Father Dennis Dease, president of the University of St. Thomas, presents the Distinguished Service Award to Dr. Mohamed (Mo) Selim.

Dr. Mo Selim, retiring in August, receives Distinguished Service Award

Dr. Mohamed (MO) Selim, retiring this August after a 45-year career at the University of St. Thomas, recently received the university’s Distinguished Service Award.

Selim, who will retire Aug. 31, received the award at a May 21 program that was part jazz festival, part celebration of the 30th year of the Center for Senior Citizens’ Education, and part farewell celebration in Selim’s honor.

Selim was named Professor of the Year at St. Thomas in 1978 and during his years at St. Thomas he chaired the Economics Department, founded and directed the Center for Economic Education, and founded and directed the Center for Senior Citizens’ Education.

Continuing his work with the Center for Senior Citizens’ education will be Sister Marie Herbert Seiter, who has served as associate director for many years.

When Selim first came to St. Thomas, he told the dean that he would only promise to teach here one year. “I said I wasn’t a Catholic and wasn’t sure how I would fit in here,” he recalled last week.

It would appear that “fitting in” wasn’t a problem. At 45 years of service to the university, Selim has the longest tenure of any lay St. Thomas faculty member.

A citation that provides an overview of Selim’s life, career and many accomplishments was read at the May 21 celebration. Here is the text of the citation:

Dr. Mohamed A. Selim, for 45 years you have enriched the University of St. Thomas and the Twin Cities area by providing educational opportunities for students of all ages and walks of life.

Professor, adviser, mentor and, in the words of one observer, “hyperkinetic guru of economic education,” you have inspired legions of students by instilling in them a lifelong desire to learn.

Born July 9, 1924, in Alexandria, Egypt, you received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Cairo University in 1949, when you became an office manager for your father’s shipping company in Alexandria.

You immigrated to the United States in 1953 to study and teach economics at the University of Minnesota, where you earned a master’s degree and doctorate in economics. You joined St. Thomas in 1959 to teach economics, served as department chair from 1966 to 1987, taught undergraduate or graduate classes until 1999 and were elected Professor of the Year in 1978.

With assistance from grants provided by a local foundation, you established the summer Institutes in Economic Education in 1967 for high school social science teachers who had no previous training in economics. The popularity of the institutes led to a decision in 1970 to establish the St. Thomas Center for Economic Education, which you have directed for 34 years.

At the same time, you began to offer personal finance courses in the community. Senior citizens showed the most interest in the courses but wanted more. “Okay, so now we know about using our money better,” one of them told you. “That’s good, but what’s next?”

College was next. You established the Center for Senior Citizens’ Education in 1974. Over the last 30 years, an estimated 8,100 individuals age 55 or older have enrolled in undergraduate courses at no cost, sitting next to students young enough to be their grandchildren. An additional 46,000 senior citizens have attended seminars and lectures offered on our St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses.

Your philosophy in establishing and maintaining these programs for three decades has been simple: to provide lifelong learning, to keep senior citizens in the mainstream of society and to inspire more collaboration between generations of students. “The young and the old can learn together,” you have said.

Senior citizens have responded with enthusiasm and gratitude. One woman once described the opportunity to attend college as “pure joy,” and another said, “My dream has finally come true.” She described you “as so dignified and refined” and said you had “such a sense of humor. He’s one of the dearest … there are not enough adjectives to praise him.”

As busy as you were in teaching and directing two centers, you also found time for regular visits to Egypt to do research and serve as an economic development consultant. You are a past president of the Association of Egyptian-American Scholars of the United States and Canada, and you established a chapter of People to People International in Alexandria, Egypt.

For all of your success, you always have carried yourself with humility. You have given credit to faculty mentors and peers who shared your values and, in your words, “showed me teaching is not an occupation but rather a vocation, a commitment to growth, knowledge, sharing and communication for the mind, the heart and the spirit.”

The University of St. Thomas agrees wholeheartedly and thanks the man everybody knows as “MO” for a lifetime of service. We salute you this day and confer upon you the St. Thomas Distinguished Service Award for outstanding service to the community and the university.