Read about the people and initiatives of Minnesota’s largest private university.
SUMMER | 2023
TAKING THE HELM: NEW PRESIDENT OF ST. THOMAS The investiture of Robert K. Vischer, J.D., as the 16th president of the University of St. Thomas took place May 12, 2023. He was unanimously selected in December by the Board of Trustees after a nationwide search. Vischer, who has a storied tenure at St. Thomas, became the interim president in 2022. He served as dean of the university’s law school from 2013-22, rising through its ranks from associate professor of law in 2005. “Rob is known as a highly effective relational leader with a strong dedication to the mission of the university and someone who puts the students at the center of every decision and action,” said GHR Foundation CEO and Chair Dr. Amy Goldman, the St. Thomas Board of Trustees member who chaired the Presidential Search Committee. “Rob will build upon the strong assets of this outstanding institution and lead it to even greater impact and reach,” she said.
Photography by MARK BROWN
4 SUMMER 23 14 4 MEET OUR DEI FELLOWS P. 14
STTHOMAS.EDU 5 4 FEATURES 22 28 16 19 UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS MAGAZINE. Volume 39, Number 1. No part of this publication may be reprinted without written permission. Contact us at email@example.com. 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: Cheyene Bialke / Liam James Doyle / Ann Harrington / Brett Johnson / Ann Kenne / Madison Liebl / Abraham Swee / Brandon Woller PICTURED ON COVER: The statue of Archbishop John Ireland stands on the University of St. Thomas campus as a reminder that St. Thomas is a diverse, equitable and inclusive community where all are welcome. 12 PROFESSOR OF THE YEAR Dr. Paola Ehrmantraut is passionate about race, equity and education. 16 THE PATH THEY CHOSE Two chief diversity officers took the road less traveled. 19 ROBERT VISCHER: THE CHOSEN LEADER In his new role, Rob Vischer is committed to advancing the university’s goals. 22 CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS The Racial Justice Initiative, with Dr. Yohuru Williams, educates on historical recovery. 27 STUDENT RESEARCHERS UNCOVER TRUTH IN NAME OF RACIAL JUSTICE Student research comes to life in “Policing MSP” documentary. 28 MAKING A BIG IMPACT Lee and Penny Anderson are transforming a campus. 32 THE RISE TO THE C-SUITE Inspirational St. Thomas alumnae offer advice for advancing your career. 32
PRESIDENT ROB VISCHER
Of course, this is nothing new for us. Archbishop John Ireland founded this institution for immigrants who were not welcomed elsewhere. Nearly 140 years later, it remains central to our mission to reduce barriers to a St. Thomas education and ensure that every student who sets foot on our campus experiences a strong sense of belonging. This issue of St. Thomas Magazine highlights some of the excellent DEI programs, curricula and other efforts being implemented by our committed faculty and staff. For example, our new interdisciplinary Master’s in Diversity Leadership offering; the partnership between our School of Education and St. Paul Public Schools to create the Maxfield Collaborative Learning School; and the coordinated efforts with benefactors, corporate sponsors and business leaders who serve as advisers and financial supporters. St. Thomas reaches beyond our campus to dismantle inequities and create opportunities in the broader community, such as through the Racial Justice Initiative. As you’ll read on Page 22, through a distinctive focus on historical recovery, the Initiative creates opportunities in partnership with local leaders for critical conversations and actions around racial justice. Our DEI efforts are indispensable to academic excellence and the holistic development of our students, the advancement of our staff, and thought leadership of our faculty. I hope you enjoy reading this issue of St. Thomas Magazine and join us in support of our DEI efforts across the university. Q
COMMITTED TO DEI
the months since being named president, I have been asked numerous times about my top goals. While it’s still early in my tenure, there are a few goals that I consider immutable and vital to our mission as a Catholic institution. One of those is our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. At St. Thomas, when we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, it is not because it’s a popular buzzword in higher education. We talk about it because we’re committed to it, and we’re committed to it because we are Catholic, and we take our mission seriously. If we want to equip our students to understand how they can best contribute to the needs of the world, those students have to be seen, known and valued during their time here at St. Thomas.
In a move to reduce our carbon footprint, save trees and printing costs, St. Thomas magazine will publish exclusively online starting with its next issue. Thank you for joining us on this journey. news.stthomas.edu
WE’RE GOING DIGITAL
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NEW MASTER’S PROGRAM IN DIVERSITY LEADERSHIP
The University of St. Thomas’ Master of Arts in Diversity Leadership, which was developed in consultation with Twin Cities business leaders and hiring managers, is now accepting applications for this new graduate degree program. Open to students nationwide starting in fall 2023 thanks to it being completely online with an asynchronous format, the two-year program aims to help professionals better understand their workplaces by improving cultural competencies. The interdisciplinary program incorporates instruction from eight St. Thomas departments spanning the College of Arts and Sciences, the Opus College of Business and School of Education.
Executive Vice President and Provost Eddy Rojas said the program aims to “serve many students from multiple geographies and educate leaders who are really impactful in their organization. This Master of Arts in Diversity Leadership is really going to make an impact on society.”
SCHOOL OF EDUCATION
BETTER PREPARING FUTURE TEACHERS As Minnesota continues to see lower educational achievement for K-12 students of color compared to white students, a new partnership between the School of Education at St. Thomas and St. Paul Public Schools aims to better equip future teachers to learn critical skills to best serve an increasingly diverse student population. Maxfield Elementary School – which serves 350 pre-K-5 students – was officially
designated in January as a Collaborative Learning School in partnership with St. Thomas. “For our teacher candidates, this will be a truly immersive experience that helps to remove the gap between learning theory in the classroom and then applying those lessons in the field,” School of Education interim Dean Dr. Amy Smith said. Six to eight teacher candidates will be placed at Maxfield each year, beginning in fall 2023, to complete yearlong field experiences. There will be initiatives focused on helping to improve reading and math literacy for the Maxfield students, who are primarily African American, Hmong and Latino residents of the historic Rondo neighborhood. The innovative arrangement also encourages university faculty to conduct research alongside the school’s teachers, allowing more resources and tools for Maxfield teachers to support their students, Smith said.
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DOUGHERTY FAMILY COLLEGE
INVESTING IN SCHOLARS
Dougherty Family College (DFC) launched a STEM Preparation Program thanks to a generous grant from the 3M Foundation and the Heim family. Encouraging STEM careers is a priority for the college as it works with community partners to better serve scholars with interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The program features a faculty- led STEM Club, support for advanced math curriculum and paid research opportunities. “We need students from all backgrounds participating in the development of solutions to solve the world’s most
challenging problems,” said Jacqueline Berry, 3Mgives manager of education initiatives. “To achieve that, everyone must have an opportunity to pursue a STEM career.” DFC is also celebrating an anonymous $10 million gift that will help future scholars obtain their associate degree. The gift is tied for the largest in the college’s history. Through a matching
challenge, DFC seeks to raise $20 million total to fund student education in perpetuity. “This donation, and the matching dollars that it generates, will ensure that DFC is forever a driving force in our community,” said Carol Frey Wolfe ’83, a St. Thomas alumna who serves on DFC’s advisory board and as a member of the St. Thomas Board of Trustees.
SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN RECEIVES HONOR Renowned CNN, MSNBC and NBC news anchor and producer Soledad O’Brien received the inaugural Opening Doors Honor from ThreeSixty Journalism, a nonprofit program of the University of St. Thomas College of Arts and Sciences. Presented during the program’s annual fundraising
WOMEN FACULTY HONORED The School of Engineering ranks among the TOP 20 institutions with the highest percentage of female tenured/tenure-track faculty, according to ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education). The 2022 list also includes Loyola University Chicago, University of San Diego and Santa Clara University. At St. Thomas, 40% of the tenured or tenure-track faculty at the School of Engineering are women.
celebration in April, the honor highlights leaders who promote diverse voices in media and business. O’Brien also sat for a First Friday discussion with alumna
Georgia Fort ‘11, recipient of the 2023 Spirit of St. Thomas Award. Legendary Pioneer Press columnist Rubén Rosario was honored with a Widening the Circle Award.
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MORRISON FAMILY COLLEGE OF HEALTH
The first cohort of students at the Susan S. Morrison School of Nursing began taking courses in fall 2022, and in spring 2023, began hands-on learning at the St. Thomas Center for Simulation. Simulation in nursing education is growing and St. Thomas nursing students will complete 50% of their clinical experience in the state-of-the-art sim lab, where they will learn how to manage high-risk situations.
The Center for Simulation is divided into two main areas: a skills lab that resembles an emergency ward; and four simulation suites to accommodate a variety of inpatient and outpatient scenarios. That sense of realness can prove to be a game-changer in nursing education. “If you devise and design simulation in a way that’s really close to reality, it boosts the confidence of students who, once they go into their clinical placements, are much more prepared to work with live patients,” said Dr. MayKao Y. Hang, vice president of strategic initiatives and founding dean of the Morrison Family College of Health.
DIVERSE, EQUITABLE AND INCLUSIVE
TOMMIE AWARD The 2023 Tommie Award winner is environmental science major Katie McGinnis ’23. From assisting with soil research at the Stewardship Garden to helping
PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH
St. Thomas regularly trains faculty and staff on DEI to foster belonging and increase the retention rate of students. In January, the School of Education held the Teaching Today’s Tommies workshop, coordinated by Dr. Jayne Sommers in partnership with Christina Holmgren and Katia Colón-LaCroix. The workshop was designed to support faculty on centering curriculum to students’ identities, including racial, first- generation and gender or sexuality identities. Presenters also addressed the impact of national and global events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation, mental health crisis and racial trauma have on the educational experience and how faculty can best support students through inclusive pedagogy and development theories.
pass the Zero Waste Resolution as a member of Undergraduate Student Government and spending three years as a resident advisor, including for the Sustainability Living Learning Community, McGinnis sees being active on campus as a steppingstone. “St. Thomas is not just about
receiving a job after graduation, but also about developing your personhood and discerning what you’re called to be in life,” she said. Dr. Melissa Lamb, a professor in Earth, Environment and Society who hired McGinnis as a teaching assistant, wrote in her nominating letter that McGinnis, who has a theology minor, “lives out her faith and values by serving others.”
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SPREADING OUR WINGS
Wings Financial Credit Union became the exclusive banking partner of St. Thomas Athletics under a multiyear agreement. The partnership includes financial literacy programs for student-athletes, in-game promotions to give students an opportunity to win a $10,000 scholarship, co-branded Tommie/Wings Financial debit card offers and annual support to the 1904 Club athletic fund. Another outcome is the “Flight Path to Division One” mural on permanent display outside of
Schoenecker Arena in the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex. It depicts milestones in the history of St. Thomas Athletics. “Wings is fully committed to the future of St. Thomas Athletics and the comprehensive student- athlete experience,” Dr. Phil Esten, vice president and director of
athletics, said. “This partnership allows us to continue our exciting transition to Division I athletics through further investments in enhanced fan experience programming, student and alumni engagement and community involvement.”
INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY SERVICES
DIGITAL ACCESSIBILITY When Lisan Hasnain, a fourth-year computer science and entrepreneurship major at St. Thomas, was a first-year student at the Dougherty Family College, he downloaded an app the university was developing and realized the
usability and accessibility was poor for someone like himself who is visually impaired. After relaying concerns to Innovation and Technology Services, the team developing the app, he says they made an “offer to let me beta-test the newer versions of the app as they were releasing it. Three weeks later, they decided to hire me on part time to do accessibility testing – not just for the app, but also for other digital platforms that St. Thomas uses.” “Lisan is someone who has pushed the campus to make our systems – both ones we build and ones we license – usable for all,” said his supervisor, Ben Durrant. Hasnain is now one of several students who comprise the inaugural Digital Accessibility
Ambassador Leadership Team. The team educates St. Thomas faculty, staff and students about digital accessibility through Canvas courses they create. More than 60 people so far have completed the Digital Accessibility Basics Foundation badge and more than a dozen others are completing the badge to become an ambassador, armed with the tools and knowledge to educate others on accessibility.
OPUS COLLEGE OF BUSINESS
COMMUNITY ENTREPRENEURS GET A BOOST
Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith were instrumental in St. Thomas receiving nearly $1 million in new funding for a university cohort program aimed at supporting local ventures led by entrepreneurs who are either women or of Black, Indigenous, Asian or Hispanic descent. The $630,000 St. Thomas received from the recent federal appropriations bill, combined with a new $500,000 grant from the GHR Foundation, will allow the Community Entrepreneurship Program to more than double its reach. “This program helped me figure out that this is a marathon not a sprint,” said Brianna Edwards, creator of LOV3 IT S3ASONING, a line of low-sodium spice mixes. She is one of more than 30 entrepreneurs who were in the inaugural cohort. Entrepreneurs participate in a business training boot camp, receive one-on-one mentoring, work with
Sen. Tina Smith and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Stephen Maturen/ Getty Images News via Getty Images.
St. Thomas students who offer business consulting services and have the chance to apply for a microgrant to establish critical start-up capital. Launched in 2022, the 10-month program is offered in conjunction with the Small Business Development Center housed within the Opus College of Business and the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at St. Thomas.
SPEARHEADING INCLUSION Meghan Green, who is pursuing a master’s degree in leadership in student affairs at St. Thomas, works as an exam coordinator in Disability Resources. It’s a division of the
experienced a stroke in 2015 while lifting weights in the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex. “I had to relearn how to walk, dress myself, talk, read, count money, do laundry … literally everything,” she said. Green obtained a bachelor’s degree in social work in 2022 and now oversees the student requests related to exams that come into the Disability Resources center. “I want to meet students where they are at regarding their needs with compassion,” she said, adding the university community showed her extreme compassion during her recovery. “They stood by me during my weakest time.” Once she receives her master’s degree, Green hopes to work in the field of disability services at a university student affairs department, preferably at St. Thomas.
university she knows all too well. “Disability Resources and their accommodations helped me during undergrad and continue to help me in grad
school,” said Green, who was a 23-year-old undergraduate neuroscience major when she
A CHAMPION FOR RACE & EQUITY Meet Paola Ehrmantraut, Professor of the Year
By SHEREE R. CURRY
D r. Paola Ehrmantraut, the Endowed Chair in the Humanities and director of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, has had a busy year. It’s no wonder her faculty peers at St. Thomas selected her as the 2022-23 St. Thomas Professor of the Year – an honor that recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and service. As faculty chair for the 2022-23 academic year, she led the development, implementation and launch of St. Thomas’ new master’s degree in diversity leadership, she serves as vice chair of the Race Equity Advisory Council to the Hennepin Board of Commissioners and she oversees Walking Together, a student research project that maps Latinx migration in Minnesota through the decades. “Race, equity and education are my passions,” said Ehrmantraut, who also teaches Spanish in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and is affiliated faculty for American culture and difference, an interdisciplinary minor at St. Thomas that offers students a critical perspective on the diversity of American culture. She also makes time for her role as an executive board member on the American Men’s Studies Association.
College of Arts and Sciences Dean Bill Tolman cited several reasons why Ehrmantraut, who started at St. Thomas in 2009, was selected as Professor of the Year. “We commend her for the innovative courses she has designed (especially her community-engaged courses where her students conducted research to assist lawyers who were preparing asylum applications for immigrants to Minnesota); the works she has published (especially on how masculinities are negotiated in Argentine film and literature); and the service she has performed (especially in her role as Endowed Chair in the Humanities).” Born in Córdoba, Argentina, Ehrmantraut moved to the U.S. for her graduate studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Most of her family still lives in Argentina, but she makes a home in Minneapolis with her husband Steve, her 11-year-old child and a poodle they call Ginger. “I love living in a city where there are always things to see and explore, although I have not gotten used to the cold,” she said. n
A s scholars of Latin America, Professors Paola Ehrmantraut and Kari Zimmerman are
As a first-generation college student whose parents were farmworkers before they immigrated to the U.S, Flores Dominguez said he’s
passionate about an interdisciplinary project they developed approximately three years ago that uplifts immigrant voices while showcasing student research. Walking Together, a digital research hub officially launched at the University of St. Thomas in August 2021, is designed to
tired of seeing the media portray Hispanic immigrants as criminals when many instead are hardworking contributors to society. “This project not only
helps the newly arriving immigrants but also the generations that come after those immigrants,” the justice and peace studies major said. Zimmerman, a professor of history and director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies
celebrate the history of migration, immigration and displacement. Funded in 2020 by a Research in Action grant at the College of Arts and Sciences, the project currently focuses on Minnesota’s diverse Latinx community – a population that has increased by 24% since 2010. The vibrant bilingual site at
Program, said: “This project has taught me how important it is to listen to my peers, the students and the community. When you’re an academic, you’re trained to be an expert, but when you’re doing community engagement work, that requires a lot of listening, presenting your research responsibly, and capturing as many voices as possible.”
By CHEYENE BIALKE AND SHEREE R. CURRY
walkingtogethermn.com displays student essays, a podcast, a collection of online resources, and an interactive map that accesses census data so site visitors can see how immigration has impacted Latinx communities across the state. “When we started this there was and still is a lot of bias and a lot of negative portrayals of immigrants, particularly of those from the southern border,” said Ehrmantraut, an associate professor of Spanish and Endowed Chair in the Humanities. “We wanted to create a project that would counter that with research and with a sense of intellectual rigor.” Fourth-year St. Thomas student Freddy Flores Dominguez, who helped develop the website, can relate. “Our project is bringing to light who the Midwestern Latinx demographic is,” he said.
For now, Zimmerman, Ehrmantraut and the other faculty and student researchers are focusing the Walking Together research on one diverse demographic, but they seek to expand it. “We started with the Latinx community because that’s where we’re more knowledgeable with our own
experiences and research, but the idea is to include other immigrant communities that have historically been displaced,” Ehrmantraut said. “This is just the beginning.” n
Making a Difference: DEI Fellows Build Community
By ABRAHAM SWEE AND SHEREE R. CURRY
If you spend more than a few minutes with Dr. Ernie Owens, be prepared to talk motorcycles. The Opus College of Business professor attended his first motorcycle convention in 2001. Since then, he’s not only learned how to ride, but he’s also spent countless hours tinkering away, building antique bikes in his garage. “And that’s how I can buy more motorcycles,” Owens explained to students in his MGMT 384 project management course. For Owens, building motorcycles is a passion, but he is also on a mission to build a more welcoming community for all. “Diversity and inclusion to me is not just those words,” Owens said. “It’s how do you make that real? How do I use my role as a professor to produce leaders who take those ideas and operationalize it?” A project management expert, Owens has taught undergraduate, graduate and professional development courses at St. Thomas since 1990. He’s used much of his time in the classroom to build relationships between budding project managers and leaders serving disadvantaged communities.
When Father Larry Snyder was developing the Center for the Common Good at St. Thomas, he took Owens’ MGMT 384 course and relied on students to help plot the center’s future. When a new system was needed to connect the campus community with volunteer opportunities, once again Owens and his students stepped in to help create the Tommies Together Volunteer Center. “Dr. Ernie has been really influential in the shaping of the university kind of quietly behind the scenes,” Kelly Sardon-Garrity, associate director for the Center for Common Good, said. “So, there he is, leaving his mark on not only the Center for the Common Good, but our whole volunteer effort on campus.” A Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fellow, Owens also serves on the University Senate, University Faculty Affairs Committee, as well as the Black Faculty and Staff Alliance. “The diversity and inclusion work that we’re doing makes a difference in people’s lives in terms of their income streams and their family structures,” Owens said. “We need to embrace this work in a way that’s meaningful. Something that goes beyond a plan but is real work where we are getting into those collaborative spaces.”
FACULTY ADVANCING DEI
With 297 strategic priorities on the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to-do list, ODEI Associate Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Kha Yang can’t check them all off alone. “To be more inclusive happens at all levels and includes everyone – faculty, staff, as well as students,” she said. Approximately 40 ODEI Fellows and Ambassadors across the university have served terms for one or two years to help move the needle. Meet some of the fellows.
DR. RAMA KAYE HART’S family immigrated to the U.S. when Hart was 3. Growing up, she felt discrimination due to her race and culture, but she remained silent about the injustice. Today, an advocate for
DR. KEVIN HENDERSON, a management professor in the Opus College, initiates change and promotes inclusivity through the SEED program, as well as through training sessions on dismantling
equity and inclusion, this DEI Fellow is no longer keeping quiet.
whiteness and addressing critical incidents. He says one thing faculty can do is update their syllabi to add activities and materials that are more diverse and inclusive. “The culture needs to change,” Henderson said. “I’m trying to help make that change happen to eliminate all the ‘isms’ that exist out there, so we can make sure everyone can bring their full selves to their classroom, to their work.” DR. AMY FINNEGAN , a sociologist, teaches Justice and Peace Studies and American Culture & Difference courses pertaining to conflict transformation, social movements, active nonviolence, qualitative research methods, sociological perspectives on health, and social justice broadly. She is on the leadership team of EqualHealth, a global grassroots health justice collective that strives to build critical consciousness and collective action in pursuit of health equity for all. Her scholarly interests pertain to the white savior complex, critical race theory, degrowth, abolition, dialogue and transformative pedagogies. “Our social world today was built to meet the interests of a few at the cost of many,” she said. “Together, we can dismantle it, reimagine and build relationships rooted in solidarity and love.” Students from ThreeSixty Journalism contributed to this story. They are Maneeya Leung, Michael Rosas Ceronio and Abdihalim Mohamed.
She trains business leaders, students, faith leaders and educators across the country on how to make equitable change in their organizations. “The wider you can spread understanding and awareness, the more likely you are to make change,”she said. Hart teaches inclusive leadership, Organization Development, as well as Managing and Leading Change at the Opus College of Business. She is one of the facilitators of the Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) cohort on campus. “Being inclusive is critical for our growth and sustainability,” Hart said.
DR. XIAOWEN GUAN , professor of communication in the Department of Emerging Media, teaches intercultural communication, including white privilege. She cites a study that compared the
scores students give white and nonwhite faculty on their teaching evaluations. The study concluded nonwhite (BIPOC) faculty receive lower scores. Guan explains that if we don’t understand the cause of the score difference fully, we will easily attribute that BIPOC faculty are less competent than white faculty. “That is systemic racism because you continue to evaluate one group of people lower without taking into consideration the context,” Guan said.
THE PATH THEY
TWO CHIEF DIVERSITY OFFICERS TOOK THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
By SHEREE R. CURRY
U.S. Bank’s Greg Cunningham and Best Buy’s Amelia Williams Hardy have a few things in common. They are both chief diversity officers, or CDOs, at Minneapolis- based Fortune 500 companies. They both obtained a bachelor’s degree from a historically Black university before securing their MBA elsewhere. And both sit on advisory boards at the University of St. Thomas – Cunningham at the Dougherty Family College since its 2017 inception and Hardy at the Opus College of Business as of 2022. “It was an easy decision for me to support Dougherty Family College. I saw myself in those kids,” said Cunningham about the associate degree option where 95% of the scholars are of Asian, Black, Latino or Indigenous descent. He has taken time to speak in DFC classes and inspire its scholars to dream big. As African Americans who made their careers in marketing, Cunningham and Hardy know the road to success involves choices. For example, neither was
seeking a senior leadership position in the DEI space when they were first tapped by their respective companies. “I wasn’t a diversity practitioner and didn’t have any experience in HR,” Cunningham said. He landed in Minneapolis in 1995 as an area director for the United Negro College Fund – the organization whose scholarship made it possible for him to attend college, and where he now has a seat on the national board. He went on to spend 16 years in marketing at Target Corporation and one year in customer engagement for MPR News. He’s been CDO at U.S. Bank since 2015. “I never had a desire to do (DEI work) full time. I live it,” said Hardy, who spent 15 years at 3M before landing as a marketing director at Best Buy in 2014. Hardy was tapped by Best Buy CEO Corie Barry to step into a DEI vice president role. Hardy said, “This was right after the murder of George Floyd. My perspective changed after living through that unrest. I said, ‘What
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better way to marry my passion and purpose than moving into the DEI space.’” One year later, in 2021, she rose to chief inclusion and diversity officer. “When you talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s about seeing something in people that can bring value to your organization, to your community,” said Cunningham, who reports directly to CEO Andy Cecere ’82. Nearly 50% of the Fortune 500 have chief diversity
Nearly day one at Best Buy, she said, “I was asked if I would be a champion for our Black Employee Resource Group – I agreed to do it. It was a significant part of building a sense of community, and I felt a sense of belonging pretty quickly.” She also became a leader in the women’s Employee Resource Group. She added that since Floyd’s death in May 2020, “Society has asked corporate America to be more accountable in a
way that has never happened before. And companies have a reason to answer that call.” As a result, Best Buy, a long supporter of diversity, put a renewed focus on the retention rate and parity of women and its BIPOC employees. “By going public with those commitments, it has elevated our accountability and it has rallied Best Buy around these commitments,” Hardy said. She sees accepting a seat on the Opus College of Business Advisory Board as an offshoot of that commitment. “One of our top priorities at Best Buy is empowering the next generation of business leaders and making sure they have the skills, tools and resources to succeed throughout college and beyond,” Hardy said. “I’m excited to be part of the Opus College of Business Advisory Board to continue cultivating an inclusive and diverse culture on campus and in the process, build a stronger,
officers. The majority of them, 76%, are white. Blacks constitute 3.8% – fewer than Hispanics (7.8%) and Asians (7.7%). Overall, Black and Indigenous people and other people of color (BIPOC) constitute 17% of C-suite seats in the Fortune 500, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Blacks held 3.2% of those positions. Cunningham and Hardy are role models. Not just within their companies and the community, but also to the Tommies who will one day graduate to jobs in corporate America. “Greg has been an effective mentor to our alumni, several of whom have been hired by U.S. Bank after graduation,” DFC Dean Buffy Smith said. U.S. Bank was one of DFC’s inaugural corporate sponsors and recently renewed a
five-year commitment to the college, which includes internship opportunities. “I know that without someone giving me an opportunity, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” Cunningham said. While Cunningham and Hardy chose the road less traveled, they have always been DEI champions, shaped by different experiences in their youth. Cunningham was raised in a Black segregated area of Pittsburgh. During the civil unrest of the 1960s, he helped his father make handmade signs that read “owned by a soul brother.” They displayed them in the windows of their family-owned butcher shop with the intent to deter rioters from looting and burning the place a second time. Hardy grew up in the 1980s in a predominantly white neighborhood in suburban Kansas City, Kansas, often the only Black in her Overland Park classes. The lack of diversity led her to start an equity club in high school.
Top: Greg Cunningham Bottom: Amelia Williams Hardy
more equitable business community in the Twin Cities.” One of Hardy’s first advisory connections with the students was at the annual Fowler Business Concept Challenge organized by the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at Opus. “Amelia brings to Opus deep experience as a strategic leader at several major corporations,” Opus Dean Laura Dunham said. “By being a leader in diversity and equity and inclusion, her expertise and insights around creating a culture of inclusion will be vital to the college as we seek to close the opportunity gap in our community.” n
JODEE KOZLAK ’85
GREAT THINGS are achieved TOGETHER, not alone
New Chair of St. Thomas Board of Trustees
By SHEREE R. CURRY
fishing club. She was also president of her freshman and sophomore classes and served as academic vice president in her junior year – and that’s only naming a few of her undergraduate accomplishments. Kozlak, who has a law degree from the University of
When Jodee Kozlak ‘85, nee Zahariades, accepted the 1985 “Tommy of the Year” award, she said since the St. Thomas activities she participated in were team- oriented “any recognition should be shared.” That compassion demonstrates why she was chosen as the senior who best
Minnesota, is founder and CEO of investing and consulting firm Kozlak Capital Partners, LLC. Her career spans leadership roles at Minnesota law firms Greene Espel, PLLP, and Oppenheimer Wolf & Donnelly. She started her career at accounting firm Arthur Andersen & Co., where she interned as an undergraduate and continued in the audit department after graduation. During 15 years with Target Corporation, she had roles as general counsel, trustee of the Target Foundation, as well as the first
exemplified leadership, involvement and St. Thomas spirit. She was the second woman to receive what is now called the Tommie Award. Her Tommie leadership continues. Effective June 30, Kozlak becomes the chair of the Board of Trustees at the University of St. Thomas. She succeeds Pat Ryan ‘75 of Ryan Companies. “The education and the interaction with
faculty and others during my years at St. Thomas really did prepare me more broadly for life,” said Kozlak, who has been on the board since 2018 and is the first woman to be named chair. “As for being the first of anything, you have to be grateful and you have to really reflect on everyone who helped you get there.” It’s easy to see how today she still embodies the qualities students, faculty and staff noticed in her 38 years ago. While working toward her bachelor’s degree in accounting, Kozlak was active in several student groups, including the accounting club, Tiger Club and
woman in Target’s C-suite. For 10 years she was Target’s executive vice president and chief human resources officer – the longest serving C-suite leader on the retailer’s executive committee. She then joined Alibaba Group in a newly created role as global senior vice president of human resources. Kozlak is currently the Lead Independent Director of C.H. Robinson and serves as its Talent and Compensation Committee Chair. She also serves on the public corporate boards of MGIC Investment and KB Home. n
President Vischer commits to cultivating truth, beauty and goodness for St. Thomas
By SHEREE R. CURRY
W hen a 10-year-old Robert K. Vischer moved with his mother and siblings from Muscatine, Iowa, to greater Chicago in 1980, his world expanded. At the same time, as he tells it, he still lived a rather sheltered life. “I grew up in an overwhelmingly white suburb of Chicago and attended overwhelmingly white public schools,” he said. “I heard quite a bit about the Civil Rights Movement in Selma, Birmingham and Montgomery (but) I knew nothing about the history that gave rise to racial injustice in my own environment. I was an adult before I learned about the marches Martin Luther King Jr. led in Chicago, where he encountered what he described as the most hostile crowds of his life.”
Fast forward to 2017, four years into Vischer’s tenure as dean of the University of St. Thomas School of Law. That July, he was an inaugural recipient of the Minnesota Lawyer Diversity and Inclusion Award. The honor recognized his contributions to the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the practice of law. “Our Catholic identity compels us to be anti-racist, which means that we’re not just passively avoiding racism, but are working proactively to tear down systemic inequities shaped by racism,” said Vischer, who grew up in a religious home and converted to Catholicism as an adult.
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If our commitment to St. Thomas today can help ensure that future generations will experience these values (truth, beauty and goodness) tomorrow, I’m all in. - Rob Vischer
He cites Jorge Mario Bergoglio as someone who “has shaped my own vision of leadership perhaps more than any other person.” Vischer often quotes the Argentinian-born Bergoglio, now known to most as Pope Francis. “He calls us to ‘shoulder responsibility for the world as it is’ – not as we wish it were, but as it is,” Vischer said. Vischer has long demonstrated that he’s a man determined to be on the right side of justice and equality. “We are not trying to replicate what worked 50 years ago or even 10 years ago,” he said about Minnesota’s largest private university. “We are working to be the St. Thomas that the world needs now and into the future.” As the new St. Thomas president said near the conclusion of his inauguration speech, “If our commitment to St. Thomas today can help ensure that future generations will experience these values (truth, beauty and goodness) tomorrow, I’m all in.” n Rob Vischer has had some moments on campus. Top and bottom left corner: Celebrating at School of Law Ramadan iftar with Dr. Sadaf Shier, Hennepin County Chief Judge Todd Barnette and with students. Presenting awards to leaders, including former Vice President Walter Mondale, Judge Pamela Alexander and, in bottom right corner, to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He also signed his name on the last steel beam added to the Schoenecker Center on south campus.
Inaugurated on May 12, 2023, as the 16th president of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, the Harvard Law School cum laude graduate stressed in his speech how important it is for the university to cultivate three values touted by its namesake, Thomas Aquinas: truth, beauty and goodness. These transcendental values align with St. Thomas being diverse, equitable and inclusive. “We rightfully celebrate the growing diversity of our St. Thomas community,” he said. But also “that means faculty and staff must stand ready to have our own perspectives shaped by life experiences that are not our own.”
Vischer (left) and his brothers, Brad Beckey and Phil Vischer, were in teen band Raging Melons.
“I honestly believe that’s our most pressing priority,” he said. “As we build a culture of encounter, we strive to help each of our students know that they matter to us, and that they have unique contributions to make to their communities.” When in 2022 St. Thomas decided to celebrate Juneteenth and Indigenous Peoples Day as official holidays, Vischer said it was not because our community needed more days off. “It was because our community has work to do.” He acknowledges that although
Vischer, who first became a dad in the year 2000 – three years after he married Maureen Keller – understands the value younger generations add to society. “I learn so much from our students,” he said. “When they open their lives to us, our own view of the world expands.” As someone who, at age 15, started a band called the Raging Melons with his brothers, Vischer believes that relationships are at the center of everything we do. And to nurture that, he’s quick to say, is best done through a culture of encounter.
the diverse representation of the St. Thomas “student body,
administrative leadership, faculty and staff is strong and growing, we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that every member of our community experiences a strong sense of belonging and the opportunity to thrive.”
the RACIAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE LEADING CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS
By ANN HARRINGTON
Dr. Yohuru Williams Educates Organizations on the Value of ‘Historical Recovery’
transformational policymaking and leading the RJI MasterClass series, Williams teaches: lean into history to better understand racial justice and engage in the critical conversations needed to reconstruct communities free of racial disparities. When Rod Young, CEO of Delta Dental of Minnesota, heard Dr. Yohuru Williams speak in the summer of 2020 about launching the Racial Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas, he felt an instant connection. It
hen the Racial Justice Initiative (RJI) was founded at the University of
St. Thomas in summer 2020, a new lane for powerful and engaging work toward racial justice emerged in the Twin Cities. With a clear and unique vision, its founder, Dr. Yohuru Williams, champions historical recovery as the foundation for revealing the “six degrees of segregation” and uses education as the fuel for meaningful and lasting changes in organizations and the community. From national news media appearances as the expert historian on racial justice to influencing
was a few weeks after George Floyd had been murdered by Minneapolis police, thrusting the Twin Cities into the epicenter of a national movement. That day, Williams, a distinguished professor of history and RJI founding director, was addressing a meeting of the Minnesota Business Partnership, which comprises the top executives of the state’s largest employers. Young, as the only Black CEO in the audience, was deeply moved to hear another Black man speak candidly about his own experience, and
by the way that Williams was able to illuminate little-known aspects of African American history — what Williams calls “the six degrees of segregation” — and tie the past to the present. Young knew then he wanted Williams to do similar educational sessions for his entire company. The first series of presentations was for Young’s executive leadership team, then the board of directors, and then Delta Dental of Minnesota’s entire workforce of 310 people, including its technology and call center in Bemidji, Minnesota.
We can say, ‘We can’t find talent,’ but we’ve been going to the wrong places! - Ryan Companies CEO Brian Murray
Getting buy-in “My presentation is a sprint through U.S. history from the perspective of African Americans,” said Williams, who has frequent appearances with national media. He looks for three things from organizations seeking to partner with the Racial Justice Initiative: First, buy- in from the top, because that’s what drives change. Second, a multiyear commitment to the work of racial justice — because there is no quick fix. And third, a willingness to connect the values of their mission statement to the work of racial justice. His talks, always tailored to his audience’s industry and values, are what he calls “historical recovery” and are meant to fill in the gaps in most people’s understanding of Black history. They touch on topics from redlining and racial covenants to Jim Crow justice and the often-overlooked role of Black women in securing the right to vote. Historical recovery acknowledges the wrongs that have been done, he said. The education sessions and the pre-session homework Williams assigns — often a combination of reading and viewing documentaries like TPT’s “Jim Crow of the North” — are designed to ground the listeners in a shared experience that can build a foundation
Three of the companies, Ryan Companies, Kowalski’s and Delta Dental of Minnesota, share their journey.
Ryan Companies: employee diversity Ryan Companies CEO Brian Murray, the first non- family member to lead the construction management company, says he first began to better understand systemic racism and his own unconscious biases through his three children, Colombian adoptees. When they entered high school and started getting treated differently, such as being pulled over by police. Their experiences opened his eyes. They might live in the same house, but they were not all living in the same world. When he assumed the CEO role in 2018, Murray made diversifying the workforce one of his top priorities. After a September 2020 Racial Justice Initiative presentation where Williams spoke to 80 of Ryan’s senior leaders via WebEx, there was a common thread among leaders that accelerated the company’s progress on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), Murray said. They set a goal to increase the number of diverse employees to 20% by 2025. With the assistance of a February 2021-established Black employee resource group, the company sent recruiters for the first time to historically Black
for further learning and transformation. Over the last three years, more than a dozen companies and nonprofits have participated in the Racial Justice Initiative’s educational sessions: Best Buy, Ryan Companies, SPS Commerce, U.S. Bank, as well as local grocery chain Kowalski’s Markets, to name a few. In learning from the Racial Justice Initiative, these companies enhanced or expanded their own commitments to racial justice.
colleges and universities (HBCUs). Ryan has since hired several interns from Tuskegee Institute with “incredible engineering expertise,” Murray said. It also hired Atlanta-based Keisha Duck as its new chief human resources officer. Such changes
increased the percentage of diverse employees among its 2,000 employees.
The company, which also worked to increase the racial diversity of its board, now requires a diverse slate of candidates for every job opening. At a time of historically low unemployment, that requirement can extend the time frame for hiring, Murray said. But it’s a way to try to disrupt unconscious bias — what Williams says is a biological preference to be around people who resemble ourselves. Kowalski’s: community impact More than two decades ago, grocery retailer Kowalski’s Markets started on the journey to becoming a civic business for which a focus on organizing and governing for the common good are key. Its leaders — Mary Anne Kowalski, the company’s owner and co-founder, her daughter, CEO Kris Kowalski Christiansen ’88, and Mike Oase, the COO — saw the Racial Justice Initiative as an opportunity to build the company’s leaders’ capacity around issues of racial justice.
experience, said Kowalski Christiansen, who received her bachelor’s degree from St. Thomas. Since those sessions started, the company, with a workforce of 1,800, has sought ways to deepen its engagement around racial justice. Always a champion of local food producers, the company partners with organizations like 4 Access Partners and the Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) to support bringing new products by diverse entrepreneurs into its stores. Kowalski’s recently added several Black- owned products, including sold-by-the-bag Soul Grain Granola, gourmet cookie company Love You Cookie founded by St. Thomas alumnus Sahr Brima ’11, Lovejoy’s Bloody Mary Mix and the start-up streetwear brand Blind Havoc, whose goal is to “spread positivity through clothing.” “We have been having a lot more interaction with people giving local entrepreneurs (an avenue) who perhaps don’t have the knowledge or the finances to get a business going, but have the idea and the drive to do it,” Kowalski Christiansen said. Kowalski’s Markets has, from its beginnings at its flagship Grand Avenue store in St. Paul, been deeply involved in the communities it serves. Years ago, it also established Kowalski’s 4 Kids Foundation, which focuses on inner-city children because Mary Anne Kowalski grew up as an inner-city kid. Since becoming involved with RJI, Mary Anne and Kris joined the board of African American Child Wellness Institute, which provides mental health services to children who have experienced trauma and violence.
The Kowalski’s leadership team organized a series of education sessions with Williams. The first session, in January 2021, was with the company’s top 32 leaders, including 11 store managers; and then in two sessions over the next year and a half (interrupted by waves in the COVID-19 pandemic) they included all the department managers and assistant store managers. “Just hearing the cold, hard truth from a Black man who lives and breathes it” was an eye-opening
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