Tuesday, April 11, 2017

University's response to Turning Point USA's concerns about its campus presence

As an institution of higher learning, St. Thomas University supports and encourages the respectful sharing of diverse concepts and ideas, as evidenced by the broad range of organizations that visit or have a presence on our campus.

The University looks forward to meeting with STU students who requested an opportunity to discuss the university’s process for the review of new student organizations, such as Turning Point USA. We look forward to moving beyond any miscommunication that may have occurred with this organization, and to working with our students and organizations in a positive and productive way to enhance student engagement in a manner that respects a commitment both to our mission and Catholic values, and to the open exchange of viewpoints and ideas.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

STU Impact: A Summer Program With a Higher Purpose

Registration is now open for STU IMPACT: Empowering Young Disciples, a summer program which aims to gather high school students both from South Florida and throughout Florida for an eight-day experience in Catholic theological education during summer 2017.

STU IMPACT is made possible through a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc.’s High School Youth Theology Institutes Initiative, which seeks to encourage young people to explore theological traditions, ask questions about the moral dimensions of contemporary issues and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

Jennifer Kryszak, faculty director and assistant professor of theological and ministerial studies at STU, will be joined by other STU faculty members, guest faculty, and counselors in leading the high school youth through the program. During the program, scheduled for June 17 - 24, 2017, youths will live on campus, learn from renowned scholars, and participate in local and regional civic engagement activities. 

The program will open with guest speaker ValLimar Jansen, an inspirational and catechetical speaker, singer, composer and recording artist. Her records include Catholic classics: African American Sacred Songs, Give God the Glory, and Spirit & Soul.

“We’re excited for this second year of the program. STU IIMPACT provides the youth opportunities to reflect on their faith and how they will live it out in the course of their lives,” said Kryszak. “In addition to time with professors learning about the Old Testament, New Testament, and Catholic social teaching, the youth participate in service projects, as well daily prayer and a concluding retreat.”

High school students wishing to participate in the STU IMPACT summer institute must complete the application process available here. While the cost for the program is $600, scholarships are available. For any questions about the program, scholarships, or the application process, please email STUIMPACT@stu.edu, or call 305-474-6842.

STU IMPACT is also seeking counselors, age 21 and up. Counselors will walk along-side high school youth as they explore their call to service, as well as have an opportunity to discover, or re-discover their own call to service. The position provides a $500 stipend. For more information, click here.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Leaving a Legacy: The Col. Jacquelin J. Kelly Softball Field

Before Col. Jacquelin Kelly passed away from cancer in 2014, she bequeathed a generous gift to STU’s Athletic Program. Jacquelin, a lifelong athlete and coach, held a strong belief that women should participate in competitive sports and pursue higher education, and in recognition of her gift, the university will be dedicating “The Col. Jacquelin Kelly Field” at the St. Thomas Softball Complex.

In 1960 she joined the army and was stationed in the Middle East and the Far East working in military intelligence. Jacquelin, who received her bachelors from St. Elizabeth College, served in the army for 21 years, 12 of them at the Pentagon, where she was the highest ranking woman at that time, having achieved the rank of colonel.

In the mid-1980s, Jacquelin moved to South Florida where she continued her education by pursuing a master’s in sports administration at STU and graduated in 1987 at the age of 56 - in total she earned four master’s degrees, including one in Chinese.

"This generous donation to our athletics department not only allows us to upgrade our facilities, but also gives us the opportunity to honor an amazing female, a champion of character,” said Laura Courtley-Todd, STU director of athletics. “Jacquelin was a phenomenal role model, and will remain so through the naming of the softball complex."

 STU will host the Jacquelin J. Kelly Softball Field dedication Friday, March 23, at 4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lent Q&A: Everything you were embarrassed to ask about Lent

This week marks the beginning of the Lent season, and in collaboration with STU’s Campus Ministry, we’ve developed the following questions and answers about Lent. After the Q&A, make sure to view our schedule of events for the Lent season.

Q: Getting fat on Fat Tuesday?
A: Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday. It is also known as Mardi Gras Day or Shrove Day. Mardi Gras, which is French for "Fat Tuesday," is a day when people eat all they want of everything and anything they want as the following day is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a long fasting period.

Q: What is Ash Wednesday?
A: Ash Wednesday celebrates the first day of Lent, and it always falls 46 days before Easter Sunday. On this day, observers attend worship services, where a priest or minister combines ashes with water, dips his or her thumb into the mixture, and uses it to make the sign of the cross on parishioner’s foreheads.

Q: What is Lent?
A: It’s the 40-day fasting period leading up to Easter, modeled after Christ's 40-day fast in the desert, and ends on Good Friday. During this fasting period people give up certain foods, habits, or indulgences. This is considered a season of fasting, prayer and almsgiving.

Q: Why are we marked with ashes?
A: Ashes, applied in the shape of a cross, are a symbol of mortality and repentance, and represent the idea that "people came from ash, and to ash they will return." Most people wear them throughout the day as a public expression of their faith and penance.

Q: Where do the ashes come from?
A: The ashes are from the burning the palms used for the previous year’s Palm Sunday, which occurs on the Sunday before Easter. Palm Sunday marks Jesus' return to Jerusalem, when people waved palm branches to celebrate his arrival.

Q: Meatless Fridays?
A: Since Jesus sacrificed his body for us on Good Friday, we refrain from eating meat in his honor on the Fridays during lent.

Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays in between are considered “Days of Abstinence.” You will notice that over the next few weeks beginning from tomorrow March 1, until April 14, the Dining Hall and the Rathskeller will not be serving meat or any meat products on Fridays. This is part of our Catholic Tradition.

On these days, by sacrificing something we really enjoy, we reflect on God’s goodness to us in the abundance of not only food but of the many blessings in our lives. By not eating meat, and whatever else you may choose to give up, we also reflect on the many people in our own community and throughout the world who go to bed hungry each day. It is for these people that we should pray and offer whatever support we can. We invite our entire religiously diverse community to participate in this meaningful and personally fulfilling Lenten Discipline.

For a list of events and activities on campus during Lent, click here.

For a list of Holy Week events, click here.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

From Skin Cells to Stem Cells: How STU Students are Helping Advance Autism Research

Senior Leana Ramos studying neural stem cells.

Walk by professor Alexis Tapanes-Castillo’s lab at St. Thomas University, and you'll see gloved students dressed in lab coats and hunched over microscopes. What you won't know just from looking are that the students are trying to treat autism in a petri dish.
Under the watchful eye of Tapanes-Castillo, STU undergraduates are growing and manipulating stem cells. In collaboration with the University of Miami, these students are playing a key role in researching autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

 “In the labs at UM, a microscopic piece of skin is taken from participants with autism and reprogrammed into a stem cell,” Tapanes-Castillo explains. “Using different techniques and drugs, the stem cells are then turned into neural stem cells. At STU, we grow these neural stem cells from patients with autism, as well neural stem cells from patients who do not have autism.”

Under a microscope the cells look like sunbursts with branches. To the untrained eye, the only difference between the ASD cells and the control cells appears to be the number of branches (connections) they make, and how far they branch out. Many believe that having so many connections is what causes individuals with autism to easily become overwhelmed by the environment.

“One of the theories is that the cells of those with autism grow too quickly and make too many connections,” explained Tapanes-Castillo. “Ironically enough, genius is also thought to originate from cells making too many connections.”
Senior Carlos Canales makes is a daily routine to check in on the cells and make sure they are receiving the nutrition they require.

Since the stem cells are just a few weeks old when STU students receive them, they are responsible for culturing (growing) the cells. In other words, they are responsible for nurturing the cells to maturity, which can take 100 days.

In the lab, students are also testing molecular differences between the control cells and autistic cells. The testing of specific candidate molecules is based on data obtained by UM, who has sequenced the DNA of thousands of people with autism, and family members that don’t have autism. These differences are tested at STU using genetic engineering techniques.

“Since we grow the cells in the lab, we can control which molecules they make. We can turn genes on and off; and we can manipulate the levels of specific molecules using lab viruses,” said Tapanes-Castillo. “We can see if changing the levels of these molecules, which are different between autistic and non-autistic people, make the autistic cells look and behave more like the control cells.”

Last week the cells were infected with viruses, which the students helped create in the lab, and the experiment is under way to see how the cells will react to the virus. They should start understanding how the virus affects the biology of autistic cells over the next several months.

Leana Ramos, an STU undergraduate majoring in biology and chemistry, as well as completing specializations in research and English literature, says she feels very fortunate to be participating in such groundbreaking research.

“Research of this caliber isn’t available to undergraduate students at other universities,” Ramos said. “It’s exciting to work on something that could possibly help millions of people with autism.”

Ramos credits the University’s undergraduate research programs and its professors for the year-long fellowship she was recently awarded at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Tapanes-Castillo stresses a very important aspect of their research–they are not trying to completely eradicate autism. They’re trying to treat it, so that those with autism can manage it better.

“We want to understand the biology of autism so that we can help patients manage its challenges–the feelings of anxiety, the sensory overload. However, we would not want to eliminate the ability of autistic cells to make extra connections. This ability may be what gives autistic individuals special talents.”

Currently there are no medications for autism because not enough is understood about the biology of the disorder to suggest specific medications. ASD patients are usually prescribed medications that treat other conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder, epilepsy, anxiety, and so on. Although the symptoms range dramatically in type and severity, autism can be characterized by problems communicating, difficulties interacting with others, and repetitive behaviors.

Autism spectrum disorder is a disorder that affects the lives of millions around the world. In the United States, one in 68 children live with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Addressing Immigration Orders with Intellect, Faith and Action

St. Thomas University has decided to address President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration and refugees with a combination of intellect, faith, and action.

Shortly after the order - now on hold due to a federal court ruling - was issued, the university’s School of Law and Center for Community Engagement co-hosted a panel discussion titled, “Justice for All?: The Moral and Legal Implications of President Trump’s Executive Orders on Immigration.”

The event gathered Catholic immigration advocates including Randolph McGrorty, CEO of Catholic Legal Services of Miami; Christine Reis, director of St. Thomas’ Human Rights Institute; Lauren Gilbert, St. Thomas University professor of immigration law; and Diego Sanchez, a St. Thomas Law student who played an important role in efforts to pass the DREAM act and other legislation for undocumented youths.

At the event, McGrorty explained the details of a number of the orders, while also noting that they were being contested in the courts, leaving their future unclear. Reis and Gilbert echoed McGrorty’s sentiments, while noting the Catholic Church’s longtime support for immigrant rights.

They emphasized the important role Catholics have in expressing their concerns to their elected officials and advocating for more just policies toward immigrants and refugees.

Sanchez spoke about the numerous gifts that immigrants bring to the South Florida community, and the role that students can play in addressing policies as they are developed.

Following the panel discussion, St. Thomas University’s Campus Ministry sponsored a Mass and candlelight vigil in solidarity with immigrants titled “Welcoming the Stranger.”

Following the Mass, students made a “pilgrimage” around campus, with stops at various stations to pray and hear testimonies of fellow students who had fled violence in their own countries and come to the United States as refugees.

St. Thomas University will be transforming their study and prayer into action over the next weeks, with visits to legislators to advocate for more inclusive policies toward immigrants.

In an official statement, Msgr. Frankyln Casale, president of St. Thomas University, echoed the sentiment of Catholic university leaders throughout the country in expressing strong opposition to the executive orders.

“We celebrate the value of diversity within Catholic higher education," Msgr. Casale said, "(and) we reaffirm the commitment of our institutions to creating inclusive, welcoming campus environments that embrace people of all faiths and cultures. Catholic higher education was founded precisely to serve the children of Catholic immigrants who in their own time were excluded from higher education. This is a legacy that we proudly pledge to continue.”

Friday, February 17, 2017

Free Tax Services on Campus

For 22 years, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at St. Thomas University has helped community residents secure tax refunds. VITA is the oldest pro bono program at St. Thomas University School of Law. Founded by St. Thomas Law Professor Mark J. Wolff, the program has secured taxpayers in excess of $10,000,000 in refunds; student, faculty, and staff pro bono hours have exceeded 40,000.

Last year, St. Thomas Law’s VITA program assisted hundreds of taxpayers. St. Thomas Law School students and other volunteers will spend each Saturday until the end of tax season providing this important free service to the most needy and vulnerable members of our surrounding communities.

IRS Certified Volunteers are available at St. Thomas University every Saturday through April 15, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., to prepare federal income tax returns, free of charge for individuals and families with a yearly income of $54,000 or less.

For more information, visit www.stu.edu/VITA, or 305-474-2415, vita@stu.edu.

For the flyer, click here.

Can't Make it on Saturdays?
No worries, STU’s Tax Clinic is now offering “Open Intake Thursdays,” a faster tax preparation experience, every Thursday through April 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All you have to do is bring the required documents (see below), fill out a form, and the clinic volunteers do the rest! And there's no need to wait around as they crunch numbers, they’ll schedule a later date for you to come in and review/file your returns.

STU’s Tax Clinic is located on the second floor of the Law School, Suite 205.

Items to bring to STU’s Tax Clinic’s Open Intake Thursdays & VITA Saturdays:
  • Government issued identification for you and your spouse (to prepare and file your taxes on a married-filing-joint return, both spouses must be present; for a married-filing-separate return the name of your spouse with social security number is required).
  • Original Social Security Cards for you, your spouse, and dependents. An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) assignment letter may be substituted for you, your spouse and your dependents if you do not have a Social Security number.
  • Birth dates for you, your spouse and dependents being listed on the
    tax return.
  • Wage and earning statement(s) Form W-2, W-2G, 1099s, from all employers, and/or Social Security benefits statement.
  • All Forms 1095-A, B or C, Affordable Health Care Statements or Health Insurance Exemption Certificate, if applicable.
  • Interest, brokerage, and dividend statement(s) (Form 1099s).
  • Form 1098-T Tuition Statement form an eligible education institution, such as a college or university or Form 1098-E Student Loan Interest Statement.
  • Any and all expenses (including business) must be accompanied by a receipt. Expenses must be organized and itemized.
  • Total paid for daycare provider and the daycare provider's tax identification number (provider’s Social Security number or the provider’s business Employer Identification Number.
  • Any other forms or documents necessary to complete your income tax return.
  • Proof of bank account routing numbers and account numbers for Direct Deposit, such as a blank check.
  • A copy of last year’s federal and state returns or copies of income transcripts from IRS, if applicable.