By Dr. Ellen Kennedy, coordinator, Service-Learning
Part of our mission here at St. Thomas is to develop students who will succeed and do well. An equally important part of the mission, however, is to send our students away from the arches with a strong passion to do good. How do we accomplish this? Our faculty and staff have a vision of social justice, equity, and the possibility of a better world that they transmit to our students.
Several years ago I had a student who worked as a tutor in a kindergarten class. The student was a shot-putter, a really big guy. On the first day in that classroom he broke the little chair that he sat on, and from that moment on the kids adored him. They hugged him all the time — around the knees, which was as high as they could reach. Many of them had no father figure in their lives and he became very important to them, a responsibility that he accepted with joy. Matt Maruggi, our current director of the Tutor-Mentor program, has many heartwarming stories like this because hundreds of Tommies work in classrooms throughout the Twin Cities. Under the direction of VISTA volunteer Angela Crawford, St. Thomas students teach reading to third graders as part of the national initiative, America Reads.
Erich Rutten’s Public Achievement program places our students in elementary schools to teach youngsters how to make a difference in their communities. Projects have included creating a park, organizing a child care center and addressing homelessness.
St. Thomas has developed after-school programs, too. The Hispanic Pre-College Project, under the direction of Ramona De Rosales, works with parents and children in a variety of West St. Paul schools to foster good parenting and good learning skills. The goal is to help Hispanic students prepare for higher education and for the parents to be able to help their children learn.
The Bridge for Success is our program in Minneapolis that helps adults returning to school and gives preference to single parents. Students in this program report academic and life successes that would have been impossible without the guidance of Dr. Zara Kivi Kinnunen, director.
If you’ve ever been in McNeely Hall during the middle of the summer you’ve seen and heard lots of noise and exuberance. We host the National Youth Sports Program, a wonderful six-week session directed by Mark Ahrens that brings economically disadvantaged kids to our campus to swim, play basketball and baseball, and to learn math and computer skills.
We work on the other side of the desk as well in Believe and Achieve. This program, headed by Necole Baker and Tom Ressler, helps hundreds of teachers prepare secondary students to meet the state testing standards in math.
We have 22 trips to national and international locations where UST students serve those in need and learn about the roots of discrimination and poverty. Last summer Mike Klein, director of VIA and VISION (Volunteers in Action and Volunteers in Service Internationally or Nationally) taught a course that combined academic learning with a trip to Selma, Ala. He and the students studied the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the South and worked with African-American students in a variety of programs. Faculty and staff are joint leaders for these trips.
More than 40 faculty members use outreach as a part of their courses. Academic service-learning is one of the largest movements on college campuses nationwide as faculty reinforce theory through meaningful community-based experiential learning. St. Thomas has an important connection: Minnesota Campus Compact, the state office of the national movement, is located on our Minneapolis campus.
We work with people in all communities and for virtually all purposes, as these outreach efforts attest: Loaves and Fishes coordinator Mary Monn arranges soup-kitchen service monthly using UST faculty and staff. The recent American Indian Powwow brings several thousand American Indians to our campus each year. All business majors complete 40 hours of community service through Business 200. The Federal Work-study program, coordinated by Paula Benson, places more than 40 work-study students in community positions that are supported by federal money. Mary Robinson with the Befriender program trains people to work as lay leaders in churches.
What amazing programs we have! Our students do indeed learn to do good at St. Thomas, under the guidance of a group of very dedicated faculty and staff. Contact any of these program directors for more information.