Monday, September 26, 2016

Conference on Ethics, Justice and the Community

The Center for Ethics at St. Thomas University will host the Ethics, Justice and the Community Conference, Friday, September 30. The conference examines the challenges and opportunities faced by law enforcement and criminal justice institutions in the 21st Century and explores reforms that will achieve effective and ethical outcomes in our communities. Panel discussions will cover the following topics:
  • Police Chief’s Roundtable: Policing in the 21st Century
  • Police-Citizen Encounters: A Delicate Balancing Act
  • Crime, Punishment and Restorative Justice
  • Criminal Justice Reforms: A Legislative and Judicial Update
  • Media Coverage of Crime
Speakers include:
  • Chief Antonio Brooklen, City of Miami Gardens
  • Bob Butterworth, former Florida Attorney General
  • Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Chair, FL Senate Judiciary Committee
  • Dean Tamara Lawson, St. Thomas University School of Law
  • The Honorable Carlos Martinez, Public Defender, 11th Judicial Circuit
  • Chief Paul O’Connell, City of Wilton Manors
  • Judge Scott Silverman
General admission costs $75 and includes a continental breakfast and lunch.

For more information and details on the schedule of events, please visit:

Friday, September 23, 2016

STU Offers Services, Scholarships to ITT Students

St. Thomas University is extending the services of its Educational Opportunity Center to students affected by the closure of ITT. The federally-funded Educational Opportunity Center provides counseling and information to adults 19 and older from disadvantaged backgrounds – low-income individuals, first-generation college students, individuals with disabilities, and veterans – on options to start or complete a college degree. Students from closed for-profit colleges, like ITT, can also take advantage of this free service to help identify the best next steps for them.

The Educational Opportunity Center provides tutoring in ACT and SAT test preparation, offers financial aid workshops, helps coordinate campus visits, and provides assistance with completing applications to colleges and universities. Program services are available to students at North Miami High School and Carol City High School, as well as residents of North Miami, Opa-locka, and Miami Gardens.

ITT students who choose to attend St. Thomas University will be eligible for scholarships, and to have their application fee waived. For information and assistance, contact Gretell Garcia at (305) 628-6629; or email

Friday, September 9, 2016

STU Alumna Named Davie’s First Female Fire Chief

This past June, STU alumna Julie Downey ’06, made history. Downey, who has served more than three decades as a firefighter, was promoted by the town of Davie as fire chief - becoming the first female fire rescue chief in Broward County history. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in organizational leadership from STU, and credits the university for its leadership-focused courses, accessibility and flexibility.
Downey, born and raised in Broward County, recently discussed with STU the importance of education, and why she choose to get her bachelor’s degree at STU. For the complete interview, read below.

What brought you to STU?

The flexibility of its educational programs for working professionals. STU was the best fit for us (other firefighters at her station) by having the classes taught online and at the station. Instead of us having to go to STU, STU came to us.

How convenient was it for you to have STU come to the station and offer these classes?

In my field, it’s difficult to make time to go to campus for classes, so having STU come to our work site was a definite advantage. It made it easier to have a full-time career, be a full-time mom, run the house, and go to school. It just couldn’t have happened without the flexibility STU offered.

How did your experience at STU shape you into the leader you are today?

The classes we took incorporated many aspects of leadership, that, combined with the knowledge of the instructors all came together to and helped the class hone their leadership skills.

What advice or insight do you have for STU students/alumni interested in a career in firefighting?

Never stop learning. Education is a lifelong experience, and if you’re pursuing your dreams in this field, or any field, you have to continue learning. Firefighting, in particular, takes a lot of schooling.

Any advice for current students juggling full-time jobs and school?

Trying to juggle going to work full time, going to school full time, parenting, and running a household is difficult, but manageable. You have to set priorities, be organized, and be relentless in what you want to accomplish.

Did you always want to be a firefighter?

When I was 14, I was a cadet at the fire department, but when I got older I journeyed into Physical Therapy, and halfway through, I realized it just wasn’t for me. Then I switched gears, became a firefighter, and went on to earn my paramedic certification, associates in fire science, emergency medical services, and nursing. Received my bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from STU, and now I’m looking into my masters. Like I said before, education is a lifelong experience.
Chief Downey with her family.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Watching my two daughters grow up and accomplish their goals. My oldest just graduated from nurse practitioner school, and my other daughter is in her last year of law school. And, of course, for myself, becoming fire chief.





What do you enjoy most about your job?

Watching the individuals on my team develop and grow into stronger leaders. 

What has been the most challenging and most rewarding part of being the first female Fire Chief in Broward County?

I recognized the fact that I’m the first female fire chief in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe County, but it doesn’t matter to me if you’re male or female, I just want to do the best that I can. Be fair, consistent, and serve my residents the best I can. I work with a great team of people, and together we make an amazing fire department.

What do you do when you’re not improving the safety of Davie’s residents?

This job is a 24/7 job, but when I’m not here I like to travel, spend time with my daughters, and husband, who is also in the fire service, and participate in outdoor activities. Our new hobby is pickle ball, a sport that combines the elements of tennis, ping-pong and badminton.

Describe yourself in one word.


NAIA Names STU Bronze Champions of Character

For the eighth year in a row, St. Thomas University (STU) was recognized as an NAIA Five-Star Champion of Character (COC) Institution.

STU is one of 171 institutions that were recognized by the NAIA as Five-Star Award winners. The Bobcats were among 80 institutions earning the bonze award.

Institutions were measured on a demonstrated commitment to “Champions of Character” and earned points in character training, conduct in competition, academic focus, character recognition and character promotion. Institutions earned points based on exceptional student-athlete grade point averages and by having minimal to no ejections during competition throughout the course of the academic year.

STU’s athletic programs make a conscious effort to demonstrate the COC’s five core values of respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership, and sportsmanship.

For a complete list of all the COC institutions, click here.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

‘Ancient Vessels of Love’ Art Exhibit by Artist Sheila Lichacz

Sheila E. Lichacz. Photo courtesy of Carlos de Yarza.
Sheila E. Lichacz, a Panamanian artist, who has survived 15 brain surgeries to remove 30 tumors (both malignant and benign), will unveil her first exhibit in years, a 16-piece art exhibit “Ancient Vessels of Love,” at the Archbishop John C. Favalora Archive & Museum at St. Thomas University.

Lichacz, known for her unique style of incorporating pre-Columbian pottery shards and shells found in her native Monagrillo, Panama, creates montages, oils, pastels and sculptures. Six of her works are on permanent display at the Holy Shrine of Cana in Galilee. Another, “Blood Money – 30 Pieces of Silver,” is the only work by a living artist that hangs in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Her art is also on display in the Vatican Museum of Contemporary Religious Art.

The opening reception, which is free and open to student, faculty, staff and the general public, will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at 2 p.m.

The exhibit, on display through Dec. 13, is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Helping Asylum Seekers and Refugees Prepare for Court

A 29-year-old Cuban immigrant suffering from early-onset Parkinson’s was on the brink of ending his life when he walked into STU’s Human Rights Institute. He had lost his job because of symptoms related to his disease, and was living in his car. He hit rock bottom when the car’s tires blew out and the car was towed.

“He walked into our office with two pieces of paper – one with his parent's mailing address, and a letter, essentially his suicide letter. He came to us in this moment of desperation because the institute was all he had,” said Christine Reis, a lawyer and director of STU’s Human Rights Institute.

Within hours, the paralegal working his case had her husband buy him new tires, get his car out of the towing yard, and colleagues helped her raise money for him. Within days the institute found him a place to live – special housing for people with his condition – and worked with Jackson Memorial Hospital to get him the attention and medications he needed to lead a better life. And within six months, he was on his way to becoming a citizen, and most importantly, he was a completely different, happier person.

“The office [Human Rights Institute] is a great example of what STU is – a family always willing to help one another and others,” Reis said.

Since its inception in 1992, STU’s Human Rights Institute has been helping people who have refugee or asylum status become permanent residents, as well as guiding them through complicated legal processes. Over the years, the institute has seen several cases like the one mentioned above ranging from people in the final stages of cancer, to those with Alzheimer’s disease.

“We deal with so many individuals all with a unique, sometimes heart-wrenching story to tell, and we do our best to help them in any way we can,” said Reis. “Our ultimate goal is for these individuals (and sometimes families) to acclimate and become United States citizens with all of its rights and privileges.”

There are similar organizations in South Florida, but STU’s Human Rights Institute is the only one that offers its services completely free of charge – there are no hidden fees or additional charges. And if other services are needed – psychological, special needs, housing – the institute has strong professional relationships with other service providers in the community, and helps guide individuals in the right direction.

“The institute takes care of the legal aspects of their situation, but it has tentacles that reach out to different services,” said Reis.

With offices located in Miami, Broward and West Palm Beach, the institute helps about 200 people a month. Reis says, she hopes to continue to carry out the institute’s mission for many years to come.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

STU Awarded $1.17 Million Federal TRIO Grant

The U.S. Department of Education announced a five-year, $1,179,815 grant to St. Thomas University (STU) to start a TRIO Educational Opportunity Center (EOC). The EOC grant will help young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds – low-income individuals, first-generation college students, individuals with disabilities, and veterans – pursue a higher education.

“This grant will open many doors for hundreds of students who otherwise may not have achieved academic success,” said Provost and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Irma Becerra. “Now they’ll be able to receive the support and guidance necessary to explore the options available to them to further their education beyond high school, and become leaders for life.”

The grant will provide tutoring in ACT and SAT test preparation, financial aid workshops, campus visits to post-secondary institutions in the area, financial literacy workshops, and assistance with completing applications to post-secondary institutions. STU seniors and graduate students will be trained to provide these program services to the community. The program will also have a full-time program director and full-time program advisor.

Program services will be available to students at North Miami High School, Carol City High School, as well as residents of North Miami, Opa-locka, and Miami Gardens – areas underrepresented in postsecondary education.

“We are proud of being a resource for the community,” added STU President Msgr. Franklyn M. Casale. “Whether these students become proud St. Thomas Bobcats, or pursue their higher education at another institution, providing this important support is consistent with our university’s focus on service and community engagement.”

In all, the Department of Education awarded $48 million in grants to 143 colleges and organizations in 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

For more information about this program or to participate, contact Gretell Garcia (305) 628-6629; or email