St. Thomas was one of two Catholic higher education institutions in the U.S. and Canada to be honored with the Uniservitate Award in recognition of service-learning projects.
“This award really showcases how we are advancing the common good. To have this level of an organization spotlight us is incredible,” Theresa Ricke-Kiely, executive director of the Center for the Common Good, said. “This was peer-reviewed, and it was quite humbling to have experts from around the world confirm that we are doing impressive work and some of the best service-learning in Catholic higher education.”
Uniservitate Award judges highlighted St. Thomas’ collaboration with Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis to address societal needs through research, volunteer projects and community engagement. This academic and cocurricular partnership involves many faculty and staff at St. Thomas. For instance, courses taught by theology professor Bernard Brady, sociology professor Patricia Maddox and Dougherty Family College clinical faculty Jennifer Trost introduce students to the topics of housing justice and housing insecurity while showing them what they can do to advocate for social justice.
Students can volunteer as a part of Shelter Crew, a program launched last year that coordinates community engagement opportunities between St. Thomas students and Catholic Charities or Habitat for Humanity to benefit those experiencing homelessness.
“Creating pathways out of poverty and dismantling systems of racism is complicated. There are some serious structural issues in the Twin Cities, so we teach students not only about the issues and symptoms of inequities in our community but what they can do to be part of the solution,” Ricke-Kiely said. “Volunteerism is one part of that, as is philanthropy and advocacy. When we get involved in our community and gain a deeper understanding of issues people face, we create stronger communities, and become inspired to take action. Our St. Thomas students are part of creating a more just and equitable society.”
As one of 14 winners of the Uniservitate Award, St. Thomas received €5,000 ($5,070), which Ricke-Kiely said will be put toward student transportation for community engagement activities.
Last academic year, even amid the pandemic, the Center for the Common Good saw a significant increase in student and community engagement. More than 5,000 St. Thomas students collaborated with 300 community partners. Students contributed approximately 101,000 hours to the community, which translates to $3.3 million value, according to the Independent Sector, which is a coalition of nonprofits, foundations and corporate giving programs.
“This really was a team effort,” Ricke-Kiely said. “The Center for the Common Good team, consisting of staff and faculty, conceptualized and implemented these programs to contribute to social change and justice by advancing the common good.”
Two hundred Catholic higher education institutions submitted entries for the Uniservitate Award. As one of the winners, representatives from St. Thomas will be able to participate in the III Uniservitate Global Symposium, which will take place in Rome Oct. 26-30. This meeting will bring together the winners from the seven regions that make up the global network of universities of the Uniservitate program.