The University of St. Thomas

School of Social Work



School of Social Work News

Stay up-to-date on the School of Social Work by reading our Perspectives Newsletter:


Below is the full text of the Student Notes excerpted in the Spring 2014 Perspectives Newsletter from:

  • Fatai Popoola, MSW ’14
  • Helen Garcia, BSW student
  • Miranda Yang, BSW "14
  • Alicia Moder, BSW '14

FAITAI POPOOLA, MSW '14: Welcome address for the 2014 Graduate Commencement ceremony at St. Catherine University, Friday, May 23.

A Renewed Dream

The President, Members of the Faculty, Fellow Graduating Students, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am greatly honored and delighted to welcome you to the 2014 Commencement ceremony of Saint Catherine University, Graduate College. Let me welcome you in some of the languages that celebrate diversity here at Saint Catherine University:

In my native Yoruba: Ekabo

In Somali: Ku soo Dhawaada

In Spanish: Bienvienidos


As a young man from Iseyin, a little town in southwest Nigeria, West Africa, I came to Minnesota nine years ago with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. I come from a family of nine, the seventh child, the first and the only one to make it to college. As you can see, the dreams of my family rested on my shoulders. My dream, therefore, when I came to America, was to find a good job and begin to contribute as a responsible citizen to the development of my new community. But, no one would give me a job, primarily because of my accent. Fortunately, St Kate’s recognized my potential, gave me an opportunity and renewed my dream for a better tomorrow. I can truly say that I did not discover myself until I entered the School of Social Work at UST/St Kate’s. In my first year, every time I spoke in class, my classmates acted as interpreters. As you can see, that has changed now.

I have no doubt in my mind that we all chose to come to Saint Catherine University not only because we had dreams for a better tomorrow, but because we were also resolved to work for a more just society with well-functioning families and individuals. We wanted to be more than degree-recipients. We aspired to be responsible, ethical leaders with broad perspectives on issues and with more reflective minds on the needs of our people. This is the mission of Saint Catherine University and this mission resonated with our aspirations when we came into this institution years ago.

Tonight, our dreams have been renewed and we are fully prepared to go out into the world to use the Catholic intellectual tradition, and social justice teaching that we have learned here, to lift the standards of our people around the world.

My fellow graduates, you will agree with me that navigating through Graduate School is not an easy task. Meeting the deadlines for the rigorous research papers that we had to write was not only difficult, but required many sleepless nights. The readings we had to complete before every class were not only long, but very challenging. The open and wide-ranging class discussions were sometimes uncomfortable. Added to all those, the time clocked in community engagements, internships or clinicals seemed never ending. However, with tremendous support from the faculty, our families, friends and fellow students, we faced these challenges. We used the rich resources and conducive learning environment, provided to us by the administration of this great university – and, together, we succeeded.

Our success has brought our families and friends here tonight. We have all achieved the goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of our programs. Our dreams and aspirations for a better tomorrow have been rekindled. Now, we are in a better position to serve our communities in this country, and across the world.

But, as we celebrate tonight, we should not forget that we are graduating in challenging times. Many problems remain unresolved: economic and social injustice persists, racial disparities continue to exist, homelessness and unemployment remain severe, complex health laws are being legislated, resources are dwindling, the ozone layer is depleting, our climate is getting warmer, and we have yet to bring back our girls.

Nonetheless, I am not worried. I know, that we will RISE to the occasion and create change that will reflect our passion for social justice. I know that we will make the world a better place than we found it, uplifting people everywhere.

Once again,

In Ibo: Nnonu In Swahili: Karibuo ni In Hmong: Nyob Zoo Zoo siab In French: Bienvenue And in native Yoruba: Ekaabo.



HELEN GARCIA, BSW student: SisterStory

Catholic sisters were always a bit of a mystery for Helen Garcia, BSW student. She passed them in the hallways at St. Catherine University (St. Kate’s) in St. Paul, but never had a personal conversation — until this month.

Now Garcia and new friend Sister Vicky Larson are pioneers in a national movement to make the public more aware of the work of America’s Catholic sisters — and in the process, encourage young women to consider the calling.

St. Kate’s is the national hub for an initiative to let the world know about nuns’ contributions. Thanks to a $3.3 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, St. Kate’s has launched a project that will pair sisters and students across the country, record nuns’ oral histories and build school curriculum. It also has built a website called that will be a national repository of oral histories and other materials to demystify nuns and highlight their many contributions.

MIRANDA YANG, BSW ‘14: J-Term in Laos

Having grown up in America, I always wanted to learn more about the country of my parents and grandparents. I was able to do an Independent Study in Laos during J-Term 2013-2014. My study focused on looking at the lives of Hmong women in Laos and contrasted and compared them with the lives of Hmong women in America. Hmong women in Laos travel from their rural villages to attend school in the city. Since tuition is comparable to college tuition in the United States only a few Hmong women are able to attend college. There are few jobs available for students so many receive financial support from their families. Education is important to Hmong women in Laos, but like Hmong women in the U.S., they have to give up their educational and career goals when they marry. Viv Ncaus, a nonprofit organization in Vientiane, Laos, was established in 2008 to help Hmong women and students as they pursue these goals. This is the only organization in Laos to help Hmong women, while there are many more the United States. It was a great pleasure to take this journey and to share stories with other Hmong women in Laos. It was life changing and it broadened my knowledge about Hmong people and culture.

ALICIA MODER, BSW ‘14: Papal Audience

During spring break 2014, 28 students from St. Catherine University participated in a Papal Audience with Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square as part of the "Catholic Rome Pilgrimage with Sister Andrea." Among the pilgrims was BSW student, Alicia Moder, who shared these thoughts:

"The experience that got to me the most was the feeling of solidarity with thousands of others in St. Peter's Square, being present to each other and creating a community of pilgrims from all parts of the world. Pope Francis has truly challenged our world, and it is a wonderful feeling to see so many people accepting his challenge. After the Angelus, and after some major reflection, I came up with this: When you find yourself at the head of a community, by choice or by happenstance, this does not mean that you are the ‘big boss’; it means, instead, that you are at the service of the entire community. You take stewardship over this community that you love but do not 'lord' over it. We find these same directions in social work’s Code of Ethics; our job is to solve problems and create social change. It is very important to do these in balance and not choose one over the other. . . If we are to do our best work, then we need to trust in our own strengths and take the advice we offer our clients. By celebrating ourselves, we will find a peace that will benefit everyone we come into contact with, especially our clients."