St. Thomas Magazine_Spring 2022

SPRING | 2022




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The Twin Cities CornMaze chose St. Thomas for its 2021 theme in honor of its inaugural Division I season. An aerial shot byMark Brown captures the beauty of the university‘s name and logo formed by themassive corn stalks. Inside, attendees could visit 15 stations marked with different facts about St. Thomas, starting with how it was founded by Archbishop John Ireland as an all-male seminary in 1885. Aportion of every ticket that was sold to this year‘s maze was donated to the Tommie Athletic Fund to support St. Thomas student- athletes. Thousands of people visited the maze, amounting to approximately $15,000 received by the TommieAthletic Fund. In his 11 years of operating the Brooklyn Park- based cornmaze, founder Bert Bouwman has raised over $200,000 for local charities. The TommieAthletic Fund received over $1.2 million on Tommie Give Day andmore than $12million since announcing themove to D-I in 2020.

Photography by MARK BROWN

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S T T H O M A S . E D U 5 2 FEATURES 24 28 32 18 20 UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS MAGAZINE. Volume 38, Number 1. No part of this publication may be reprinted without written permission. Contact us at DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS/EDITOR: Sheree R. Curry ASSISTANT EDITOR: Brant Skogrand CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Pete Winecke ART DIRECTOR: John Mau DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Mark Brown CONTRIBUTORS: Kara Bradshaw / Liam James Doyle / Carol Garner / Joanne Pauley / Jamie Proulx / Andy Ybarra / Liz Zupfer PICTURED ON COVER: Dr. Martha Scheckel, founding director of the new School of Nursing, and faculty are prepared to welcome students in fall 2022. Photos by Mark Brown. 12 CREATING VIDEO GAMES TO CHANGE THE WORLD gBETA participant Jules Porter ‘18 J.D./MBA is on a mission. 17 MENTORING ENTREPRENEURS Alumni with start-ups express value of accelerator program. 18 CLEAN ENERGY EFFORTS MAKE A DIFFERENCE Professor John Abraham, PhD, discusses climate change solutions. 20 MAKING THE LEAP! Celebrating our first year in Division I athletics. 24 TOMMIE NURSES: A PLAN TO ACHIEVE HEALTH EQUITY The new School of Nursing‘s plan is in motion for fall. 28 INNOVATION GETS A BOOST A wave of federal grants is making an impact. 32 SCHOENECKER CENTER STEAM complex named for benefactor breaks new ground.

up front


which only bodes well for the St. Thomas community far into the future. Truly, my optimism about St. Thomas has never been higher. Despite the unprecedented challenges of the past couple of years, we have built, in the words of Archbishop John Ireland, ever forward. From our historic leap from D-III to D-I athletics, to the announcement of our new School of Nursing, to the strides made in our national rankings, we have so much to be proud of as a community. In this edition of the magazine, you will see how today‘s students continue to be shaped by our Catholic intellectual tradition and convictions, becoming the morally responsible leaders the world needs. You will read about how the innovation and commitment from our faculty have resulted in an increase in the number of competitive federal grants we have received. And you will see many examples of how we are leveraging our momentum to further our Catholic mission to advance the common good. I am so grateful and feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to lead this remarkable community, and to share this moment in St. Thomas history with you. In the years to come, I know that St. Thomas will continue to build: bricks and mortar alongside capacity and vision, diversity and goals, legacy and reach. I know that the practical optimism of Archbishop Ireland will continue to guide us. Tommies will build, and ever press forward, toward a future full of hope and expanded possibilities for its students, community, and the world. n



you may know, after nine years serving as president of St. Thomas, I have made the difficult decision to leave as of June 1 to become president of Santa Clara University in California. The unique combination of leading an outstanding Jesuit, Catholic institution, along with the strong pull of my family, made it an opportunity that I could not pass up. We‘re at an incredibly exciting point in St. Thomas’ history, which made the decision to leave all the harder. At the same time, leaving is made easier knowing that St. Thomas will be in excellent hands under the leadership of Interim President Robert Vischer, whose work as dean of the School of Law for almost 10 years has been exemplary. And I know that I leave at a time of great momentum and opportunity,

ROB VISCHER NAMED INTERIM PRESIDENT Vischer came to St. Thomas in 2011 and has served as dean of the School of Law since 2013. His scholarship explores the intersection of law, religion and public policy. Before entering academia, he practiced corporate litigation in Chicago and clerked for three federal judges. He received his J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review.


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This year‘s incoming first-year class of students was more racially, globally and economically diverse than that of any previous year, according to the final count from the fall semester. The final tally shows year-over-year increases in the number of first-generation college students, and students who graduated in the top 10% of their high school class. Among this year‘s 1,274 new first-time, first-year bachelor‘s degree-seeking students, 25%

are students of color – compared to 19.2% last year. This jump marks encouraging progress for St. Thomas as it strives to continue diversifying its student population.


POMP AND PATIENCE Members of the Class of 2020 came back to St. Thomas during the 2021 Homecoming and FamilyWeekend for more than just a return to their stomping grounds. St. Thomas celebrated them in person with March Out of the Arches, Mass and a ceremony. Due to the pandemic, the graduates had to forgo celebrating in person in 2020.

“I was really happy to see the email about a day to celebrate commencement for the Class of 2020,“ said Karina Boos ‘20MS in systems engineering. “For me it is really important; it took me more than 10 years to return to do my master‘s degree after college and then it took me about seven years to finally complete all the classes.“ She added she was grateful to be able to have her husband and two boys, Ryan and Erik, see her cross the stage. “I shared with them this important moment and showed especiallymy kids that it doesn‘t matter howhard or howmany obstacles I had, I did not give up onmy goal.“

HELP ST. THOMAS GO GREEN: GO DIGITAL By opting to receive the next issue of St. Thomas magazine exclusively by email, you will help St. Thomas reduce its carbon footprint and save trees! Plus, you‘ll receive bonus editorial content in the digital version. Scan the QR code to opt out of receiving hard copies of the magazine or visit .

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St. Thomas joins 58 other institutions in the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort due to its strong commitment to assisting and cultivating successful experiences for first-generation college students. The Proud to Be F1RST committee offers advice, resources and peer events. The university, which has approximately 18% of its students identifying as the first in their families to go to college, received the First-gen Forward designation from the Center for First-generation Student Success.

Nationally Noticed. Additionally, U.S. News &World Report in 2021 ranked St. Thomas among the top 20 national Catholic universities and in the top third of all national universities (No. 136). St. Thomas was also ranked No. 67 on the Best Value list, placing it among the top 12 Catholic universities in the country in that category.



PRINCETON REVIEWVALUES OUR ENTREPRENEURSHIP St. Thomas is the only Minnesota school to make this year‘s Princeton

TOP 25 LAW SCHOOL The University of St. Thomas School of Law once again ranked among the top 25 law schools in the nation for scholarly impact, coming in at No. 23 on the list that ranks the top third of ABA-accredited law schools. St. Thomas Law tied with George Mason University, FordhamUniversity and Boston University. It is up fromNo. 39 in 2015, according to the report compiled by lawprofessor Gregory Sisk. The findings are based on themean and median of total law journal citations to tenured faculty scholarship over a five-year period. “Our scholarly culture shapes the student experience by bringing our students into the conversations at the center of legal reform,“ law school Dean Robert Vischer said.

Review list for top undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. The university advanced 10 spots to No. 23 in the latest national rankings. The Schulze School of Entrepreneurship landed first among Catholic universities and colleges for students studying entrepreneurship.

“Our values-based, mission-driven approach is drawing students who want to make an impact on the world,“ Associate Dean Laura Dunham said. “[A]nd we are passionate about preparing the next generation for success.“ Undergraduate alumni of the past 10 years have started more than 150 companies, raising more than $73 million in funding.


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St. Thomas has earned a Military Friendly School designation for the past four years. The university also has ranked in the top 100 schools in the U.S. News & World Report‘s Best Colleges for Veterans list for three years in a row, moving up to No. 82 from No. 93 in a year. For the first time, St. Thomas also landed on the U.S. Veterans Magazine’s “Top Veteran-Friendly Schools” list and received its first Military Friendly Gold Star Award.

As a Yellow Ribbon School, St. Thomas also covers financial gaps for veteran students. Those who receive the maximum benefit from the Post-9/11 GI Bill won‘t have to pay tuition and fees to attend the university. In addition, they receive a monthly housing stipend and a flat rate for books and supplies.





Prioritizing sustainability pays off. For the fourth year in a row, St. Thomas is among the top green colleges in North America, according to the Princeton Review‘s latest annual Guide to Green Colleges.

St. Thomas has the most international students (641) among private universities in Minnesota and remains fourth in the state overall for international enrollment, according to the 2021 Open Doors report issued by the Institute of International Education. St. Thomas saw an increase of 11% to 187 undergraduate international students during a time when total undergraduate international enrollment across the country decreased. The number of new international undergraduate students in fall 2020 at St. Thomas also increased by 23%, whereas it decreased nationally. The fall report, which also tracked study abroad participation for the 2019-20 school year, found that St. Thomas ranks seventh in the nation based on the percentage of the graduating student body and 18th in the nation for the overall number of undergraduate students from doctoral institutions who studied abroad for academic credit. St. Thomas ranks first among private institutions in Minnesota.

St. Thomas‘ “Green Rating“ continues to

trend upward, receiving this year a 93 rating out of 99 – the highest possible score, compared to 89/99 in the 2020 edition. St. Thomas was among the top five Minnesota institutions appearing in the 2022 edition, ahead of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and just below Macalester College, according to St. Thomas‘ analysis. Analysis also reveals that the university scores among the top 10 of select Catholic peer institutions.

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Restorative justice is a worldwide movement that dates to the 1970s. The approach creates outlets for victims to express their thoughts on the impact of a perpetrator‘s actions and for those who have caused harm to understand and accept responsibility for their behavior. St. Thomas recognizes that the approach is one way the legal community can help foster greater justice and healing in society. In fall 2021, it launched the Initiative on Restorative Justice and Healing (IRJH) at the School of Law. “I am heartened by the launch of the Initiative on Restorative Justice and

Healing,“ Founding Director Father Daniel Griffith said. “It is a vital time to foster greater justice and healing in our community and I look forward to the contributions that IRJH can make to informative dialogue and meaningful change.“ The work of the IRJH will focus on racial injustice, sexual abuse by clergy and institutional failures within the Catholic Church and societal polarization.

“This work is a powerful example of the law school‘s mission in action – combining legal expertise with empathy, concern for the whole person, and the transformative power of human connection,“ School of Law Dean Robert Vischer said. “Leadership in the restorative justice movement is a natural outgrowth of our commitment to advance the common good.“



St. Thomas introduced two commercials in Spanish this year as a part of its We Are Tommies marketing campaign. Both spots, which highlight current students and their journey to St. Thomas, have the goal of reaching a more diverse audience. These Spanish spots began airing in mid-February exclusively on Univision. Other new television commercials focusing on current students and alumni build on success from last year‘s campaign. With the goal of increasing awareness for St. Thomas, these commercials feature key programs and initiatives across CAS, Business, Education and Engineering.

All six commercials are set to air through early May across local Twin Cities major TV stations. The English language placements included “Shark Tank,“ “The Bachelor“ and both the NCAAmen’s and women’s basketball tournaments..

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Funded by a $100,000 grant through the Interfaith Leadership and Religious Literacy Program of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the programwill offer opportunities for approximately 15 student fellows over the course of the four-year pilot, which started in fall 2021. The fellows will complete coursework in the new theology minor in interfaith leadership, complete an internship with a community partner that engages religious diversity, and put their leadership skills into practice on campus and in the community. “The fellows will have opportunities to get off campus and put into practice the skills they‘ve learned through the program‘s various components, under the mentorship of professionals in the community who already do it day in and day out,“ said Hans Gustafson, PhD, director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interreligious Studies and the Interfaith Fellows Program.

Interfaith understanding is core to St. Thomas as a Catholic university. Now, through its inaugural Interfaith Fellows Program, St. Thomas will educate and prepare interreligious literate leaders who are better informed by how lived religious practices and beliefs shape the way people live, work and play together.


GETTING IN ‘GOOD TROUBLE‘ In an ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, the University of St. Thomas established the Good Trouble Legacy Scholarship to support undergraduate students whose identities are underrepresented at the university or whose studies focus on racial and social justice. The Good Trouble Legacy Scholarship was conceived in honor of George Floyd and U.S. Rep. John Lewis by a small group of BIPOC staff who are also St. Thomas alumni.

One $5,000 scholarship per year will be granted each spring to a selected undergraduate student after being reviewed by the award committee. Applicants are to be in good academic standing and in the spring semester of their junior year. They must demonstrate academic prowess, serve as role models for their peers, and be involved on campus or in the community related to issues that promote racial equity and inclusion. Initial funders included alumni Brad Pulles ‘08, Ryan Blake ‘09, Teron Buford ‘10, Codi Soeun ‘14 and Shanea Turner-Smith ‘14, all of whom are current or former staff or faculty.

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M s. Billie Mahalia Rudolph can run on water, hear ultrasonic sounds and move at supersonic speeds. The 77-year-old African American with an aeronautics degree is one of several senior citizen video game characters created by University of St. Thomas alumna Jules Porter. Porter, who in 2018 received a joint J.D./MBA, plans to officially launch Ultimate Elder Battle Royale on Juneteenth 2022. The role-playing game moved into beta testing during Black History Month. Imagine: aging superheroes living in nursing homes who still have prime skills and a continued desire to save the world from villains. They have secret weapons hidden in their walkers and they stay fit by engaging in underground fight clubs. Most importantly, the majority of these heroic characters are people of color. “It‘s rare to find positive Black characters in video games – many of By SHEREE R. CURRY Art provided by SERAPH 7 STUDIOS CREATING VIDEO GAMES TO CHANGE THEWORLD them are gangsters, mobsters, drug dealers and prostitutes, and that‘s not representative of who we are,“ said creator and founder Porter, who is a licensed attorney with multiple college degrees. Porter is on a mission to change the face of the estimated $175 billion video game industry, both on the screens and behind the scenes. Through her Minneapolis-based start-up Seraph 7 Studios, the entrepreneur is accomplishing far more than debuting video games with an array of characters who reflect the world‘s racial diversity and aging population.

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JAI 70-80% of people of color play video games, so Jules Porter created characters to reflect the demographic.

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The longtime video gamer and coder is also empowering Black, Indigenous and Latinx youth to build generational wealth by becoming software developers and animators. “So many of our kids – like 80% of Black youth – are playing video games and only 3% of characters look like us,“ said Porter, whose business is cited as being the first Black female-owned video game company in the world tomake console games for Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo. “Part of the problem is, we have so few BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] developers in the gaming space,“ she said. This Minnesota native, who simultaneously earned a bachelor‘s degree in aeronautics from a Florida university while serving in the Marine Corps, has a hands-on solution to increase the pipeline for diverse tech talent. During the 2022-23 school year, her business will launch a three-year applied work- study program for St. Paul high school students from underestimated communities. Additionally in the fall, Seraph 7 Studios will roll out a paid one-year apprenticeship for young adults.

BILLIE Nicknamed “The Mississippi Supersonic,“ Ms. Billie Mahalia Rudolph moves at supersonic speeds and hears ultrasonic sounds. She has an aeronautics degree, just like Porter.

MANNY At 80 years old, the legally blind, hand-to-hand fighter uses smell to sense danger. His character brings awareness about albino people.

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“I really want to see a world where all kids can see themselves as heroes,“ Porter said. She‘s funding the after-school program, in part, from the $200,000 she received from the MEDAMillion Dollar Challenge, a nationwide pitch competition geared toward women and BIPOC entrepreneurs. Guided by two co-directors, a social worker and five teachers, the diverse participants will learn script writing, storyboarding, 3D

at the university. She entered the video game idea in the social venture category of the ninth annual Fowler Business Concept Challenge hosted by St. Thomas‘ Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. She said that the $16,000 scholarship she won for landing first place, along with another $10,000 she received through the St. Thomas Business Plan Competition, “have been essential“ in getting her company off the ground. St. Thomas again had her back in summer 2021. That‘s when a top start-up accelerator called

modeling, animation,

GRANNY KEL One of 10 positive female video game characters created by Seraph 7 Studios.

architecture, as well as the programming languages C++ and Python. “We‘re going to make sure we have healthy snacks for

gener8tor, in partnership with the Schulze School, selected Porter‘s company for its gBETA St. Thomas. This free, seven-week accelerator programmentors

start-ups founded by University of St. Thomas students and alumni. The advice she has received from her mentors, she said, has been invaluable.Well, in some ways she could put a price tag on it. She originally valued her business at $2 million when she applied to be on the hit TV show “Shark Tank.“ “I am happy that I didn‘t make it on the show then because at that point I undervaluedmy business,“ she said. Her mentors and angel investors showed her how she could dreambigger, beyond video game products to a multifaceted business model.

the students, build up their confidence, and kind

of take care of the whole student,“ said Porter, who faced race-based struggles when she was a high schooler. Porter credits St. Thomas for her company‘s upward trajectory. She developed her first business plan for Seraph 7 Studios in 2017 with the encouragement she received from faculty and classmates during her final year as a graduate student

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I really want to see a world where all kids can see themselves as heroes.


All in all, Seraph 7 Studios, a Minnesota public benefit corporation, has raised nearly $500,000 in funding. Porter‘s St. Thomas connections helped prepare her for other “wins.“ She received $10,000 when she was named the top innovator woman of technology and $25,000 for being a top veteran- led company. She gained another $25,000 through the American Express “100 for 100“ program in partnership with iFundWomen of Color and crowdraised nearly another $30,000. She was honored as a MN Cup semifinalist and received a Finnovation Fellowship from the Bush Foundation and Finnegans Brewery & Taproom. Also, she landed the February/ March 2021 cover of Twin Cities Business magazine for being named one of “20 Minnesotans Designing the Future of Innovation.“ Porter has goals to be more than a one-hit wonder. Ultimate Elder Battle Royale is only one of several game series she is developing. Porter plans to release a different game at least every two years. She has five others already in the works, including: War in Heaven, a game in which players fight angels who rebel against God; and Harriet, a virtual reality horror survival game that puts players in the shoes of American heroine Harriet Tubman to decide whom they will trust, whom they will save, and how they will escape. n

“I have investors now valuing my company at $50 million. That‘s the true value when you consider the possibilities beyond video games: an animated series, comic books, movies,“ she said. Access to capital is one of the main challenges facing BIPOC entrepreneurs. And when it comes to Black women, they receive less than 1% of the funding doled out by venture capitalists, according to 2021 Crunchbase and ProjectDiane data cited by Forbes and Fortune magazines.

Learn more about the company at .

JULES PORTER ‘18 J.D./MBA A lover of the Bible with a theology degree, J.D. and MBA, Porter named her company after the six-winged angels in the Book of Isaiah that are “shaking foundations,“ just as is Seraph 7 Studios.

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gBETA St. Thomas is a free, seven-week accelerator that mentors start-ups with at least one founder who is either a University of St. Thomas alumnus or a current student. Run in collaboration with the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship and the nationally ranked gener8tor accelerator program, each gBETA cohort is capped at five companies. “The intensive mentoring, training and resources are vitally important for our entrepreneurs,“ said Dr. Laura Dunham, associate dean of the Schulze School. “Students and alumni don‘t have to go it alone.“ The following four entrepreneurs were in the summer 2021 cohort with Jules Porter, founder of Seraph 7 Studios.

LOVE YOU COOKIE As a 100% minority-owned business, Love You Cookie makes cookies inspired by classic recipes and sells them through e-commerce and retail. Co-founder and CEO Sahr Brima, who started this business during the pandemic out of a food truck with his wife, Sarah, said “gBETA gave us dedicated business advisers that helped provide the clarity and insight we needed to create a strategy for stabilizing and scaling our gourmet cookie company.“ Brima, an attorney who graduated from St. Thomas with a bachelor‘s degree in international political economy, added, “We also received invaluable training on creating executive summaries, pitch decks, and pitching to real investors.“ SIMBULL SimBull Sports Exchange helps sports fans use their sports knowledge

ZESA ZeSa manufactures patented instability training devices that combine instability and rotation with five progressive levels of difficulty to help trainees achieve optimal strength, balance and flexibility. It seeks to expand its fitness studio to other Twin Cities locations and nationally. Creator and Co-founder Shanti Rainey, a former footballer and All- American track athlete at St. Thomas who obtained his bachelor‘s degree in science in 1998, said, “The gBETA program really helped us to prioritize our business goals and gave us valuable insight. The one-on-one meetings with multiple experienced mentors helped us to realize that ZeSa is not just a fitness/rehab equipment company, but a broader lifestyle company.“ For more information on the gBETA St. Thomas program, visit st-thomas .

WILLA‘S Willa‘s creates shelf- stable oat milk using organic ingredients for the dairy-free foodie. The company fully launched in January 2021 and has four products in hundreds of stores nationwide, as well as on Amazon. “The gBETA team can help you identify helpful resources for just about any challenge, and they are tapped into loads of tools to help you maximize your time,“ said Co-founder and CEO Christina Dorr Drake, who graduated in May 2005 with a double major in marketing and Spanish. “They were sort of like a multifaceted Swiss Army knife that plugged into our business, helping us solve challenges big and small – from identifying time-saving digital sales outreach tools, or connecting us with other founders, as well as potential customers.“ The Schulze Innovation Fund is an investor in Willa‘s.

to virtually buy and sell shares in professional and collegiate teams like stocks, with cash payouts. “St. Thomas has a huge entrepreneurial network and the gBETA program helps us tap into that network by introductions to mentors and investors,“ said co-founder and CEO Kenneth Giles, who obtained a bachelor‘s degree in actuarial science in 2020. “We pitched SimBull to over 20 investors at the end of the program.“

Co-founder and COO Patton Fitzpatrick, who

graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in business administration, said, “The gBETA program helped us grow as entrepreneurs and a company …developing our pitch deck, the connections with mentors, and the introductions to investors helped take SimBull to the next level in our company journey.“





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ohn Abraham has a way with words that grab attention. But when you‘re dealing with a topic with a massive, global impact, the words aren‘t very hard to find. In his words: “Climate change is literally killing people.“ St. Thomas‘ thermal sciences professor in the School of Engineering is internationally known and respected for his ongoing research on climate monitoring. His most recent research, which appears in the January 2022 edition of Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, reveals that each of the last nine decades has been warmer than the prior decade. A father of four daughters, Abraham is doing his part to save the planet for future generations. He and his wife joined Xcel Energy‘s Windsource programmore than two decades ago, receiving all their electricity from wind. They installed solar panels on their house and drive an electric car. Through collective efforts, Abraham believes we can stop global warming and save lives so that his daughters and future grandchildren may have an opportunity “to enjoy the splendor of this planet.“

What does your research tell us about climate change? My measurements are showing, unequivocally, that the world‘s oceans are heating up. Warm oceans greatly speed up the evaporation process. The humidity that originates in the ocean is the fuel for storms. So, as the oceans warm, storms become stronger with heavier rainfalls in some areas

Since St. Thomas has put a focus on stewardship, people in the community take notice. When they see a major university leading the charge, those people find ways to reduce waste in their own lives. St. Thomas also has become a standard that other institutions look up to. We also are teaching leaders of the future who will help us navigate the nexus between energy, sustainability and climate change. St. Thomas is doing its part in supplying talented young graduates to this profitable workforce. What do you suggest people can do right now that will make a difference tomorrow? There are two things people can do. First, people can let their elected officials know that climate change is important to them. I‘ve been told that if one person contacts an elected official, it doesn‘t even raise an eyebrow. But if five people contact an elected official, it is a groundswell. Collectively, we can push our representatives to take stronger action to put incentives and legislation in place that are sustainability focused. Second, people can reduce their own use of fossil fuels. Solar or wind power can easily be purchased through your power supplier or privately. Clean energy, particularly wind and solar, have come down in price so much that they are now cheaper than coal. As an individual, people can tap into this trend and reduce their own emissions. Of course, doing things like recycling helps too! n

and hurricanes in others. Even more importantly, 93% of the heat associated with global warming ends up in the oceans. So, if you want to understand global warming,

Mechanical Engineering Professor John Abraham. Photo by Mark Brown

you really have to measure ocean temperatures. Why are the sustainability efforts by St. Thomas important when climate change is a global issue? With St. Thomas‘ highly efficient buildings and operation, our university has shown that we can have gorgeous, comfortable buildings that also use energy more wisely, waste less and use more clean, renewable energy. These efforts make a tremendous difference.

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To say 2021-22 was one of the most anticipated years ever for Tommie Athletics is an understatement. Not only were people more than ready for the full return of college athletics after COVID-19 upended the sports world a year earlier, but (after two long years of waiting for new conference homes) St. Thomas finally opened play in its new Division I conferences. Here are some of the highlights (both in and outside of competition) from St. Thomas‘ historic first year as the first modern NCAA program to directly transition from D-III to D-I.

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When it came to competing for the first time against D-I opponents, many expected thrashings at the hands of higher-caliber competition (and there was some of that), but the Tommies held their own (sometimes surprisingly). Men‘s cross country, for instance, placed second out of eight teams in the Summit League championship, three spots ahead of preseason predictions. And football finished a win away from sharing the Pioneer Football League title. They ultimately landed in third, despite being projected eighth out of 11 teams. They also ranked second in home attendance. n


The university launched the Intercollegiate Athletics Advisory

Committee (IAAC) – comprising faculty, staff and students – to ensure a focus on academics in athletics programs. The focus shone through: Out of 505 student-athletes, 270 hold a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or better. That includes 30 with 4.0 and 78 with a 3.9 or better. One of those 4.0 students was senior soccer captain Lexi Serreyn, a double major in physics and electrical engineering who made history with the program‘s first- ever goal on Aug. 29 against Chicago State. Serreyn was later named to the 2021 Summit League Women‘s Soccer All-Academic Team. n

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The D-I move brought some chances for prime-time exposure for St. Thomas. Men‘s hockey, for instance, drew over 4,000 fans to St. Paul‘s Xcel Energy Center for a game against national runner-up St. Cloud State. Then, in January, both the men‘s and women‘s hockey teams got more time in the limelight as part of the Hockey Day Minnesota lineup, playing outdoors against Minnesota State Mankato. The football team‘s game against Northern Iowa was broadcast nationally on ESPN3. n


Road trips in previous years often involved bus rides across the Twin Cities; a “long“ road trip usually meant northwest Minnesota. Although the shortest conference trips are still to Minneapolis to face the Gopher women‘s hockey team, St. Thomas teams now travel coast to coast. The first year of road trips included visits to 28 states like Alaska, California, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, NewYork and the Carolinas. n


Over $12 million was raised for the Tommie Athletic Fund in its first year, including for the university‘s first three named athletic scholarships. The fund closed 21 major gifts, with 10 committed at $1 million or greater. Additionally, Tommie Give Day brought in a record-breaking $1.2 million in November. The year also saw a first-of-its-kind partnership with national sports marketing, media and technology services company Learfield. The agreement covers ticketing, sales, licensing and multimedia rights through the company‘s suite of services and gives St. Thomas a better way to engage audiences. n

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By SHEREE R. CURRY Photos by MARK BROWN W hen Dr. MayKao Hang, vice president of strategic initiatives and founding dean of the Morrison Family College of Health, was charged in fall 2019 with developing a plan to launch the School of Nursing at the University of St. Thomas, she essentially had a blank slate. But there was no doubt in her mind about how to proceed.

She envisioned a culturally responsive program that would educate students who would learn to treat the whole person – their mind, body, spirit and community – and promote health and wellness in a way that would also advance health equity and social justice. After two years of planning, approval from four governing bodies, and the co-leadership of founding director Dr. Martha Scheckel, the School of Nursing at the Morrison Family College of Health is on track to open its doors to its first cohorts in fall 2022. The School of Nursing is launching at a befitting time, as the nation is in a health crisis. Health care disparities persist among those who are low income, those of certain racial and ethnic groups, and those in rural areas. The issues are exacerbated by both aging baby boomers with growing medical issues and exiting nurses entering retirement or other career opportunities. The good news is the curricula and enrollment goals of the School of Nursing could help solve the growing health inequities in this country: matriculate more students who want to become nurses but give them the tools to better understand how their actions and leadership can lead to systemic change. “When you set a goal like that, it‘s to motivate us into action,“ said Hang, who noted that teaching culturally responsive care isn‘t unique to St. Thomas‘ nursing school, but as a new program it‘s easier to start out the door in this direction, rather than retrofitting changes into an outdated model.

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A PLAN TO ACHIEVE HEALTH EQUITY “Our School of Nursing has very distinct goals around closing health equity gaps,“ St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan said. “We are dedicated to increasing access to culturally responsive care, with a goal of enrolling at least 30% students of color and students from other underrepresented backgrounds.“

Men as well as African Americans and people who are Latinx are greatly underrepresented as registered nurses (RNs) when compared to the general population, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.While there is less of a gap for Asian Americans locally in Minnesota, the numbers are still concerning given the growing demographic, according to Minnesota Board of Nursing data. A diverse nursing workforce is essential for progress toward achieving health equity in the U.S. Studies show that when nurses reflect the patient demographic, communication is enhanced, patient satisfaction increases, and outcomes improve.

From left to right: Raney Linck, Berline Pierre-Louis, Martha Scheckel, Anna Kam, Heather Anderson.

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The School of Nursing at St. Thomas defines diversity more broadly than just by race or gender. The school seeks to enroll a significant number of students from rural communities, students who are first- generation, students of color, and students who have otherwise been historically excluded from higher education. It will initially accommodate 100 students between the four-year bachelor‘s degree program and the 20-month master‘s program, with both programs designed to help students become RNs. Diversity

“I‘d love to see things like pop-up clinics, where students can provide health promotion and health education,“ Scheckel said. “For example, blood pressure screening might be one of the most important prevention activities a nurse does. It‘s not a high-tech intervention, but it could prevent a stroke.“ When Hang discusses how students will have real-life learning experiences with individuals who experience trauma, such as the unhoused population, she hears some people ask: “Won‘t that be scary for students?“ Hang responds: “We‘re human beings; we can‘t be scared of the people we‘re serving.

among nurses is a good start, but it is just one of the building blocks for more equitable health care, said Scheckel, a community and public health nursing expert who came onboard as the school‘s founding director in fall 2020.

“The skills required to truly advance health equity include critical thinking, clinical judgment and actions from nurses to address needs of diverse patients, far beyond their own social identities,“ she said. “Though you take care of the individual‘s physical,

We have to expose students to what they will see when they finish school as nurses. They will see homeless people, whether they‘re in an emergency room trying to preserve life or caring for kids who have cancer.“ Hang knows that these issues are intersectional. “Half the people in Minnesota who are living on the streets are children under the age of 18. Our nurses have to know how to serve them.“ Because the mission of St. Thomas is focused on Catholic social teaching and serving the common good, Hang and Scheckel see such placements as transformational opportunities for students in a supportive, high-touch learning environment guided by experienced nursing faculty. “You‘ll know when a registered nurse is a Tommie nurse,“ said Scheckel. “It‘s a signature that shows that the student came from an outstanding program and is an excellent nurse because of it.“ n

emotional and spiritual needs, you also need to be very attentive to the social determinants of health, including where people live, work and play.“ EDUCATING THE ‘TOMMIE NURSE‘ Built into the School of Nursing curricula are clinical placements to help students better understand how socioeconomic factors play into health care. In addition to practicing acute care at medical centers, placements will occur in unique community settings such as the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District where students will engage in “boots on the ground“ outreach.

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PRACTICE WHAT THEY TEACH The leaders and faculty behind the School of Nursing speak from more than textbook experience when it comes to understanding culturally responsive care. Just as the school is aiming to have 30% of its students from diverse backgrounds, it extended that goal to leadership, as well.

Dr. MayKao Hang, vice president of strategic initiatives and founding dean of the Morrison Family College of Health, has a doctorate in public administration and served for nearly a decade as president and CEO of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. She

Dr. Anna Kam, who has a background as a medical/oncology nurse, received her doctorate in transcultural nursing. Born and raised in Japan to Caucasian parents with American citizenship, her entire childhood was spent outside of the United States living as a minority. Dr. Raney Linck, who is among a very small number of males to enter the profession, had been in critical care and hospice nursing for years in small towns just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. He made the move to academia 14 years ago and in 2020 was namedMinnesota Nurse of the Year in Education. Berline Pierre-Louis was previously with Allina Health-United Hospital where she served as an infection preventionist. Raised in St. Paul and born to Haitian immigrants, this first-generation American also has experience as a population health nurse, focusing on treating specific demographics. Heather Anderson is the school‘s assistant director of nursing simulation. Raised in the very small town of Rushford,Minnesota, she previously served as a simulation educator at the HealthPartners Institute in St. Paul. She also spent more than a decade as a critical care nurse and surgical nurse at Regents Hospital. 1 MILLION NURSES WILL

immigrated from Laos as a child and served informally as a Hmong interpreter at doctor‘s appointments for her family. “I experienced discrimination, poverty and struggle firsthand,“ Hang said. “My journey as a first-generation college student has defined what I believe higher education can accomplish and how educators can support the success of the whole student.“

Dr. Martha Scheckel, founding director of St. Thomas‘ School of Nursing, was previously dean of the nursing program at Viterbo University in Wisconsin and chair of the nursing school at Winona State. She grew up on an Iowa farm and served as a

RETIRE BETWEEN NOWAND 2030 – American Nurses Association

nurse in rural communities for over a decade. “Rural communities are underrepresented when it comes to proximity to care professionals and facilities for complex care needs,“ Scheckel said.


“This population also is generally older and underinsured, with higher rates of chronic health conditions.“ The clinical faculty also bring an array of diversity. They are:


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innovation gets

If you ask Professor L. Lynn Stansberry Brusnahan about her life in the year 2016, you‘ll likely get the answer: “weeks of no sleep.“ That was the year she applied for and received St. Thomas‘ first major federal grant at or above $1 million. At the time, the $1.2 million, five-year grant to help increase the number of educators specializing in autism spectrum disorder was a major milestone for the university. “It was shocking that a Midwestern private university would get a grant of that caliber – that grant is highly, highly competitive – so it was a great feat,“ Brusnahan said. Fast forward to today …St. Thomas‘ recent success winning major federal grants might drive that shock factor meter off the scale. In fiscal year 2021, St. Thomas pulled in over $7.5 million across 19 federal grants (not including CARES Act funding). That figure represents a 975% increase since 2017, when the university won four total federal grants. It‘s an impressive jump spurred by several new initiatives, ranging from STEM programs to the launch of the Morrison Family College of Health, among others. Most of the funding goes toward student scholarships, but a large chunk also supports groundbreaking academic research, student programs and strengthening faculty leadership skills. In other words, the type of work most often associated with top-tier national universities that have made names for themselves through innovation. A WAVE OF FEDERAL GRANTS IS MAKING AN IMPACT

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“It is extremely meritorious that our faculty are competing at that level, especially when we recognize they have higher teaching loads than faculty from research-intensive universities,“ said Executive Vice President and Provost Eddy Rojas. “We‘re still competitive, and that is impressive.“

• A $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Health and Resources Administration (HRSA) to train students to serve medically underserved communities • Another $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education‘s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to increase the number of early intervention- trained social workers and special educators • A $1.5 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support engineering students (representing opportunities for first-generation students, as well as students of color) Success begets success The recent successes have inspired more faculty across St. Thomas to apply for grants themselves, said Katharine Hill, a School of Social Work professor who also serves as associate vice provost for faculty advancement and research. She helps oversee all major university grant applications. “Seeing colleagues who have success, who are able to pursue big research ideas or fund students, makes others think, ‘I could do that too,‘“ Hill said. “It‘s a culture that feeds itself as people on campus see what‘s possible with external funding.“ For one, the Center for Microgrid Research hopes to leverage its receipt of more than $7 million in local grants fromXcel Energy and the state of Minnesota to obtain $10 million to $15 million in federal grants over the next five to 10 years. The center is currently waiting to hear if two of its federal proposals, including one to the NSF, will be awarded. The microgrid is housed at the School of Engineering. Dean DonWeinkauf has been a champion supporter behind applications for federal grants at the school and across the university. “Increasing federal grant funding at St. Thomas is about improving the experience of our students,“ Weinkauf said. “Bringing in competitive grants provides more interdisciplinary opportunities for students and increases the caliber of their education. St. Thomas faculty are creating more hands-on, high-quality experiences by seeking these national opportunities.“ The faculty are driven by the benefits they see that the national funding has on student success in way of improved programs, services and research.

So what is the common thread behind this new wave of federal dollars? In many ways, it‘s similar to what made Brusnahan successful back in 2016 when she pointed out cultural barriers to accessing special education services in the Somali community: personal passion (she has an adult son with autism) and a desire to truly advance St. Thomas‘ mission by breaking down real-life barriers to critical services. “We achieved it because I told the story of our students,“ she said. “The whole mission of advancing the common good really helps [in securing grants].“ A look at the fine details behind some of the recent successful grants confirms that thought: • A $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to assist aspiring charter-school teachers fromdiverse communities

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PREPARING EDUCATORS AWARD: $2.9 MILLION GRANTOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION RECIPIENT: SCHOOL OF EDUCATION 2021 MAJOR FEDERAL GRANTS OVER $1 MILLION (NOT INCLUDING CARES ACT FUNDING) St. Thomas was one of 10 recipients nationally to be awarded a Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant in 2020. The five-year grant assists the School of Education in removing barriers for aspiring charter schoolteachers who reflect the diverse communities they serve. The recipients were Professor L. Lynn Stansberry Brusnahan and Associate Professor Shelley Neilsen Gatti in the Department of Special Education. EXPANDING INTEGRATED BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CARE SERVICES AWARD: $1.9 MILLION GRANTOR: DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES RECIPIENT: SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK This largest federal grant ever awarded to the School of Social Work enables the school to provide $10,000 scholarships over four years to 116 Master of Social Work (MSW) students in clinical field placements. Received in July 2021, the grant will assist the school in its goal of expanding integrated behavioral health services for medically underserved communities. “It is especially important that a more diverse workforce provides these integrated behavioral health services, so that unique needs within diverse communities can be properly addressed,“ said Assistant Professor Tonya Horn, who led the grant application effort.

“We‘ve also started to build our in-house expertise as we have more people who have succeeded in obtaining federal grants who are able to help their colleagues,“ Hill said. That‘s especially important given the ultra- competitive nature of these grants. To help with the process, the university hired McAllister & Quinn, a federal grant consulting and government relations firm, in 2019. The firm is available to help faculty members identify grant opportunities from federal agencies and translate their scholarly work into grant applications. “There‘s a specific sort of language to grant writing that is a bit different than writing scholarly articles or making conference presentations,“ Hill said. “McAllister &Quinn is able to help with translating existing scholarly expertise into language that funders will understand.“ A tremendous amount of work goes into putting together a grant proposal – a process that Hill compares to writing a nonfiction book – and there‘s no guarantee that it will be accepted. Hence, the sleepless nights experienced by faculty such as Brusnahan, who has secured two other major federal grants of at least $1 million since her first groundbreaking award. The results, however, often make up for the lack of sleep spent preparing the applications. Four of her OSEP scholars, for example, have gone on to doctoral programs, including Deeqaifrah “Deeqa“ Hussein, the first Black director of special education in Minneapolis Public Schools. With results like that, Hill feels more momentum growing at St. Thomas. “The increase in grant seeking is an opportunity to support faculty and the brainpower of all of these really smart people who are thinking about innovative ways to address the biggest challenges that are going on,“ Hill said. “We can leverage these grant resources to support faculty to do that, and for them to engage students in that work in a way that‘s true to St. Thomas. … I feel that we‘re just starting out on this journey that I‘m really excited about.“ n


The School of Engineering was awarded a six-year NSF STEM grant to help fund scholarships to 31 full-time transfer students pursuing bachelor‘s degrees in civil, computer, electrical, or mechanical engineering. “Admitting transfer students to the School of Engineering is a way to cultivate diversity in the program,“ said Dr. Kundan Nepal, the chair of the electrical and computer engineering department who co-wrote the grant application with four others.


This grant supports the Trauma-Informed Interdisciplinary Practices project, a collaboration between the School of Education and the Morrison Family College of Health School of Social Work. Eight education and eight social work students will each receive one- year, $10,000 scholarships. The grant provides scholarships for five years. The aim of the grant is to increase the number of culturally responsible social workers and special educators prepared to support early intervention needs of infants, toddlers and preschool- aged children with disabilities.

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