Julie Sullivan

Julie Sullivan

Best Book I’ve Read This Year:
Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner

Red, White, or Beer?

Favorite Vacation Destination:
Any place I haven’t been

Read both, prefer NYT on weekends.

In light of skyrocketing prices for private education, Julie Sullivan, the first woman to lead the University of St. Thomas, is searching for ways to ensure student access to her campuses.

The St. Thomas mission statement focuses on educating students to be morally responsible leaders who advance the common good. Some might argue that in today’s world, promoting personal financial gain is a higher aim.

One interpretation of the common good is that we live in a world where every person has hope and opportunity, every person has access to education, health care, and employment. So certainly personal financial gain can be a part of that common good. In fact, often the way you make sustainable change in communities is when that change is based on an economic model.

The competition for jobs in today’s marketplace is intense, and parents and students are concerned. How does this reality affect UST’s offerings?

Even in tough economic times, our students have been quite successful in gaining employment. Statistics show that approximately 95 percent of our graduates are either employed or in graduate school within six months after graduation.

We understand that there isn’t any discipline today that you can have sufficient knowledge that you can rely on for the rest of your career. So we want to create a foundation of knowledge, but then we want to create life-long learners and we want to create people who are curious, creative, adaptable, who are going to be able to keep gaining knowledge and skills as their jobs and their careers change.

How are you connecting students to employers?

We are working hard to help students get internships, which often lead to jobs. We help students have opportunities to work on real-world projects that are going to get them exposure in front of employers.

For example, we have the senior design project in engineering. It’s a year-long project, and students do it in groups of five. They work on a real project for a real company and they present it to that company.

Even if it’s not student Y who gets exposure in front of some large employer, that employer experiences a group of our students doing a certain project for his or her company. They are going to realize the skill sets that we have at St. Thomas and they are going to seek out our graduates.

In the corporate world and politics, women are underrepresented in leadership. As the first woman to lead St. Thomas, what are your thoughts about ways to increase the proportion of women in leadership roles?

One of the things that is important for young women today is to give them the confidence that they can do it, to help them envision themselves in those positions. You’ll often find that what you believe you can do is often what you do.

How did you gain the confidence you needed to rise within higher education?

It goes back to childhood days when I had a very influential role model in my grandmother. She was a single woman and a very, very successful entrepreneur. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother because she was lonely and I was her one granddaughter. She started telling me from the time that I was 5 years old that “You can do anything that you want to do.” And it just never occurred to me that I couldn’t.

What type of business was she involved in?

She was the largest school bus contractor in one of the largest counties in Florida. She owned 60 school buses and did bus routes for public and private schools. It was very nontraditional.

The sticker price is $44,249 for an undergraduate to attend St. Thomas during 2013-14 (including room and board). Once you subtract the average financial aid award, an on-campus student would still pay $15,836 for one year at St. Thomas. How are you addressing student access and debt loads?

We want any qualified student, of whatever their economic means, to be able to come here. We often can go a pretty long way in meeting their tuition needs, whether we meet it halfway or three-quarters. Occasionally, we can meet all of it. Unfortunately, we are not at the point yet to have an endowment that we can satisfy 100 percent of economic need for every family. It’s certainly a priority to continue to grow our endowment.

What about debt loads?

My worry in the big picture is the ability of our country to provide economic opportunity and job growth, so that it’s feasible for people to be able to pay [off loans to attend St. Thomas]. If it’s not, then what’s going to be the country’s funding model for private education? We’re not going to educate everybody in our country just through public education.