From wanting to improve mental health in communities to providing fresh and healthy foods to school children, three members of the University of St. Thomas community have been named 2023 Bush Fellows, receiving support from the Bush Foundation to continue their work.
MA in Counseling Psychology student Noel Nix, social work adjunct faculty member Neerja Singh and Executive MBA student Omar Guevara Soto recently were named among the 2023 recipients of the Bush Fellowship – a grant of up to $100,000 that recognizes community leaders and helps them define and pursue their own vision for addressing a community need.
Each recipient brings a unique perspective and vision to their fellowship. Meet the recipients from the St. Thomas community.
Noel Nix, a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology student, has big ambitions for improving mental health and building healthier communities. The director of community initiatives for St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, Nix has spent considerable time building community-centric solutions, such as the Youth on Boards project with St. Paul Public Libraries and St. Paul Parks and Recreation to appoint high school students to community boards. Nix has also seen the toll that enacting meaningful systemic change can take on people in public service, especially people of color. Nix plans to use his Bush Fellowship to advance his education, plug in to national networks of individuals and organizations pursuing similar goals, and study successful community-based mental health care models.
“Noel embodies so many professional dispositions – responsibility to self and others, empathy, warmth, emotivity – that we want our students and eventual graduates to have,” said Dr. Tim Balke, director of MA and certificate programs in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology.
Neerja Singh is a behavioral health leader in the Minnesota Department of Human Services (MDHS) and an adjunct faculty member with the School of Social Work. She has led the design and implementation of programs that have helped the MDHS to respond quickly to community needs. Singh plans to use her fellowship to lead further change in the government sector, in Minnesota’s mental health and addiction care service delivery system in particular, while she increases her own civic engagement knowledge and skills and her capacity to initiate community-led reforms.
“Dr. Singh has incredible knowledge, experience, and wisdom and is so generous in sharing this knowledge with our students and other faculty,” said Dr. Tonya Horn, assistant professor in the School of Social Work. “I am excited to see what she is able to accomplish with the support of a Bush Fellowship!”
Omar Guevara Soto
Omar Guevara Soto imagines a community where food is readily available to every family at home and in school. A leader in culinary services in Minneapolis Public Schools, he has helped mobilize a revolution in school food over the past decade. He is deeply committed to making fresh food accessible to students but also understands that the complex economic and psychological realities of families outside of school must be addressed if true food security is to be achieved.
He wants to engage families, schools, multinational food corporations, nonprofits, funders, and faith communities to create policies and transform systems so no person goes hungry. “I am driven by the immediacy of the situation — to feed our students now, but I am also passionate about creating systemic change — finding new pathways to ensure no student goes hungry.”
To leverage his experience and lead change, Soto will learn from public and social sector leaders who are successfully addressing barriers that cause hunger. He will also explore further training in entrepreneurship and leadership.
“I am grateful for the extraordinary opportunity to spend the coming months connecting with individuals and organizations around the country who are doing heroic work to address food insecurity,” he said about his recent recognition.
As a current student in St. Thomas’ Executive MBA program, Soto has been exposed to thought leaders at the Opus College of Business who approach leadership in innovative and holistic ways.
“In just nine months I have gained an entirely new set of skills and have begun to find my voice as both a leader and an entrepreneur."