Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Helping Asylum Seekers and Refugees Prepare for Court

A 29-year-old Cuban immigrant man 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 the address of his parents, who live in Cuba, 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 Trafficking 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, and 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  

Monday, August 29, 2016

SunTrust Helps Fund STU Scholarships with $100K Gift

President and CEO of SunTrust Bank Manny Perdomo with STU President Msgr. Casale

As part of their ongoing support of St. Thomas University (STU), the SunTrust Foundation donated $100,000 to fund scholarships for first-generation students with financial need. This endowed scholarship will be matched through a challenge grant from the Batchelor Foundation – providing an impact of $200,000 toward first-generation student support.

“Gifts like these that support the next generation of leaders have the potential to change the lives of our students and the communities in which they live,” said STU President Monsignor Franklyn Casale. “We are very fortunate to have such wonderful community partners that help make a quality, personalized education possible for so many worthy students.”

Over the years, SunTrust, which has several of its executives serving on advisory boards at STU, has gifted the university with generous scholarship support for low-income students and other programs. They are serving as a community advisory partner on a new university program focused on financial literacy and student success. Suntrust has also served as the university’s bank for more than two decades.

“Our philosophy has always been that when we build our communities, we build our bank,” said Manny Perdomo, president and CEO of SunTrust Bank, South Florida. “As a purpose-driven company, we are constantly seeking ways to make a difference, two of the most meaningful ways we can do this is through corporate philanthropy and helping guide, advise and lead people along their road to financial security and wellness, or as well call it, ‘Lighting the Way to Financial Well-Being.’”

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

STU Kicks Off Fall Semester with Salsa Concert

Los 3 de la Habana

Students at STU kicked off the start of the 2016 fall semester with a salsa concert by the Grammy nominated band "Los 3 de la Habana" at Plaza Kelly during common hour Wednesday, Aug. 24.

Faculty, staff and students showed off their dance moves to the vibrant music, while others enjoyed a lunch of burgers, hot dogs, salad, chips and cookies courtesy of Metz.

For more concert photos, and photos of STU letting loose on the dance floor, click here.

“Bobcats Serve Day” Beautifies Carol City Middle School

During St. Thomas University’s second annual “Bobcats Serve Community Engagement Day” more than 130 first-year students came together to lend a helping hand to the students of Carol City Middle School (CCMS), a local, at-risk public school.

The event, coordinated by the university’s Center the Community Engagement and Student Affairs, was part of the university’s orientation program titled “The St. Thomas Experience.” With the goal of enhancing the learning environment of the CCMS students, upper-class students led first-year students, alongside CCMS staff, on a school-wide beautification effort.

Fueled by research proving that pleasant, well-kept environments enhance student achievement, self-esteem and school and community pride, STU students created outdoor study spaces by building picnic tables, repainting outdoor areas, and distributing mulch around the school’s campus.

This event is part of the broader STU/CCMS Community Educational Partnership, a partnership which leverages multiple levels of university research, teaching, and volunteer resources into CCMS student success.
The students involved received a warm welcome from STU President Rev. Monsignor Franklyn M. Casale; Provost Dr. Irma Becerra, and the Mayor of Miami Gardens, the Hon. Oliver G. Gilbert III.

“At St. Thomas University you not only receive a great, well-rounded education, but you learn how to do great things in the world,” said Dr. Becerra. “That’s what ‘Bobcats Serve Day’ is about - taking the first step toward becoming a leader that changes the world, a true leader for life.”

For more information on STU’s collaborative projects in Miami Gardens, visit, or contact the Center for Community Engagement:; 305-628-6717.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

STU Zika Preparedness and Guidelines

St. Thomas University is actively monitoring the Zika virus in our county, and working closely with local and state Department of Health officials. It is important to note that NO mosquito transmission of the Zika virus has been detected at STU or in the area of Miami Gardens as of this week.
We wanted to share some information about the Zika virus, specifically:
  • What is the Zika virus
  • How to protect yourself from Zika
  • What STU is doing to mitigate mosquitoes on campus
  • Where to seek additional information
  • Frequently asked questions
The Zika Virus
According to the CDC, the Zika virus disease is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus), but it can also be passed from one person to another through sexual contact.
The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting up to a week, and many infected people do not have symptoms. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly and other severe brain defects. No vaccines or treatments are currently available to treat or prevent Zika.
Protect yourself from Zika
Many people infected with Zika virus won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms such as fever, rash, headache, and joint pain. These usually appear within a week or 10 days of having been bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus. Only about 20 percent of people infected with the Zika virus become ill, according to the CDC.
The best way to prevent Zika is to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to follow the CDC guidelines which include:

Mitigating mosquitoes on campus
STU is continuing with its proactive steps in mitigating mosquitoes. On a daily basis, our facilities staff conduct an inventory of standing water bodies, including ditches, drains, and ponds. Every 30 days the storm drains on campus are treated with a product to control mosquito larvae; this product is not harmful to fish or other aquatic organisms. Our Office of Physical Plant has completed multiple site-specific sprayings before outdoor events to reduce mosquito activity. In addition, at the request of STU, Miami-Dade County has conducted two mosquito surveys, as recent as two weeks ago, and they did not find active mosquito breeding locations on campus. Furthermore, our Associate Director of Risk Management, Environmental Compliance and Emergency Management actively participates in daily calls with municipal partners, Department of Health, Miami-Dade County, CDC, and other local universities to discuss Zika and measures to mitigate its spread. The STU Athletics Department provides athletes, coaches, and trainers with insect repellent for all outdoor sports for use during practice and games. 
Additional Information
Additional information and updates about the Zika virus will be provided to the campus community as it is available. Please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website,, for more information.
Other Resources:
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What should you do if you have been bitten by a mosquito?
A: Don’t panic. It is highly unlikely, at this time, that you’re going to get Zika. Not all mosquitoes carry Zika, even in the places where the virus is actively spreading. It's the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes that carry the virus, and one of them has to have bitten someone who's infected – and even then, it takes a couple of days for the virus to build up enough in the mosquito's body for the insect to transmit the virus to someone else.
Q: How would you know if you’ve contracted Zika?
A: You may have a rash, mild flulike symptoms, a fever, a headache, red eyes or severe joint pain. These usually appear within a week or 10 days of having been bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus. Only about 20 percent of people infected with the Zika virus become ill, according to the CDC. If you have these symptoms, you can visit the Student Health Center at STU located in the Student Center, or schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Q: How is Zika diagnosed?
A: To diagnose Zika, your doctor will ask you about recent travel and symptoms you may have, and collect blood or urine to test for Zika or similar viruses.
Q: How long does Zika remain in your body?
A: Typically one to two weeks. Once someone has been infected with Zika, it’s very likely they’ll be protected from future infections. There is no evidence that past Zika infection poses an increased risk of birth defects in future pregnancies.

Q: If a woman contracts the virus or shows symptoms, how long should she wait before trying to get pregnant?
A: Eight weeks.
Q: If a male contracts the virus, how long should he and his partner wait to have a baby?
A: Six months.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Move-in Day Brings Bobcats Back to Campus

With boxes, bins and dollies in tow, STU Bobcats returned to campus on a hot and humid Friday morning. Hundreds of new and returning students converged at Cascia Hall to check in and settle in before fall semester classes begin Monday, Aug. 22. Take a look at some of the Move-in Day photos here.