Nearly three years ago Julie Sullivan made history when she was announced as the 15th president of the University of St. Thomas – the first woman and lay person to hold the position.
Under her leadership, St. Thomas has committed itself to a new strategic plan and launched a branding effort with All for the Common Good at its heart – both moves rooted in St. Thomas’ strengths that look toward its future.
With the anniversary of her appointment approaching, the Florida native answered seven questions about what she likes and does in addition to leading the university.
What are you reading these days?
On my nightstand right now is College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) by Ryan Craig, and Pope Francis’ new book, The Name of God is Mercy (Random House, 2016).
I recently finished Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads (Loyola Press, 2013) by Chris Lowney and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (Metropolitan Books, 2014) by Atul Gawande.
Lowney relates the pope’s history to his current leadership style. He also offers leadership lessons we can learn from Pope Francis: Know yourself deeply, serve others, immerse yourself in the world, withdraw from it daily, live in the present and revere traditions, even as you energetically go about creating the future.
There are lessons to be learned from Gawande’s book too. I learned from Being Mortal that our reasons for living are just as important at the end of life as at any other time in our lives.
I’d recommend The Nightingale (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) by Kristin Hannah and All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner, 2014) by Anthony Doerr.
Both (are) set in occupied France during WWII – these historical novels were excellent. I read one of them during a cruise that my husband and I took on the Seine between Paris to Normandy last summer. I read the other when we came home.
Are you a music lover?
Absolutely. I don’t play an instrument (unless you count childhood piano lessons … I wasn’t very good). My favorite musicians include pianists David Lanz, George Winston, David Benoit and Jim Brickman, and vocalists Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban.
I especially love live concerts. Over the years I’ve seen the Eagles, Beach Boys, Chicago, Pink Floyd, Peter Frampton, Santana and Carole King. The Beatles played only one concert in Florida, and I was there! It was Sept. 11, 1964, and I was 7.
How do you like Minnesota’s winters?
Believe it or not, I’ve come to appreciate them. There is a spirituality embedded in the change of seasons. The rebirth of spring and summer can be fully appreciated only after the dormant winter. I also find a great sense of peace on a cold, calm day. There is peacefulness in the stillness, especially during a snowfall.
What are your favorite foods?
Before I moved to the Twin Cities, I had never realized how vibrant the dining scene was here. Much to my delight, there are dozens of wonderful ethnic restaurants nearby as well as excellent markets. I enjoy spicy food, with lots of vegetables, and, if I have meat, I prefer fish or chicken.
I love the vegetarian combination platter at Fasika, an Ethiopian restaurant on Snelling Avenue, and the seafood dishes with vegetable sides at French Meadow Café on Grand Avenue. For a fancy dinner, Meritage in St. Paul and Alma in Minneapolis are wonderful restaurants.
What do you hear most often when you meet alumni around the country?
So many St. Thomas alumni tell me that St. Thomas transformed their lives and contributed in important ways to shaping the person they are today. This is true for older as well as younger alumni, and remains the inspiration in designing our curriculum and educational experiences for our current students.
You’re quite a sports fan.
Yes, I grew up as a huge college football fan and attended my first college football game (University of Florida vs. University of Georgia) when I was 6. Today, I follow college and professional football and also became a college basketball fan during my 17 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Growing up, I played softball and, like many Florida and Minnesota kids, I learned to water ski practically as soon as I could swim.
What has been a highlight of your presidency?
I continue to be amazed and humbled by the extraordinary commitment of people to their communities – whether within the St. Thomas campus community or wherever they live and work. People have a strong and vested interest, actively promoting the common good in their communities.