May 2017
Dr. Buffy Smith

Next fall the Dougherty Family College will begin its inaugural year. The creation of the University of St. Thomas’ new two-year college is an ambitious undertaking, one that is designed to address the college attainment gap in the Twin Cities.

The new college will focus on degree completion and career readiness as well as preparation for further education, according to Dr. Buffy Smith, associate dean of the Dougherty Family College. “The college will be a pathway to upward social mobility — providing a solid educational foundation while [helping students] earn an associate’s degree and have an eye on a bachelor’s degree,” Smith said. “It’s really to help students who may not be ready for a four-year program; they have the intellectual capabilities but may need some additional support.”

Dougherty Family College will enroll 150 students each year. Students will participate in a cohort model with faculty mentors who will lead groups of 25 students. The cohort will take all their classes together, which Smith said will help foster peer accountability and peer mentoring. “The research shows support from peers that the cohort model creates has a positive impact on retentions rates, graduation rates and overall performance,” she said.

Faculty recruitment has been a priority. “When we hire faculty we are focusing on two criteria. First is clear mastery of their academic content area; second is success working with students from diverse populations and a mastery of culturally responsive pedagogy,” Smith said. “We are being mindful of the student’s emotional and social learning as well as the specific content areas.”

The mentoring model that the college is implementing is a direct product of Smith’s research into student success practices. “This model comes from my research and other scholarship on student success,” Smith said. “Ideally the learning model and some of our pedagogies will help influence our four-year program.”

“Students who are looking for an educational experience that will allow them to embrace their cultural background, learn from peers who have similar experiences and connect with faculty and staff as mentors should look to the Dougherty Family College,” Smith said.

Two-year associate degrees are already offered at three other member institutions: St. Catherine UniversityBethel University and Concordia University, St. Paul.

By Tom Lancaster