesn’t shy away from shaking things up if it means helping students shine.

Tommie Award – Pascale Kunda ’21

The Tommie Award is sponsored annually by the Division of Student Affairs and honors a senior selected by students, faculty and staff as best representing St. Thomas Aquinas’ ideals of scholarship, leadership and campus involvement.

Kunda graduated with a mechanical engineering major and a peace engineering minor. She is the first engineering major to receive the Tommie Award.

In a nomination submitted by Dr. John Wentz, associate professor and mechanical engineering chair, he described Kunda as a “model St. Thomas student.”

“She exemplifies the vision and commitments that we hold dear at St. Thomas: excellence in academics, leadership, and involvement, all while serving the common good,” Wentz wrote.

Kunda is also part of the engineering student alumni mentoring program. In 2019, she returned to her home country of Rwanda to repair hospital equipment through the Engineers for World
Health program. Kunda also was one of the featured commencement speakers at one of the three Class of 2021 commencement ceremonies.

Distinguished Alumna Award – Maj. Michelle M. Curran ’09

The Distinguished Alumna Award honors an individual for leadership and service to St. Thomas, the community and in his or her field of endeavor.

In February 2019, Capt. Michelle Curran performed a flyover during the Super Bowl. It was her first time with the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, also known as the Thunderbirds.

Michelle was commissioned as a second lieutenant the same day she graduated from St. Thomas. Now she is only the fifth female pilot and only the second female solo pilot in the Thunderbirds’ history. Michelle’s extraordinary achievement at a young age demonstrates leadership, service to country and supreme excellence in her field.

Nominations for the Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna, Humanitarian and Lavin awards are welcome throughout the year but are required by Aug. 1 for consideration for the following year’s St. Thomas Day. Submit a nomination via this online form.

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