Speaking at the annual State of the University address, President Julie Sullivan added a slight tweak to one of Archbishop John Ireland’s most-cited quotes – “I seek no backward voyage across the sea of time. I will ever press forward …” – used to capture St. Thomas’ entrepreneurial spirit.
"I'm going to add one word to this phrase, and that is 'build.' Build, and ever press forward," Sullivan said. "Because I think that encapsulates how we are responding to the challenges around us, and what this moment looks like in the history of the University of St. Thomas."
The addition of “build” certainly signifies the progress St. Thomas has made a year after rolling out its latest strategic plan to take its place among the nation’s top Catholic universities.
“In the last year alone, we have built tremendously: our national reputation, our diversity and our sense of belonging as a community, and our active voice and actions for social justice," Sullivan said. “And in the next year and years to come, we will build both metaphorically and physically – real bricks and mortar alongside capacity and vision.”
Several members of the President’s Cabinet joined Sullivan on Feb. 15 to share key updates from the St. Thomas 2025 strategic plan; here are some highlights.
Schoenecker Center to Break Ground Early May
The future home of a 21st-century media lab, musical rehearsal spaces, an engineering lab, an art gallery and more, the Schoenecker Center is on track for an early May groundbreaking, reported Dr. Eddy Rojas, executive vice president and provost. “As excited as we are about the building itself, we are delighted about what will go on inside,” Rojas explained, saying doors are scheduled to open in 2024. “Right now, our deans are busy innovating and creating interdisciplinary experiences that will help our students become well-rounded leaders of the future.”
Growth in Federal Grant Portfolio
Rojas said the university is seeing early successes in growing its federal grant portfolio. This is especially critical to St. Thomas’ ambition of achieving the level of academic impact, excellence and reputation that characterizes a top-10 Catholic university. “Faculty are applying for more research opportunities as well as funding that will improve our students’ experience and increase scholarships for underrepresented students,” Rojas said. “We are excited about our possibilities to grow our reputation in this area.”
First Nursing Students and Clinical Partners Lining Up
The Morrison Family College of Health is preparing for a major milestone when it enrolls its first cohort of undergraduate and graduate School of Nursing students this fall, said Vice President, Strategic Initiatives and Founding Dean Dr. MayKao Hang.
“We have an ambitious approach: to re-envision nursing with an eye toward underserved communities and devise new ways to educate our students to move toward whole person care,” Hang said. “We have had great successes in securing founding clinical partners, including major health care systems as well as nonprofit community partners.”
With a goal that 30% of the inaugural class should be students from rural, historically excluded and underrepresented students, Hang said, “right now, we’re exceeding our projections for the total incoming nursing cohorts.”
Sustainability, Social Justice and Responsibility Highlight Catholic Mission
Vice President for Mission, Father Chris Collins, SJ, highlighted several initiatives ranging from sustainability and community engaged learning, to socially responsible investments and racial justice advancement, including:
- St. Thomas was recently selected by the American Association of Colleges and Universities to host a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Center, a fast-growing national effort of colleges and universities that helps spur activity on racial equity, healing and justice for students, faculty and staff. It is underwritten by the GHR Foundation.
- The university also recently announced it will recognize both Indigenous Peoples Day and Juneteenth as official university holidays.
- As the university’s efforts to advance racial justice, Collins noted the launch of the Initiative on Restorative Justice and Healing at the School of Law and that the Racial Justice Initiative (RJI), headed by Dr. Yohuru Williams, is currently producing a documentary for TPT on the history of race and policing in Minnesota.
Frey Gift Strengthening Our Residency Culture
This academic year, 95% of first year students are living on campus, the highest percentage since 1994, Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Karen Lange reported. Lange also announced a $15 million gift from Gene Frey in honor of his late wife Mary to help more students experience the benefits of living on campus. The Frey Room and Board Grants will help cover on-campus living expenses for approximately 25-30 first- and second-year students with high financial need each year. To honor this transformational gift, Tommie East will be renamed the Mary and Gene Frey Hall, with a celebration and formal dedication planned for May 11.
“We are deeply grateful to the Frey family for their commitment to St. Thomas, which goes back over 30 years,” Sullivan said, noting the numerous facilities and scholarships that demonstrate the family’s passion for St. Thomas. She noted that Gene Frey’s philosophy is: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” And Gene, his late wife Mary, and his family live out this philosophy.”