St. Thomas Campus News
With a focus on educational excellence, increasing access and reducing student debt, the University of St. Thomas today announced a goal of infusing $200 million into scholarship support for students over the next eight years. St. Thomas also announced a $50 million gift from GHR Foundation designated entirely for scholarships as a significant, first step toward achieving that goal.
The GHR gift represents the largest endowed scholarship for the University of St. Thomas and the largest scholarship gift for any college or university in the history of Minnesota. With this gift, the University of St. Thomas will establish a pre-eminent four-year endowed scholarship program for business majors. This highly competitive program is designed to attract future business leaders who embody the mission of the university and model the values of GHR – innovative, ethically minded, community-engaged and globally aware changemakers who create enduring value for society.
“GHR Foundation believes education can transform an individual’s life as it did for our founder, Gerry Rauenhorst, a first-generation college student and St. Thomas alum,” said Amy Rauenhorst Goldman, CEO and chair of GHR Foundation and member of the University of St. Thomas Board of Trustees. “As chair of the university’s $200 million scholarship initiative, I know GHR’s gift will inspire great acts of generosity to further support St. Thomas in educating students to be principled leaders who think critically, work skillfully and act wisely to advance the common good.”
Each year, scholarship recipients – known as GHR Fellows – will be selected for a transformative undergraduate experience. Student benefits include:
- full tuition for four years (with room and board stipend for students who demonstrate high financial need)
- fully funded J-Term study abroad experience
- individualized career coaching and preparation
- cohort four-year experience (60 GHR Fellows across all four years)
- access to C-suite business, community and university leaders
- customized social entrepreneurship and service learning opportunities
- a vibrant GHR Fellows alumni network for lifelong fellowship and mutual support
Eligible students will graduate from high school in or after 2019 and be among the top of their class, with a minimum GPA of 3.7 and a 28 minimum ACT composite score. Essays, interviews and an on-campus experience will be required in the selection of the GHR Fellows.
“I feel confident GHR Fellows will graduate from St. Thomas fully prepared to catapult themselves to highly visible leadership roles with the potential to influence others, to personally invest in areas of impact and to create enduring value for society,” said Julie Sullivan, president of the University of St. Thomas.
For more than a decade, the University of St. Thomas has focused on increasing financial assistance to students. In 2016-17, 99 percent of St. Thomas first-year students received financial aid, yet too many students still have unmet financial needs. With the drive to infuse $200 million into scholarship support, St. Thomas expects to double the scholarship endowment, thereby providing a sustainable source of scholarship funds to help decrease the amount of students’ unmet financial need.
“Reducing student debt is a priority for St. Thomas. The university is tackling this problem from several angles including increased financial education programs for students and holding down costs through a recent universitywide review and improvement of the efficiency of our operations,” Sullivan said. “St. Thomas does not want cost to be a barrier for students interested in getting an education at our university. This is why generating support for financial aid is a top fundraising priority.”
Annual giving and endowed scholarships – like the GHR gift – hold the promise to impact hundreds of students, reducing the burden of college debt and better positioning graduates to positively impact the economy and society for generations to come.
Colleen Sauter, who works with the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship and Opus College of Business at St. Thomas, said she is excited to share all this good news with high school students, with the hope that they will be able to more readily see themselves at St. Thomas.
“[Scholarships are] a great benefit to this university and really will open more access for students to come to this place,” Sauter said. “As I think about GHR and what they brought to the table, it really is going to be a great opportunity. … It’s going to create a vehicle for many students to come in and have a deeper, more individualized experience.”
First-year student Michael Sullivan said that the scholarship announcement made him feel that it was “unbelievable to be able to call himself a student” at St. Thomas.
“This continued support by the GHR Foundation shows the investment by the alumni and the alumni network back into students [and] future students,” Michael said.
Student Shonni Krengel echoed that she was at St. Thomas because of scholarship.
“I am here … because of generous people giving me this opportunity to get this education. I’m glad we’re extending to it to others,” Krengel said.
Undergraduate Student Government President Ryan Foster said that knowing the school was extending new opportunities to future students made him proud to soon be an alumnus.
Sometimes reading was the culprit. Sometimes, video games. Most often, just social anxiety.
Regardless of what kept Tyler Lifke awake, his middle-school years were dogged by a lack of sleep and depression.
“A therapist suggested that, instead of looking at antidepressants, we look at fixing my sleep,” Lifke said. “’How much sleep are you getting?’ she asked. ‘Like, four to six hours,’ I said. ‘Well, middle- schoolers should be getting closer to 10,’ she replied.
“Before that I didn’t have a concept of sleep being important. But once I realized that when I fixed my sleep my depression went away, [I decided] OK, it’s time to prioritize sleep above everything else,” Lifke said. “I’ve found since then that when I’m getting good sleep I can do everything better.”
By the time he arrived at St. Thomas in 2014, he had better sleep habits than many of his peers, which tended to skew toward the stereotypical behavior associated with college demands.
“Some people say that in college you’ve got academics, social life and sleep, and you can pick two of those, right?” Lifke said.
Opting to neglect the latter of those options has long been a staple of college life for many students, but at St. Thomas, psychology Professor Roxanne Prichard and Associate Director of Health and Wellness Birdie Cunningham are finding just how problematic that choice can be. Through the Center for College Sleep (CCS) and the Wellness Center, they are addressing students’ sleep issues. They provide programming at St. Thomas and resources to other schools across the country with a partnership that is the first of its kind.
“It feels like we can make a positive difference in students’ lives with this,” Cunningham said.A pressing sleep problem
While the Center for College Sleep officially launched in the fall of 2015, its roots go back to 2010, when Prichard first published research on sleep patterns and disruptions in a college environment.
“My background is in the neuroscience of sleep, so studying rat brains [in the lab], which is what I came to St. Thomas to do,” Prichard said. “That first big study on St. Thomas students [after shifting away from rat studies] … had more than 100 citations [in other research articles] in the first year, which was more than all my other articles combined.”
By dedicating her research to college students and sleep, Prichard was delving into an extremely under-studied area; she said college students’ sleep habits are assumed to be bad, so they often are completely overlooked by researchers.
“We wanted to know how bad they are, and what can change,” Prichard said.
In the years since, research at the sleep center has highlighted how big a problem not sleeping well truly is. Findings from St. Thomas studies indicate that a lack of sleep’s effect on GPA is on par with marijuana use and binge drinking. Students not getting enough sleep are three times more likely to attempt suicide. And college-aged students have the highest death rates behind the wheel under the age of 80, according to Prichard.
“I think of it as a silent epidemic, and it’s so prevalent you can’t even see it,” Prichard added. “It’s so impactful.”A unique partnership
Winding back to 2010, Cunningham and Prichard’s coming together proved serendipitous in many ways. Around the time Prichard was looking at St. Thomas students’ sleep, Cunningham was finding alarming results in the university’s annual health survey.
“I noticed sleep was a real prevalent stresser for St. Thomas students and that they weren’t sleeping well,” Cunningham said. “One of the survey questions is, ‘What do you find most traumatic?’ Academics was consistently first and sleep was second or third along with finances. What? Sleep? I couldn’t quite understand it. I started reaching out and trying to figure out what we could do.”
Cunningham quickly learned about Prichard’s work and a rare, possibly unique, partnership was formed.
“My perspective to that point was that all I needed to do was get a paper out. Meeting with Birdie was great because she said, ‘No, we have to get this into action, immediately, and here’s how you do it.’ I had never been in the world of student affairs, so it was great to team up with a group that can use the information to translate what’s feasible and not,” Prichard said, adding that the center’s partnership is the first of its kind between student affairs and research.
Over nearly eight years, that collaboration has continued to grow in scope and produced incredible results, with more than two dozen published research articles and presentations by Prichard, Cunningham and St. Thomas students. Specific programs for St. Thomas students have shown strong results, from the initial pilot program of a breakfast club that helped regulate participants’ sleep over three weeks, to a sleep challenge that now twice a year tracks students’ sleep for a month, to the development of student sleep ambassadors employed by the Wellness Center.
“We’re better when we sleep, period,” said senior Chris Hornung, a sleep ambassador who also started Tommies Unplugged, which works to improve students’ relationship with technology and sleep. Last year Hornung completed a research project correlating cell phone use to sleep deprivation – a prevalent finding in an age when social media and other digital platforms always are ready and waiting.
“Working with [Cunningham and Prichard] has absolutely raised my awareness of the importance of this issue,” Hornung said. “And they’ve given me the leadership by saying, ‘You now understand how important this is. You need to explain to everyone else why it is, too.’”A national hub
The sleep center aims to increase awareness of sleep’s impact on every aspect of college students’ lives, not just at St. Thomas.
“Twice the amount of students [nationally] say they want more information about sleep than the amount who are getting it,” Prichard said. “That’s a big discrepancy.”
Enter the College Sleep Questionnaire (CSQ) and the College Sleep Environmental Scan, which are the lynchpin tools the sleep center has developed to give schools across the country the ability to understand their students’ sleep patterns and what they can do better to help them. The CSQ is an extensive survey given to students that assesses sleep schedule, physiological impediments to sleep and behavior impediments to sleep. It then offers customized feedback with information and direction to resources at that students’ school or nearby. About a half dozen schools around the country are testing the CSQ and providing feedback to the St. Thomas center; eventually it will be a packaged product for schools to purchase and use.
The free College Sleep Environmental Scan was developed in 2014 and offers an assessment for residential schools about how institutional policy, programming and structures contribute to or impede healthy sleep. More than 50 schools have used the tool, which also offers a wide range of ideas of how to address issues and implement best practices. Cunningham hopes one day to have a rating system similar to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)’s, which would signify a school’s priority of sleep as an important factor of life for its students.
“The scan is really strategic for how to address sleep on your campus, from easy fixes to five-year plans,” Cunningham said.
The center collects all the data into one sleep information hub for higher education to use as a resource. An executive summary each July is one way Prichard and Cunningham have made sure schools are learning from one another and finding ways to help their students sleep, and be, better.Bigger and bigger
Especially since the sleep center’s launch, demand for Prichard and Cunningham’s expertise has grown. At St. Thomas, they have partnered with many athletic teams to help ensure sleep is factored into practice and traveling schedules. Prichard’s neuroscience sleep capstone course is a coveted experience for undergraduate students, dozens of whom also have contributed research.
Prichard and Cunningham have traveled around the country presenting their work, from a TedX talk to sleep forums – six-hour-long crash courses in Sleep 101 on Campus, which they have presented at institutions such as University of California-Davis and University of Arizona. They also work with the Minnesota Sleep Society and Minnesota Governors Highway Safety Association, helping both groups make policy decisions that address the sleep epidemic.
Most recently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association tapped Cunningham and Prichard to help develop its guidelines on sleep for college athletes, with Prichard’s research and Cunningham’s program development knowledge working hand-in-hand with leading sleep experts. “Those who work with the NCAA are the who’s who of the sleep world,” Cunningham said.
Prichard and Cunningham have years of experience working with college athletes due to their early emphasis on partnering with St. Thomas teams: Hundreds of athletes across several programs have benefited from partnering with the sleep center.
“Our players think the world of Dr. Prichard and Birdie Cunningham,” football coach Glenn Caruso said. “(Prichard) is a phenomenal specialist who also has tremendous common sense, and that’s something that is often lost in translation. You can find people who are very, very good at what they do in an academic setting, and that’s very important, but when you can translate that into real-world experience that actually will show results, that’s where you have something special. That’s what we have in the sleep center.”Powerful sleep impact
As eager as Lifke was to talk about the sleep center and his research, tracking him down during the summer required some technological aid: He spent his break doing research at Washington University in St. Louis with a former student of Prichard’s, learning to spin electrodes and better measure the firing of neurons in the brain. Over Skype, Lifke described how, all these years after finding the personal importance of sleep to his own health, he can contribute to research that helps others.
“From an academic perspective, there are times researchers get away from the human side of what’s going on. The topic [of my research] is looking at the statistics that 1 percent of students are attempting suicide as a baseline rate, and when students aren’t getting their sleep, that climbs up to 3 percent of students. That’s a terrible statistic. It’s hard for me to separate the research aspect from the personal aspect in that case,” Lifke said.
“It is very humbling to realize the research I get to be part of will most likely get published, get out there and help inform people that sleep is something that matters. To me, the research is a means to an end, the end being the help for kids whose lives are really bad and want to end it.
“If a couple people read this paper on sleep and suicidality and think, ‘Maybe we should do a little bit better. In a college environment, what can we do to help people sleep?’ our research suggests that could save lives,” Lifke said. “That’s powerful. And it’s something I’m getting to be part of as an undergrad. It’s pretty incredible.”Why sleep matters
• U.S. college students with excessive sleepiness are twice as likely to abuse prescription drugs.
• A person with insufficient sleep is nine times more likely to experience depression and 17 times
more likely to experience anxiety symptoms.
• A student experiencing sleep difficulties is 3.7 times more likely to seriously consider suicide than
a student with healthy sleep.
• A student diagnosed with insomnia is 11 times more likely to have attempted suicide than a student
without an insomnia diagnosis.
• On average, each additional day per week a student experiences sleep problems raises the probability
of dropping a course by 10 percent and lowers the cumulative GPA by .02.
• 85 percent of U.S. college students with sleep problems have not received help from their university
National statistics gathered by the St. Thomas Center for College Sleep
Today’s #TommieGiveDay marks the third annual 24-hour, digital fundraiser for St. Thomas. Thousands of people have donated over the last two years, and this year’s matching gifts are focusing on supporting scholarships that increase financial access for St. Thomas students.
The Newsroom’s Sarah Pranadjaja hit campus to talk with students about what scholarship means to them and their St. Thomas education.
Nicholas Vance, senior: Receiving aid from so many donors reminds me that my education is not my own. I am part of a community that has chosen to invest a lot of money in me because they think I can do real good. Regardless of what field I work in or where I go there will be opportunities to help others. I am here to try and make the world a better place.
Katie Swift, junior: I wouldn’t be able to go here if I didn’t have scholarships. St. Thomas is my dream school. Scholarships have helped me be able to come here and thrive because if I didn’t receive a scholarship to come here, I maybe would have ended up somewhere else and not as happy. I wouldn’t have enjoyed my college experience as much. I think that scholarships really help people be happier in general when it comes to education.
Nick Hayes, junior: Having a scholarship is a great opportunity for kids to get that little bit of extra that makes it feasible for them to go here.
Destynee Wendt, senior: I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for receiving the Class of 1972 Endowed Scholarship. If not for your generosity, I would not have been able to attend school. … Without generous donors, I would not have been able to afford going to the college of my dreams. I am truly grateful.
Sarah Schuler, senior: I think it’s a reward for doing well in high school and keeping it together and getting it done. I’ve definitely had a lot more time to do more things since I didn’t have to work as much. … Having that additional merit-based scholarship was really great. I can join student government, Tommie ambassadors, get involved in Residence Life and many other events on campus that I would have missed out on if I had to work all the time.
Nick Przybilla, senior: A scholarship to me means a reward for doing well in school and I think also having an impact on the St. Thomas community. It’s opened up a lot of opportunities to get involved on campus, honestly. I don’t have to work another job. I can be involved on campus and make impacts here. It really means a lot, especially looking back over the past four years as a senior. That’s kind of the thing that I look forward to. It’s not just the classroom stuff it’s also the stuff you do outside of the classroom. That’s provided me with a lot.
Billy Lemire, junior: Scholarships mean not having to pay as much. Less financial burden for myself and my parents. It’s huge. It also allows me to do other things [while I’m here].
William Johnson, sophomore: Scholarship are an opportunity for your education. Especially if you’re limited in what you can do and what you can pay for. Scholarship is kind of like that extra opportunity to do what you want to do, and to learn and develop.
It’s given me the opportunity to pursue different clubs and stuff on campus I wouldn’t have been exposed to had I not come to St. Thomas. So, I think mostly it’s just given me that extra breathing room to not worry about what I can and can’t pay for. I can really just focus on what I want to do and learn about.
Jadelyn Schack, sophomore: There are so many opportunities I’ve had at St. Thomas I am so thankful for. This [J. Benz Millard Scholarship] has made college possible.
Briana Johnson, junior: It’s been nice not having to worry about so much of the financial burden. My classes and grades will set me up for the future.
Change a Tommie’s life and give to Tommie Give Day today!
Study Abroad Participation up to Sixth in Nation; St. Thomas Ranks Second in International Enrollment for Minnesota Doctorate Schools
The Institute of International Education’s Open Doors Report 2017 recently released its annual report on international enrollment and U.S. students who study abroad during college.
St. Thomas jumped from eighth to sixth in the nation for undergraduate study abroad participation at doctoral schools. St. Thomas is fourth in the state for international enrollment, and second for international enrollment in doctorate schools in Minnesota.
“The Office of Study Abroad is thrilled with St. Thomas’ highest ranking ever in the doctoral category, and keeping excellent company with other national Catholic universities,” said Sarah Spencer, director of study abroad. “This ranking is a testament to the strong collaboration with staff and faculty in support of all students’ global engagements. We are also proud to contribute to our One University and the St. Thomas 2020 strategic goals.”
Minnesota saw a decrease in study abroad participation, sending 8,577 students outside the United States in 2015-16, down from 8.958 the previous academic year.
Nationally, study abroad participation was up 3.8 percent with 325,339 American students studying internationally in 2015-16. The top countries of destination were the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and Germany.
Total international enrollment across the country grew by 3.4 percent to 1,078,822 students, while the number of new international students enrolling for the first time in U.S. institutions fell by 3.3 percent (from 300,743 new students in 2015-16 to 290,836 in 2016-17).
Open Doors Report 2017 reports recent results for rankings of international students studying in the United States. With 15,389 international students studying in Minnesota in the 2016-17 academic year, Minnesota again ranked 19th in the nation for its total number of foreign students. This indicates a 3.0 percent increase over the previous academic year.
St. Thomas’ international student enrollment continues to grow
Bryant Smith, communications specialist, author and workshop leader, led a conversation on examining the N-word to a standing-room-only crowd in the Anderson Student Center on Wednesday, Nov. 8. Smith also presented at the Social Justice Summit held at St. Thomas over the weekend.
Over a lively lunch hour, Smith shared history and context to the evolution of the N-word so participants would have a more well-rounded knowledge of the baggage that comes along with the term.
Here are five observations from his talk.
Conversation around this topic should prompt critical thinking and reflection
Smith kicked off the conversation by specifying that he was not there to limit free speech or “to stand for people who couldn’t take a joke.” Instead, he said he was here to provide information so students could critically evaluate and come to a determination on how to use language.
He encouraged students who ran across people using the word to help prompt a moment of reflection as to why they might be using it, or to share some of the information from his presentation.
“You just go, ‘Excuse me. Did you just say what I think you said?’ … I’m not arguing with them. I’m giving them a reason to reflect,” Smith said.
History and context is important
“We have done a poor job of teaching the history of the N-word,” Smith said. “That’s why we are where we are now.”
He tracked the evolution of the N-word, beginning with that, at first, it was simply used to describe those with dark skin on the continent of Africa, but then grew to become a racial slur. After the Civil War, he said the N-word was used as a “term of terror” to “help put those newly freed Africans in their place, to remind them that even though you are free, you are not a citizen. You are still not free. You are not protected.”
During the civil rights movement, the word was adopted as a term of endearment within the African-American community as a survival technique so that it could no longer be used to harm.
After that, it entered pop culture, which Smith described as “a series of things that everybody accepts as reality,” and was no longer hidden within the African-American community because everyone has access to pop culture.
Racial slurs are a dehumanizing effort
Smith reminded the audience that the N-word became especially prominent during the era of slavery and following the Civil War, in an effort to make people from Africa less human and therefore easier to brand as property or deny rights.
“In order to convince an entire planet that it is OK to enslave a group of people, you have to dehumanize the people,” Smith said. “You can’t call them the ‘Afri,’ because people will go, ‘Oh, the Afri. Those are real people.’ But you can make up a word … and have it mean nothing – those aren’t real people. So, the people who are enslaving them think, ‘Oh, I’m not really hurting people.'”
Just because the N-word appears in rap, hip-hop or art doesn’t erase the word’s complicated history
Smith played a poem performed by The Last Poets, a group of musicians from the 1960s who are often credited with being the progenitors of hip-hop. The point of the poem, Smith said, was to not become the negative attributes associated with the identify of the N-word. He continued by saying that many rappers and hip-hop artists said they were inspired by The Last Poets but, ironically, were and are using the N-word contrary to what The Last Poets were trying to do.
He pointed out that because the African-American community has tried to reclaim the N-word, it has now been co-opted – meaning that the N-word may be included in pop culture specifically to make money off the black community.
“Even if we wanted to say stop using it, we can’t,” Smith said.
When the audience was asked how many people could go a whole day without hearing the N-word, particularly in their music, few raised their hands.
Students should be empowered to make careful choices with their vocabulary
Smith used the N-word throughout his presentation so those attending could begin to understand the barrage that can have on an African-American’s psyche. He wrapped up his presentation with modern-day examples of instances where the N-word was used and how that connects to the negative and violent history it comes with.
Finally, he encouraged all participants to consider the range of vocabulary their education has equipped them with and, when it comes to a “term of endearment,” to ask whether this one particular word is the only one that could be used to convey such a sentiment.
“I hold myself accountable,” Smith said when asked if he used the word in his day-to-day life. “I believe that I have complete control over my mind, over what I think, what I do and what I say.”
Storm Lake, Iowa – April 10 started out like any other Monday for Art Cullen.
He sat in the newsroom of The Storm Lake Times, of which he is editor and co-owner in his northwestern Iowa hometown, and planned the Wednesday edition. His brother John, publisher and co-owner, was at the next desk. Wife Dolores, a feature writer and photographer, and son Tom, a reporter, were steps away. Mabel the news hound snoozed on the floor.
At 2 p.m., Cullen secretly began to monitor the livestream announcement of the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes. He had submitted a 10-editorial entry and while he felt it was strong, he tried not to get his hopes too high. He had entered the contest before and not won. The odds of a twice-a-week, 3,000-circulation newspaper beating the likes of The New York Times to win the most prestigious award in American journalism seemed far-fetched.
“But I still felt I was going to win,” he said, having prayed to St. John Bosco, patron saint of editors, for good luck. “I just knew I had a winner. There were 21 categories, and editorial writing was No. 18 to be announced. My heart was just about coming out of my chest. But the closer we got, the more confident I was.”
And then the announcement came: Gerald Arthur Cullen had won a Pulitzer Prize “for editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”
The 1980 St. Thomas journalism alumnus exploded. “We won! We won!” he shouted.
His brother gave him a blank stare and asked, “What did we win?”
The editor, who resembles Mark Twain, jumped to his feet and hugged his brother. His wife snapped a photo outside of father, son and brother in front of the words “The Times,” which jump off the building in big blue type on what Cullen calls “Storm Lake’s First-Amendment Machine Shed.”
Then they went inside to drink champagne with well-wishers and plan a new Page 1A. “The Times Wins the 2017 Pulitzer Prize” the headline blared. A sub-headline read: “Buena Vista County’s hometown newspaper beats Washington Post, Houston Chronicle.”
It was quite the heady experience, and more was to come. Journalists from Japan, Australia, Ireland and across the United States called Cullen or descended on Storm Lake, population 11,000.He accepted a book deal with Viking Press. He flew to Washington, D.C., to address the National Press Club and to New York to receive the Pulitzer gold medal and a $15,000 prize.Vindication
The Pulitzer has brought exhilaration to Cullen and the Times, but he chooses a different word to describe what it means.
“Vindication,” he said, referring to the Times’ three-year investigation of a Des Moines Water Works lawsuit against drainage districts in Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun counties. The lawsuit alleged that excessive nitrate concentrations caused by agricultural runoff polluted the Raccoon River, a source of drinking water for 500,000 residents of central Iowa.
The river’s source is northwest of Storm Lake and it meanders 150 miles southeast to Des Moines.
Standing on a bridge over the Raccoon, Cullen points to land on both sides of the road. One side has a grass buffer greater than 30 feet between corn and the river, but on the other side corn is planted within a few feet of a slope to the river. Narrow buffer strips, he insists, are ineffective in halting erosion and runoff exacerbated by drainage tile.
“We didn’t have a nitrate problem before Earl Butz told farmers to plant row to row,” Cullen said of the former U.S. agriculture secretary. “If you left 10 percent to grass today, you would eliminate 90 percent of free-flowing nitrates. But it’s very difficult to change habits prescribed by the agriculture supply chain.”
Cullen also suggests farmers rotate crops regularly and take advantage of the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays for fields to remain fallow, but they “roll the dice” because of the prospect of earning more money by planting corn.
In 2013, Cullen attended an Iowa Environmental Council meeting and picked up a tip: the Des Moines Water Works would sue Buena Vista County because of nitrate pollution in the Raccoon. He returned to Storm Lake and published a Page 1A story with “two decks and a 96-point headline!” As the Times increased news coverage and editorials on the issue, it encountered some backlash in a community dependent on agriculture.
“All we did was inform the public who was pulling the strings – that there was dark money involved and who was behind the money,” Cullen said. “That was our job.”
The Times urged a settlement, but the litigation dragged on and the counties engaged law firms in Washington and Des Moines. Their legal fees totaled $1.1 million, paid by anonymous donations made to the Agribusiness Association of Iowa. The Times, working with the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, demanded the donors’ identities but the association would not comply.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit last March. In his editorials, Cullen blasted the county board for meeting in closed sessions after the lawsuit was dismissed, ostensibly to determine how to pay attorney fees.
“We said the lawsuit has been dismissed – there is no litigation to discuss behind closed doors,” he said. “How can you meet in closed sessions? They said our claim was fake news. When they finally opened the meetings, they refused to discuss the issue.”
The Cullens wrote dozens of stories (by Tom) and editorials (by Art), and he quietly submitted the Pulitzer competition entry. In winning, Cullen followed the footsteps of a mentor and former boss, Michael Gartner, who won a Pulitzer in 1997 for editorials in the Ames (Iowa) Tribune.
“Art is a natural,” Gartner said, who called Cullen to say he was happier for his protégé than when he won his Pulitzer 20 years ago. “His strength is in his editorial writing, where he combines his writing and reporting skills with his sense of outrage. He’s effective because he has the facts and knows how to marshal them to make his point.”
Gartner admires all of the Cullens, who publish a newspaper “for love and out of a sense of great purpose. … They’re not getting rich.”A budding journalist
Art Cullen didn’t plan to be a journalist.
The youngest of six children, he wanted to go to the University of Iowa in 1975. His mom refused, saying, “You’re going to St. Thomas!” A St. Catherine graduate, she wanted one child to enroll at St. Thomas or St. Catherine, but the first five went to other Catholic colleges. St. Thomas was Art’s only option.
So he settled into fourth floor Ireland Hall and referred to himself and his party-loving buddies as “rebels without a cause.”
He intended to major in music “but I was told, ‘No, you can’t play the piano.’ I looked at theater and realized I had to read huge tomes of Shakespeare. I was going to major in business but I flunked accounting. I had a 1.8 GPA and I’m sure I was on probation. I looked at the catalog and thought journalism would be a good major – the only requirement was to type 25 words a minute,” he joked.
It took five years to earn a degree, and he credited several professors. He said his best course was Persuasion in Writing taught by Father James Whalen, because “I had been mounting arguments all my life, and I was interested in the foundation of rhetoric.” He also favored the required philosophy classes of logic (Dr. Harry Austin) and ethics (Dr. Fred Flynn), and found his best professor in Dr. Lon Otto. “Lon taught me how to write. I took a creative writing class from him and it opened the world.”
Cullen made $1.80 an hour as a copy boy at the Minneapolis Tribune during school. He landed an internship in 1979 in Algona, Iowa, where his brother edited the Algona Upper Des Moines and Kossuth County Advance. His first stories filled a 96-page section on the town’s 125th anniversary, and after the section was printed he celebrated.
“I heard sirens and asked a neighbor what was going on,” he said. “A tornado had just torn up half the town. I ran back to work and we put out a 20-page, ad-free section. I had been interviewing old people and writing history stories all summer, and then the tornado hit. It was real news.”
Once he became a journalist, Cullen changed his byline. Known as “Jerry” in college, he switched to his middle name. “It was a better byline,” he said. “Jerry” reminded him of comedian Jerry Lewis and “Art” brought memories of columnist Art Buchwald.
Cullen stayed in Algona for seven years and succeeded his brother as editor. He wrote extensively about the farm crisis in the 1980s, winning a national award and $10,000, but he found the situation depressing. “You could see the county imploding,” he said. “The motto in Algona became, ‘Will the last person to leave town turn off the lights?’”
He left Algona to become managing editor of the Ames Tribune under Gartner, and spent a year at the Mason City Globe Gazette as night managing editor. His brother called in 1990 to say he was starting a weekly newspaper (the Times) in their hometown, even though it already had a paper (Pilot Tribune). He wanted Art to join him, but Art said no. He still hoped to write for the Minneapolis or Des Moines newspapers; when his brother called a second time, he agreed.
“It was terrifying,” Cullen said of the newspaper war between the Times and Pilot Tribune, “but I was full of myself and got into the nitty gritty of it.” The Times switched to daily publication in an attempt to gain an edge but lost money, so after 10 months John decided to cut back to twice a week. “He was born with horse sense,” Cullen said, “and I with the ability to BS.”Community advocates
From the outset, the Times wanted to make a difference in Storm Lake.
“We always have felt a responsibility to be a mirror of the community,” John said, “so we report what happens, good or bad. Some media are reluctant to do that because they don’t want to alienate readers or advertisers. We always publish the truth, and let the chips fall where they may. If you don’t have your integrity, you don’t have anything.”
In addition to “chicken dinner news and the cover photo of the little girl who found a four-leaf clover,” John insisted on a strong editorial page. Art writes editorials and a weekly column – “I have not missed one in 27 years” – and his brother calls him “fearless. I give him free reign, and I can’t recall ever telling him not to run a story or an editorial. He knows what he’s doing.”
A bond referendum for a new middle school had failed twice but succeeded the third time thanks to the Times’ advocacy, and voters also approved a referendum for a new elementary school. Cullen has been an outspoken supporter of the rights of immigrants – 80 percent of Storm Lake elementary students are children of color – who hold jobs at large-city employers such as the Tyson meat plants.
A decade ago, the Times pushed for Project Awaysis to redevelop the north shore of Storm Lake and to build King’s Pointe, a water park resort.
“There wasn’t a place to eat or sleep on the lake,” Cullen said. “We had a tremendous asset being underused, so we said, ‘Let’s diversify our economy and become a tourist community.’”
Storm Lake sought state funds from a Vision Iowa initiative chaired by Gartner, and Cullen turned to his former boss from Ames.
“I called him and said, ‘We need $10 million.’ He said, ‘Will $8 million do?’ and I said yes. I wrote a story, before the announcement, saying we would get $8 million. The city didn’t know Gartner and I had talked and [it] went nuts. The mayor said, ‘You’re going to blow this for us. Where did you get that information?’ They were so mad at me. I told them, ‘Don’t worry. The money is coming.’”
And it did. The grant leveraged private donations and voters approved a sales tax to pay off bonds. King’s Pointe evolved into a $40 million project that includes a hotel, indoor and outdoor water parks, and a nine-hole golf course. The project tied into a Times-led effort to use tens of millions of dollars in federal, state and local funds to dredge Storm Lake.
“No other newspaper in Iowa has agitated on behalf of a lake for 25 years,” Cullen said. “The lake was a dumping ground, and now we’re taking care of it. I don’t know of many communities with a self-directed watershed management program.”The editor
Back in the newsroom, the editor who has been called a “prairie populist” and a “tree-hugging lunatic” stretches his legs while sitting in a chair stained by ink from when he ran the Times’ printing press; he would go from the press room to his desk without changing his pants.
He is dressed casually – slacks, wrinkled shirt, blazer and tennis shoes – “and fits a preconceived notion of editors with the disheveled hair and droopy mustache,” Gartner said. Cullen’s wife of 32 years appreciates how “he has cultivated the rumpled editor look” but likes to remind him, “That’s one step from looking homeless.”
She credits his curiosity for getting him in – and out of – trouble. “He immediately tries to figure out the most important thing in a story,” Dolores said. “He always asks, ‘Why is this interesting? Why should people care?’”
Tom Cullen describes his dad as “a real bulldog” during the lawsuit. He remembers growing up with a man with a reputation as a “divisive” figure. “Kids would give me a bad time and I’d come home and talk to him. I’d say, ‘So and so says you’re wrong’ and he’d say, ‘Good. That means people are reading.’”
Art surveys a room with walls full of framed newspapers, award plaques, a Times billboard for visitors to sign and Pulitzer mementos. A letter from Brian O’Brien, consul general of Ireland in Chicago, promises a visit: “You make Ireland proud! Comhghairdeas” (Gaelic for congratulations).
Alas, what promised to be a quiet summer was anything but. In addition to editing the Times and dealing with post-Pulitzer hoopla, he has that book to write. He says it will be about life changing in rural Iowa and “the people who remain here – hard-working, productive, smart people who care.”
People like Gerald Arthur Cullen.
Art Cullen is the second St. Thomas journalism alumnus to win a Pulitzer Prize in five years.
Jeremy Olson ’95 and two Minneapolis Star Tribune colleagues won a Pulitzer in 2013 for a series of stories on the increase in infant deaths at poorly regulated in-home daycare centers. The stories resulted in legislative action to strengthen rules, and deaths dropped dramatically.
Read more from St. Thomas magazine.
At its inception, Theology Night Live (then known as Theology on Tap) was an opportunity for faculty and students to informally gather and discuss theological issues. Terry Nichols, a theology professor at St. Thomas for 27 years and the founder and co-director of the university’s Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center, launched Theology on Tap in 2005.
Over the years, the gathering morphed into Theology Night Live, yielding more lecture-like sessions on campus intended to show students the relevance of theology to everyday life and the current world.
“This is a way to engage undergraduate students about St. Thomas outside the classroom and align with the message of the university,” said Mark DelCogliano, assistant professor of theology, who currently coordinates Theology Night Live. “The mission of the university is to be inspired by the Catholic intellectual tradition.”
Theology Night Live has had discussions on everything from faith-based community activism; how theology relates to sports; how Stephen Colbert functions as modern-day theologian; to how gadgets can improve spiritual life. Faculty volunteers and brainstorm their own topics, which means that many present from either their areas of focus or as a way to explore an interesting idea.
Associate professor of theology Amy Levad – who has presented multiple times at Theology Night Live, including on faith-based community activism – said she tries to give students a complex idea to think about.
“It enables you to hit on some more controversial or challenging topics and leave them there on the table,” Levad said. “A lot of times it’s just sort of planting a seed with Theology Night Live of something to consider as you go about your life. That can often be a good opportunity to invite people to self-reflection and further exploration in a different way than a classroom.”
Associate professor of theology Mark McInroy, who has presented on the connections to sports and Colbert, said that for theology students who are already convinced of theology’s relevance, he hoped they would walk away with an ever deeper understanding of that relevance from a new perspective.
“[Students I haven’t had in class] come up and speak with me, and it will be revealed that they attended a Theology Night Live, and in some cases, they wanted to follow up and take courses on the topic” McInroy said.
Theology Night Live also presents an opportunity for faculty members to learn from one another.
“I see my colleagues in their element, teaching. I don’t normally see them in the classroom,” DelCogliano said. “I see what works with students, what engages them. I benefit in my own pedagogy in the classroom, and how to better relate to my own students by seeing the students at the events.”
Through its shifting topics, Theology Night Live continues to stay relevant more than a decade after its founding.
“[Theology] has something to add to the conversation today dealing with our more pressing problems as a church, nation, world,” DelCogliano said. “So, it’s a body of wisdom … a tradition of thinking about reality that has something viable to say even now.”
Theology Night Live has two sessions left for this semester. Associate professor of Theology Kim Vrudny will lead “Is God Black?” on Wednesday, Nov. 8, from 5:30-6:45 p.m. in O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library, Leather Room. Adjunct professor and associate director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning Hans Gustafson will lead “Interreligious Encounter” on Wednesday, Dec. 6, from 5:30-6:45 p.m. in O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library, Leather Room.
Many things happened at and around St. Thomas on March 17, 2017. None of them may have been as consequential, though, for the future of the university as the meeting between President Julie Sullivan, some faculty members and five student veterans of the St. Thomas Veterans’ Association.
Senior Peter Watson was the club president and helped develop the plan presented to Sullivan that day for more veteran-friendly services, which centered around creating a physical space on campus dedicated to veterans.
“I asked them to come back with a larger proposal that would support our aspiration of becoming the most veteran-friendly campus in the upper Midwest,” Sullivan said. “I was delighted with the proposal they returned with, and their ideas shaped our creation of the Veterans’ Resource Center.”
Those ideas are now a reality as the Veterans’ Resource Center (VRC) celebrates its grand opening with an open house on Nov. 10 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. With its founding director, Norman Ferguson, on board and a dedicated group of veteran students helping push things forward, the promise and excitement around what the center can be for St. Thomas and its students is huge.
“It’s been exciting to see and be a part of,” said Watson, a finance major from Goodhue, Minnesota, who served two deployments over four years before enrolling at St. Thomas in 2014. “It’s going to be a great area for veterans to reconnect, rebuild that comradery they may have lost coming out of the military. … Most veterans coming in are at least 23 and have experiences that are vastly different than traditional students. This will be incredibly helpful to their well-being and success here.”
Several donors supported the center’s launch, and many St. Thomas students, staff and faculty helped plan out the possibilities for this new space on campus, which is located in the bottom level of Murray-Herrick Center in St. Paul.
“We now will have the resources to more fully support veteran students with their transition to the university, as well as provide an opportunity for veterans to more fully engage into the campus community,” added vice president for student affairs Karen Lange, a key planning partner for Watson and others. “We are confident these new additions will help veteran students achieve their educational and career goals.”A one-stop-shop for veterans
As the space and programming continues to develop, Ferguson said the dedication to supporting veteran students is a necessity. A veteran himself coming to St. Thomas after directing a similar center at University of Northern Iowa, Ferguson is looking forward to helping out veteran students in any and every way they need it.
“It’s a very holistic approach. Working with different partners on campus, financial aid, counseling, academic counseling, registrars, academic and student affairs, all working to make sure this population is successful,” he said. “This center is a one-stop-shop for veterans in that they can come here and we either have the resources or know where to point them. … They can go to one place. It’s the same thing for the rest of the campus: If they have any questions, concerns, anything military-related they know they can come here or contact here.”
Many student veterans deal with more stress than students entering out of high school or transferring form other colleges or universities, including senior Kyle Reid, who was featured in the winter 2017 issue of St. Thomas Magazine discussing the difficulties of life with post-traumatic stress disorder and conversion disorder. While Ferguson stressed the fact not every veteran has PTSD and many with PTSD are not veterans, the reality is that “transitioning from military to civilian life can be so difficult,” he said. “Being able to have that one place to talk to them and recognize where they are mentally, emotionally, spiritually is great. … If we’re able to catch them at the beginning, we may not be able to prevent everything, but help them know they have the resources to navigate things and be more likely to stay here and be successful.”
Ferguson envisions the center having a key role in educating the rest of the student body about veterans’ experiences, as well, including with “green zone training” for students, faculty and staff.
“We’ll go through military culture, why they joined, how the transition to civilian life and a university looks. Just to help everyone have a better understanding,” he said. “I’ve done these types of training in the past and been very successful. There’s a need and desire for it here.”The common veteran banner
Having Watson and other veterans so clearly articulate their desire for a center like this and everything it represents was crucial. While he said he wasn’t sure to begin with if this would be something he could benefit from himself before he graduated (“Over the summer it just took off; I can’t believe it’s already here,” Watson said), the whole thing is first and foremost about St. Thomas’ nearly 200 veteran students.
“Something you had in your unit was that common banner to rally behind. This can be that common banner. There’s no misstep in the transition here,” Watson said. “It brings all the sticks to one spot instead of being scattered in the wind. There’s one spot to go for everything that has to do with your benefits, outside resources, any help you need, or if you want to just come and hang out.”
Already veteran alumni have contacted the center with offers to set students up with internship or job opportunities, a prime example of how the center can help graduates stay connected to St. Thomas, too.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful to see it develop. To help make a change for the better has been my drive,” Watson said. “The future veterans coming in, if we can help so they don’t have to go through some of the turmoil and dark paths so many veterans do have to experience, then we should absolutely get behind that. Being able to help facilitate that here has been one of the greatest things I’ve done in my life.”
Around five years ago, Chris Kachian, professor of music, and Shelly Nordtorp-Madson, professor emerita of art history, decided to combine their areas of expertise. They believed if people could learn about art, history and music in tandem with each other, they would have a better understanding of all three.
“We feel strongly that faculty, staff and students should be involved in the arts,” Nordtorp-Madson said. “They should be a regular, everyday thing that anyone can participate in.”
That concept bloomed into noonartsound, a program that takes place over the lunch hour and provides fresh perspectives to different eras. Those topics have included the rock ‘n’ roll of the 1960s, Flamenco music and the Argentinian tango. With support from Dan Gjelten, Libraries director, noonartsound found its home in O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library.
“It has been wonderful being part of noonartsound and helping … bring these presentations into the library,” said Julie Kimlinger, Libraries administrative assistant. “With each of these noon hour talks we have been treated to exceptional mini lectures and concerts of the highest caliber.”
Victoria Young, Department of Art History chair, also is assisting with the planning as of this semester.
The sessions typically feature live music, often played by Kachian, and are juxtaposed against the art of the era, so participants can understand how one was influencing the other.
“It helps when people can take a broader social history viewpoint,” Kachian said. “Otherwise, music is too abstract.”
“People can better contextualize when they see a painting and then hear the music when they have to wrap their mind around a concept,” Kachian added. “When they hear music, they go, ‘Well, that’s interesting, but boy, it’s really abstract. What’s going on?’ And you go, ‘Well, here’s what was going on at the same time in painting and architecture and philosophy.’ ‘Oh! So, that’s why the music sounds that way!'”
In addition, Kachian tries to bring his students in to perform whenever possible.
Kachian, Young and Nordtorp-Madson all agreed noonartsound is representative of the strength of interdisciplinary work overall at St. Thomas.
“We are interdisciplinary by the way we live in the world,” Young said. “That’s the way our students think – is through a lot of different lenses – whether it’s what they’re listening to on their headphones, what they’re creating on their Snapchat account or what they’re reading. They process information a lot of different ways really easily. I think it’s important for us to keep that in focus on all levels of what we do in the university, so that we engage in the multidisciplinary way that sustains the next generation of Tommies.”
In addition to student benefits, Young and Nordtorp-Madson said they enjoy getting to learn about the passions of faculty members in other fields. They can then incorporate those different vantage points into their classrooms. Nordtorp-Madson said the lighthearted nature of noonartsound reminded her to infuse “playfulness” into her classroom, while Young said she became more cognizant of bringing music into hers.
“It’s just another layer to help students understand something that might not be very understandable to them,” Young said. “Music resonates with us all.”
The next noonartsound will focus on how music serves as a motivator for athletes and competition in sports. Kachian will interview John Tauer, psychology professor and men’s basketball coach, on Tuesday, Nov. 7, from noon-1 p.m. in O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library, O’Shaughnessy Room.
Closing on a house can be a interesting moment, but usually not for the reason of being connected back to more than 150 years of family history and the origins of a university.
That’s exactly what happened to Pat Finn last year, though, as he closed on a house on Cleveland Avenue that his son now lives in as he attends St. Thomas.
“At the closing they brought the deeds and titles, and there’s the original deed of land going from the government to William Finn, my great-great-grandfather,” Pat said.
Finn received the land after a losing a finger through a self-inflicted gunshot accident in 1847. The disability allowed him a bounty land warrant for a piece of property within the Fort Snelling military reservation.
St. Thomas owes its existence to William Finn: He gave Archbishop John Ireland the land to build the school on. Eventually Finn bequeathed to Ireland all his property in the area, which encompassed most of the area now found between Marshall, Fairview, and St. Clair avenues, and the Mississippi River.
“We always knew there was Finn Street and heard stories about great-great-grandfather having a farm here,” Pat said of growing up in the Highland Park area. “It’s pretty cool, with the land being given to him and him passing it on.
“I always joke that I pay property taxes on land we gave away, and I pay tuition to the school we gave the land away to,” Pat added with a smile.
The Finn Legacy Society at St. Thomas honors the Finn family’s legacy gift to the school, and recognizes the nearly 800 other donors who have since included St. Thomas in their will or given an estate gift. Donors are also listed in perpetuity on the annual honor roll wall outside on the third floor of the Anderson Student Center.
“Writing is 100 percent ‘me’ and trying to figure life out and noticing its little details,” said Brittany Chaffee ’10.
As a little girl, Chaffee would scurry after her mother through the grocery store, book in hand, and develop a callus on the middle finger of her writing hand from daily journaling. After walking through the Arches of the University of St. Thomas, she honed that passion for storytelling into real-world job skills.
Seven years after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communications and advertising, Chaffee has forged a career that is, by design and a dash of serendipity, her own. As the marketing manager at Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines, she is right where she wants to be: “on the creative side of marketing.”
“I think storytelling is the most powerful way we sell things,” Chaffee said. “Anything. You can build relationships, brand loyalty.”
For her first job after graduation she landed on the account side of advertising, working mostly in project management for her agency’s clients.
“I was 23 years old and talking to big clients. It was terrifying!” Chaffee said. “So I freaked out and became a flight attendant with Sun Country for two years.”
The change in course, however, ultimately drew her back into advertising.
On one flight she met Marty Davis, owner of Cambria and Sun Country Airlines, who encouraged Chaffee to give her calling another try. She took his advice and soon was working as a copywriter at Cambria, immersed in the creative side of marketing where she flourished.
After a few months as a copywriter, she joined the social media team at nearby Sun Country, splitting her time between the two roles for about a year before transitioning to Sun Country full time. She took a short hiatus from the airline to pursue an opportunity with a start-up that didn’t pan out and returned to Sun Country, which was happy to have her back.
Her current role as the overseer of Sun Country’s brand offers her opportunities to use her creative chops in many areas, be it project management, writing radio copy and social media content (which she manages), or managing the creative and publishing process of the airline’s in-flight magazine, among other responsibilities. She cherishes her job to the point that she proudly declared herself a “Sun Country lifer.”
Her affection for her work comes through in her effervescence when she reflects on Sun Country’s blog, which she helped launch in May ̶ “my little baby,” she called it. It also comes through in the conviction in her voice when she explains why she does what she does.
“We take the value of what the company stands for, which is, ‘We’re the hometown airline, and we value being your neighbor,’” Chaffee said. “Our story is that we create memories that matter, and then my team formats that message into stories through the people who fly with us.”
The Wild Morning
Last year she pursued a passion project in her spare time, a coffee-table book called The Wild Morning. The book was released in April and features informal, intimate, black-and-white photographs of women in their homes at the start of their days. Photographer David Puente captured the women on film. Chaffee penned profiles of the featured women, which accompany their photos.
A post shared by On sale now. (@thewildmorning) on Apr 20, 2017 at 6:00am PDT
“At first, when Dave and I were deciding who to include, I thought, ‘Do they have a specific voice in the community?’” Chaffee said. “But a lot of the women we ended up asking to participate would ask us, ‘Why do you want to photograph me? I’m boring.’ And I think that boringness is what we loved. And being OK with boring. Being an empowered and passionate woman is a great thing to aspire to, of course, but that ‘boring’ side, the one that doesn’t want to do anything in the morning, that’s crabby sometimes, that’s what we wanted to capture.”
A post shared by On sale now. (@thewildmorning) on Apr 22, 2017 at 7:00pm PDT
Chaffee, 29, sees a lot of crossover between her experience capturing women in the vulnerability and hope that morning brings and her role at Sun Country.
“Wild Morning has made me even more driven to bring value to people through storytelling because it’s like, ‘Look at all these people who love to look at these stories and relate to them. There’s a tangibility there that makes sense to people,” she said. “Instead of hearing about a fare sale, they’re going to associate the company with what matters to them.”
She said that tangibility through storytelling has always been in the back of her mind.
“I remember when someone from Haberman … came to one of my classes at St. Thomas when we were thinking about jobs and talked about their storytelling and how it was central to how they work,” she said. “That’s how I find value in things.”
It is Chaffee’s hope that Wild Morning’s reach extends beyond just book sales. The book has stirred “good conversations” on social media as well as panels. Additionally, she and Puente chose to contribute some of the proceeds to Faith’s Lodge, a retreat in northern Wisconsin that supports parents and families facing the death or medically complex condition of a child in a peaceful environment to reflect on the past, renew strength for the present and build hope for the future.
Editor’s note: This story is part of our year-long celebration of St. Thomas’ 40th anniversary of co-education.
You know your academic collaboration is going to be interesting when it kicks off with a screwdriver ceremony. For junior Abby Sunberg, an applied mathematics major, it absolutely was.
Sunberg connected last year with Molly Peterson, director of the Mathematics Resource Center (MaRC) in the mathematics department, to work and do research with a differential analyzer, a large mathematical tool that can be used for calculus.
“It was cool to do math with my hands, basically,” Sunberg said. “It was really interesting to see these mathematical things in a mechanical way.”
Before we get any further on Sunberg and Peterson’s work with it, it’s worth explaining what exactly a differential analyzer is: “It’s like a precursor to the modern day computer. It’s a literal com-puter,” Sunberg said.
What it computes are differential equations, one of the building blocks of calculus. The machine itself is several feet long and features a series of discs, gears and rods that can be manipulated (by that all-important screwdriver) to solve and graph a function. Essentially, you program the analyzer to put a certain value going in to start; it spits back out the integration; puts that integration back in; and spits out a final, second integration, the value you’re looking for to complete the equation. That process is physically drawn by a pen hanging off the end of a rod, down onto a sheet of paper below.
No, it’s not the most efficient (it takes about 15 minutes to draw a full graph), but it’s extremely valuable in its visual representation of a process that is usually completely abstract, taking place inside the depths of modern-day calculators and computers.
“It’s super, super helpful. … If you can see it, it’s way more helpful to cement these ideas into their mind,” said Sunberg, who wrote a paper this summer on her research tied to the analyzer. “This was a great way to get my mind around how you get from point A to point B in different math concepts.”
The project is an extension of Peterson’s undergraduate work at Simpson College; she actually helped build it while she was there. She continued working with it through graduate school and – after bringing it to St. Thomas – connected Sunberg’s passion to a possible collaboration.
“We’ve kind of come full circle now with Abby working with it,” Peterson said.
For Sunberg, having a mentor in Peterson has meant having someone there to support her potential, both immediately and beyond. While showing their work Sunberg articulated just that to Peterson.
“I think you’ve been pushing me and are more cognizant of my future than I am. ‘If you want to do this, we can do this, this and this.’ You’ve been a great example of pushing me forward and making sure I have options for the future,” she said.
For more on the mathematics department and the MaRC’s resources, visit their website.
The university’s new intranet platform, OneStThomas, will launch Monday, bringing with it a new era for Tommie communication.
OneStThomas will combine online tools and information for faculty, staff and students in an intuitive, easy-access, personalized format. A one-stop shop for everything Tommies need online – from Office 365 to class registration, Canvas to event calendars, Newsroom stories to personalized news feeds –OneStThomas represents the university’s digital town square and all the community building that comes with it.
An extension of the university’s strategic plan, St. Thomas 2020, the development of OneStThomas was encouraged by President Julie Sullivan and brings St. Thomas in line with the benefits many large universities have experienced with an intranet platform. Instead of operating exclusively on the same external website, www.stthomas.edu, as outside users, St. Thomas community members can now communicate, handle all their classroom needs and stay up to date on information within a secure, private platform.
Take a digital tour of the intranet here, and watch for more information in the coming week as we count down to welcoming OneStThomas.
While it’s important to get good grades and attend class, landing a job in after graduation requires much more from a resume than a bachelor’s degree, even for those graduating with honors.
“There was a time many moons ago when just having a college degree was good enough to get you a job, and that is no longer the case,” said Amber Bieneck-Thom, a career specialist in the Career Development Center at the University of St. Thomas, which has a staff of specialists trained in helping St. Thomas students maximize their time here. “If you just go to class, you are setting yourself up for a hard time.”
Fortunately, opportunities for professional and personal development abound at St. Thomas.
Make yourself interesting
In contemplation of a life well lived, Benjamin Franklin is thought to have said, “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth the reading, or do things worth the writing.” It also happens to be sound guidance for an education well spent.
College provides fertile ground and the space to experience different things. St. Thomas hosts a vast selection of clubs, including academic, hobbyist (e.g., fishing, anime, photography), athletic (e.g., marital arts, hockey, ultimate Frisbee) and even musical. It’s these interests that have the potential to make for memorable icebreakers and possible connectioncs with interviewers.
Get to know faculty members
This is a great way to take the intimidation out of networking, as it involves casual, one-on-one conversation. And if you’re thinking about applying to graduate school, get to know faculty members’ areas of research.
Laura Bru, student research grants coordinator in the St. Thomas Grants and Research Office, noted that approval from a faculty member is required before a student applies to do research. But more importantly, faculty members can give guidance to develop a strong proposal.
Get specific, then research
Bru coordinates eight of St. Thomas’ research grant programs, which include the Conference Travel Grant program, the Young Scholars Research Grant, Collaborative Inquiry Grant, Community-based Research Grant, Sustainability Scholars Grant (just added summer 2017) and Inquiry at UST.
“I hope students are already making meaningful connections between what they’re thinking in class and what they can do outside of class and beyond graduation,” Bru said. She encourages students to specifically identify what drives them and to ask themselves what they hope to gain in terms of knowledge.
“If they can start early thinking, ‘What can I make, what can I contribute?’ they’ll be better equipped to locate the faculty who can help them apply those potential skills and get them on a path,” Bru said.
Research cannot be performed for credit, so it’s a different part, above and beyond, the academic experience. Grants and Research offers a convenient hub for students to discover tools and support for getting their research dreams off the ground. In the 2016-17 academic year, 117 students presented on 100 research projects with assistance from the office.
Other research opportunities are offered through the Excel! Research Scholars program (Grants and Research Office), the Luann Dummer Center for Women and the School of Education faculty employ student researchers.
With only 11 percent of students nationally studying abroad, venturing to a different country to study can set job applicants apart from the herd. Aside from full immersion in another culture and perhaps language, studying abroad “allows students to demonstrate soft skills that all employers are looking for: increased sense of independence and self confidence, comfort with ambiguity, increased resiliency and problem-solving skills,” said Sarah Spencer, Ph.D., director of study abroad, Office of International Education.
Spencer noted that while abroad, students can leverage their experience by engaging in local clubs, volunteer work or activities, meeting with St. Thomas alumni living in the country – particularly if the alum works in a field of interest to them – and avoiding the bubble of U.S. students studying abroad by choosing to live in a homestay or international residence hall.
Space it out
Bieneck-Thom noted that it is important to be involved in university life but knows finding time outside of classes, homework and socializing can seem daunting. She emphasized that there are viable ways to build a robust resume or (curriculum vitae) without stressing.
“It’s not that you have to do everything all at once in addition to classes,” she noted. “Frequently students take classes, maybe work part time, or not, and they’re part of clubs … they might have a few consistent things that don’t require daily commitments. Then maybe one summer they’ll do an internship.”
A word on networking
“Networking tends to scare a lot of people, but the bottom line is that it’s not as scary as you think because everybody has a personal network,” Bieneck-Thom said. “All it takes is one person to get started.” Think of it as having interesting conversations rather than pinballing between employers in a gymnasium.
Bieneck-Thom sees an individual’s first contact as the start of a cycle that reaps rewards in unpredictable but fruitful pathways. “If you can find just one professor who can talk to you about going to graduate school or careers in certain areas, that can start you on a path. … [A] professor [can] refer you for a research project or a class that is up your alley, or introduces you to someone else who might know about a job you’d be interested in, and so on. That’s how the cycle starts.
“No two people get to the same job in exactly the same way … there’s no one formula,” she said. “Once you set up contacts, it sets you up well to have connections when it comes time to apply for internships and jobs. Cultivate those relationships … stay in touch on LinkedIn, ask for advice on how to apply to a job or ask if they can put in a good word for you.”
Informational interviews count as networking. And the payoff could be big. Most jobs, Bieneck-Thom said, never get posted because employers prefer to fill jobs with people they already know.
Not sure where to start?
If you aren’t able to attend any of the classroom or club talks given by a Career Development Center specialist, make an appointment at the center. Results from a recent survey conducted by the center indicated that students who used the center’s services showed nine times greater employment rates over students who did not visit the center.
In addition to resume-writing and interviewing-skill guidance, the specialists can help steer students in the direction of internship and volunteer opportunities.
Specialists from the CDC also speak to classrooms and clubs throughout the year and encourage club leaders to invite them to speak at meetings and events.
Students also may contact Bru to learn more about specific research grants.
Above all, keep in mind that …
There is no right way.
“There is only one wrong thing to do – nothing,” Bieneck-Thom said.
Even over the phone, Alex French ’11 exudes energy, rattling off the athletic adventures his team undertook during a training excursion in Oregon. It’s no stretch to imagine him as one of the founders of Bizzy Coffee, a product intended to provide convenient and healthy energy.
“Since I was 10, I’ve always wanted to be a business owner,” French said. “My whole life, I’ve had a business or side project and have been making money on my own. Whether they were successes or failed, they taught me something.”
Bizzy Coffee, since being officially launched in June this year, has gained momentum: In addition to being sold through Amazon, Bizzy is carried in 250 stores across the country. The company also received an honorable mention in Minnesota Business’ Most Likely to Succeed in the beverage and food category; ranked No. 1 on Amazon in the cold brew coffee category; and was featured on Buzzfeed’s “29 Clever Ways to Up Your Coffee Game.”Getting Bizzy
With French’s aspirations of becoming a business owner, it’s no surprise that he enrolled at St. Thomas with the intention of being an entrepreneurship major. He partnered that with a finance major and easily found corporate jobs after graduation.
All the while he experimented with business ideas and, in 2013, the original seed for Bizzy Coffee was planted. He and longtime friend and fellow founder Andrew Healy were training for a World’s Toughest Mudder event, which pits participants against an obstacle course over 24 hours. On top of his full-time job, French said he needed an energy boost.
“I needed something that was a plant-based energy source, low sugar, high caffeine,” he said. “Cold brew concentrate fits that, except it’s not convenient. It has all the health attributes I wanted, but was a pain to make.”
He decided to simplify that creation process by making a product others could buy. French felt confident he had discovered a market with a need: Aimed not at “coffee snobs,” but “energy seekers,” Bizzy Coffee’s brand is built around being healthy, convenient and energizing.
“The biggest learning lesson is that you need to be solving a problem,” French said. “It’s got to be a pain point. … I have a serious problem, and I’ll take whatever I need to solve it.”
In September 2015, French and Healy took a gamble and left their full-time jobs to devote themselves to Bizzy.
“It was a huge risk, personally and financially,” French said. “Getting to be No. 1 on Amazon solidified my mind that we can do this. Regardless of the external factors, my team and I can make this work, and we’re unrelenting.”
They tested their product in March 2016, moved to a shot form and formally launched in 2017.
Bizzy now has eight full-time employees and is carried in Kowalski’s and other natural and wellness stores. One of French’s goals is to eventually be carried by all natural and wellness stores – about 1,500 – across the country.
“Thousands of customers love our product,” French said. “It’s an intimate thing and these people trust me enough to put it in their bodies.”London Business Semester
While reflecting on how his business education at St. Thomas helped him along his path, French said one of his most influential experiences at St. Thomas was the London Business Semester. The semester keeps undergraduates on track to graduate while focusing on globalization and exploring sites such as the Bank of England, the Stock Exchange and Lloyds of London.
“That was probably one of the most pivotal moments in my life,” French said. “It opened up my horizon as to what else is out there.”
French also said he enjoyed having a mentor in Richard “Rex” Rexeisen, professor and chair in the Marketing Department, who has led the London Business Semester seven times.
“The London Business Semester is a quintessential St. Thomas moment,” Rexeisen said. “We talk about faculty involvement and engaging students as a one-on-one business, but this is an environment that focuses all attention on that.”
Rexeisen praised French as being a student who reached out to him for discussion while they were in London and leveraged the resources he had available to him. He added that he is proud of what French has done and the individual he has become.
“I always tell students that go on the London Business Semester they’re getting double-dipped purple,” Rexeisen said. “What I mean by that is that they already belong to St. Thomas and belong to a community that has values and aspirations. … Within that community, there are subcommunities that can be powerful in your life. The London Business Semester, in my experience, has been one of those deep double-dippings.
“These students stay connected throughout their entire lives. For that, they are privileged and responsible for what they do with their lives,” he added. “We’re celebrating Alex as a community member – his successes and failures are our own.”
The Office of Academic Affairs and the Center for Faculty Development recently awarded two of their highest honors to three St. Thomas faculty members. Dr. Elizabeth Kindall received the University Scholars Grant; and Dr. Gloria Frost and Dr. Mark McInroy each received the Distinguished Early Career Grant.
The University Scholars Grant (USG) is awarded to tenured faculty with associate or full professor rank who have completed at least 10 years of full-time service at St. Thomas. The grant provides the recipients with time for scholarly work over a three-year period.
Kindall is an associate professor of art history in the College of Arts and Sciences. She has taught at St. Thomas since 2008. Her primary area of research is in Chinese art history, particularly 14th through 18th century Chinese landscape painting. She plans to use the USG for her project “Landscape Biography in Late-Imperial China.” The study advances the idea that certain landscape paintings were produced by Chinese artists as a form of “landscape biography.”
“My goal for this project, made possible by this grant, is to introduce a little-studied genre of Chinese art,” Kindall said. “Because this is an interdisciplinary study, my aim is to contribute to a variety of disciplines including art history, history, biography, religious studies, cultural studies, identity studies and landscape studies. This research will also directly affect my undergraduate and graduate students here at St. Thomas, because we inevitably end up discussing what I am working on in class and their insights are always a great help.”
The Distinguished Early Career Grant (DEC) recognizes and supports early-career faculty – those with at least four but no more than 10 years of service – who have a distinguished record of ongoing scholarship. The award provides time to faculty for advancing their scholarly agenda at a generative moment in their careers.
McInroy is an associate professor of theology in the College of Arts and Sciences. He has taught at St. Thomas since 2011. His primary area of research is modern Christian theology. He plans to use the DEC grant to write a book arguing that the concept of the “radiant invisible” functions as a central yet largely unnoticed theme in 20th century theology and philosophy.
“Receiving this grant presents me with an extraordinary opportunity, for which I am exceedingly grateful,” McInroy said. “There are few things more precious to faculty than time, and this grant will give me the time required to pursue a large-scale research project. I am deeply honored to have been selected by the Faculty Development Committee.”
Frost is an associate professor of philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences. She has taught at St. Thomas since 2009. Her primary area of research is medieval philosophy. She plans to use the grant to write a book on Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of causal powers and causation.
“I am very excited to have increased time for my research,” Frost said. “It will allow me to complete my first book and to disseminate research I have been working on for several years. I am very grateful to St. Thomas for their support and I will do my best to make good use of this tremendous opportunity.”
According to Dr. Mary Reichardt, internal grants director in the Center for Faculty Development, the DEC and USG grants are highly competitive and awarded only to faculty who exhibit a clear record of outstanding scholarship combined with national and/or international reputation. The USG is awarded to established scholars and the DEC to rising stars.
“This year’s awardees impressed us as remarkable exemplars of the reason for these grants – the university’s recognition, reward and support for truly distinguished scholarship,” Reichardt said.
For more information on the University Scholars Grant and the Distinguished Early Career Grant, visit the Center for Faculty Development.