AMU Newsletter Spring 2021


In this issue:

"Saying Yes"


Brother Tom Giardino, SM, Executive Director

The powerful forces of the past pandemic year had a tendency in many of us to lead to a certain passivity regarding our lives.  I was pondering that when I encountered this question in an article I was reading, “What moral resources are available to us to come to terms with the crises we face?

As I considered a response, I realized anew that the Catholic and Marianist traditions of our universities serve us well to reinvigorate our sense of personal agency to be an influence or current for good toward our desired future in the face of our crises.  We can indeed, under grace, take our freedom in our hands and say yes, as Mary of Nazareth did to her call from God.

This reminded me of the “yes” to my call to be a Marianist.  I am an only child from an Italian- American family – many, many expectations!  Grandchildren, family business…you understand.  However, I was by the “designs of Providence” as Fr. Chaminade would say, attending a Marianist high school.  That made all the difference.

The witness of the Brothers and the opportunities I had for leadership were the context to find my own voice and say “yes” to being a Marianist religious, much to my own surprise and the great dismay of my parents. I had never thought of this path for my life before a conversation with one of the Brothers about the church and the different roles in its mission. For example, saying yes gave me the opportunity to lead the development of the Characteristics of Marianist Education and the Characteristics of Marianist Universities.  This initiative has had a worldwide impact on our Marianist educational institutions and served to advance our 200-year tradition. Grace upon grace.

I am not alone in this experience.  In this Newsletter, you will read other stories of saying yes to being a current of good in a community of colleagues to create a desired future that enables our students and others to find their voice and be an influence for change. Together that current becomes a robust river of good, as the prophet Ezekiel says, “Wherever the river flows….fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail….Their fruit shall serve for food and their leaves for medicine.” [Ezek. 47]

At our best, Marianist educators are that kind of current for good.

Bro. Tom 

For a reflection by Marianist laypersons on “Saying Yes,” see this article written for the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 2021, the Patronal Feast of the Marianist Family

Testimonials and Interviews -- Students, Faculty, Staff and Administration

When Mary said yes to the leading of the Holy Spirit, it had an effect on our universities and on the world. It’s not likely that our experience will be as dramatic. Still, we do have the opportunity to lead change, as generations of students, alumni, faculty and staff before us have done. What choice have you made that comes out of your experience to make a positive difference, at your university or for the larger world?

Felicia Cruz (B.A. ’12, M.A. ’14), Ph.D., Interim Executive Director, Blume Library, St. Mary’s University 

Two distinct but related choices during my St. Mary’s experience come to mind when thinking about positive difference. First, my decision to study the digital divide and the relationship between the Latino-White achievement gap in online education for my doctoral dissertation. Although technology can be a great resource and now more than ever a necessity, it’s important to recognize systemic inequalities that do not afford access to everyone. The second choice was when I said yes to adapt our model of training for online teaching at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last March. After completing my doctorate the first week of March, the very next week I was asked to consider changing how we trained faculty to teach online. It went from a 12- to a five-week program and we worked around the clock to assist faculty to ensure the best experience for them and their students. Due to my research, I made sure to speak on the reality of the digital divide and its impact on our students, faculty and staff. Having the courage to speak and challenge the status quo is embedded in me because of my time as a St. Mary’s undergraduate and graduate student.

To read more about Cruz, click here.

Andrew Moyer, Junior, Communication major with certificate in Group Facilitation and Leadership, University of Dayton

For me I think this is a very important question, and the question that I think more of us should ponder more often. What I mean by that is I think as we move forward, we need to continue to remember that our choices sometimes cannot be just for us, but for the betterment of the community around us. One of the choices that I have made for the betterment of our community is serve on the University of Dayton’s Spring 2021 Activities Planning Committee. During my time on this committee, the biggest focus that I had was to plan edifying and safe activities for students on campus that they could enjoy, especially during the time of COVID-19. Some of the activities that I helped plan were Winter Wonderland, which was the implementation and execution of the temporary ice rink on Stuart Field, and a food truck rally in C Lot. The mindset that I had when thinking of activities was to plan events that students could enjoy safely, and still learn about the community that we so often talk about at UD. For me, this also impacts the general morale and mental health of our students on campus. This committee was formed with the goal in mind to have more in-person activities for students on campus. Having more in-person activities gave students the ability to be out of their rooms and conversing in dialogue which is so important for growth of a person and our campus. I strongly believe that when you are blessed to be in a position to voice the concerns of others, that you take the opportunity to better the community for others.

Elijah Abramo, Senior, Business Administration major, Chaminade University 

A choice that I believe has made the most positive difference is a choice I make everyday. It is to be open-minded and enthusiastic about seemingly random opportunities. 

Although, I wasn’t always so flexible. During my senior year of high school I was so tunnel-visioned that I only applied to one school. When that school conditionally accepted me, I assumed everything was going to be alright and ignored all other possibilities. Namely, I ignored my priest’s offer of a 50% scholarship to Chaminade University. But when I was later rejected from my go-to school based on a poor grade, my attitude completely flipped. After that I learned to never rule anything out.

My newfound openness and enthusiasm meant that my college career was so much more colorful than I expected. I’d never had imagined I’d pretend to snort cocaine on a stage, or present a report to a CEO or design the pages in a personal finance guide. Despite lacking the background for those projects people asked me to help because I always showed interest no matter what.

Each of those experiences have built on each other to make me who I am today. My time in the Chaminade theatre productions developed my quick thinking, presentation skills, and artistry. Campus Ministry Fourth Nights brought out my leadership and faith. Even attending just a few meetings in the Interior Design Professional Resource Organization taught me how to effectively organize. Every small experience has built a spark in me and some have grown into a flame for the Chaminade community, and for that I’m blessed.


Wilzave Guzman, Senior, International and Global Studies, and Environmental Science major, St. Mary’s University

Thinking through my experiences at St. Mary's University, I have had opportunities to help my local community and also indigenous communities in Panama through my leadership role in Enactus. I have strived to serve others without expecting something in exchange and reminded myself that what I do now affects the present and the future. Working alongside people of different cultures, different majors and of different faith backgrounds without stumbling on my own beliefs is something I have learned how to better apply in my service — all thanks to my educational and co-curricular journeys as an international student at St. Mary's University. Despite our differences, we all need each other to empower and to grow, to serve one another in the spirit of the Marianist charism.

To read more about Guzman, click here.


Darius Beckham (B.A. '19), current Public Administration graduate student, University of Dayton

I have always believed in living a highly intentional life. My choice to attend the University of Dayton, major in political science and sociology, and pursue a career in public service were all intentional choices. However, these choices were not just to my own benefit. Whenever one decides to fulfill their purpose, the benefit is to all. Throughout my undergraduate years at the University of Dayton, my purpose both on campus and beyond it became very clear to me. As a young black man from Dayton, Ohio with a particular interest in this city’s progress and a host of opportunities provided by the university, I recognized the chance to make a difference. 

On campus, I joined the Executive Board of Black Action Through Unity (BATU). For more than 50 years, BATU has served as the black student union and representative voice for all black students at the University of Dayton. I came to learn that over the years, membership and activity seemed to fluctuate with each class of incoming black students. As an incoming black student and a new member of BATU’s Executive Board, I felt the need to build greater community among black students on campus and to provide programming that would enrich our cultural experience at the University of Dayton. After successfully becoming President of BATU I set out to accomplish just that. Through effective planning and organizing, my Executive Board significantly increased BATU’s membership and presence on campus, we filled voids where they existed, and created new spaces of cultural enrichment that have become BATU tradition. Most notably, BATU led the initial discussions with President Spina to develop a diversity module for all incoming students - known today as UDiversity. 

Off campus, through the Fitz Center’s Dayton Civic Scholars (DCS) program, I joined a cohort of my peers in a three-year commitment to civic engagement within the city of Dayton. Together, my cohort completed our neighborhood capstone by redeveloping the Five Oaks neighborhood park using local grants and the assistance of several community partners.  DCS enabled me to build a network of community leaders and confirmed my passion for serving the Dayton community. With this conviction, I sought to get more involved and joined the Dayton Corps which allowed me to serve as a Neighborhood Organizer within the City of Dayton’s Planning and Community Development Department. 

Upon graduating from the University of Dayton in 2019, I was offered the opportunity to join the Dayton City Commission as a Legislative Aide. I accepted the offer and eventually went on to work directly with Mayor Whaley during some of Dayton’s most difficult times in recent history. Today, I serve as Project Manager of Hall Hunger Initiative – a nonprofit founded by Ambassador and former Dayton Congressman Tony Hall, with the mission of bringing solutions to food insecurity in the Dayton region. 
At every step of my professional career, I have been led by intentionality and a heart for building the Dayton community. It is my choice to be here – where I was raised, where I attended school and where my family continues to live. With great joy, I recently put down deeper roots and purchased a home in the Five Oaks neighborhood – a true full circle moment. Although it would be easier to move to the city of my dreams, I’ve committed myself to building that city right here in Dayton. 

Lance R. Askildson, Chief Academic Officer, Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs, Chaminade University

Adaptation and change has become more than a characteristic of our Marianist approach to education since I came to Chaminade as Provost some eighteen months ago; indeed, since the earliest days of the pandemic, 'adaptation and change' has become a daily aphorism to affirm my personal commitment to supporting our academic enterprise during a period of tremendous uncertainty and unprecedented change.  While I am proud of the totality of our institutional decision-making in the face of the pandemic -- decisions that led to ubiquitous instances of adaptation and change -- I am particularly proud to have been a part of those decisions that placed our community, our 'ohana', at the center of our decision-making calculus. 

When disruptions to in-person work and financial uncertainty appeared with the pandemic last year, our leadership team committed to maintaining the employment of every Chaminade employee and specifically those most vulnerable to these effects; when members of our community expressed concerns about the risks of returning to campus, we instituted unprecedented safety protocols and gave broad discretion to students and faculty to learn and teach in ways that they found most comfortable.  As our community struggled with added stress, workload and anxiety in the midst of the pandemic, we developed ways to significantly expand holiday/vacation breaks alongside opportunities for rest and mental well-being.  Our Marianist mission and ethos has been at the heart of all of these decisions and so many more; and I am proud to be a member of an intellectual and professional community that 'educates in the family spirit' and prioritizes the true value of our university: its people.  


Campus News

A New Chapter
by Alex Z. Salinas (B.A. ’11, M.A. ’19)

Christmas Day, 2018. A couple of bags in hand, Shaima Khalaf flew into San Antonio to start a new life as a student in the Master of Arts in English Literature and Language program at St. Mary’s University. 

For 20 years, Khalaf had been a schoolteacher in Iraq, caring also full time for her mother suffering from Alzheimer’s. 

Earlier in 2018, Khalaf taught an 11-year-old student who was “playful, but wasn’t keeping up with homework,” she said. 

Khalaf’s colleagues warned her not to impede the student’s academic progress — to just pass him — but her strong principles didn’t allow her to act immorally. 

After a tense meeting with the student’s father in the principal’s office at her school, Khalaf learned of the boy’s family connection to a violent militia, which soon issued death threats on her own family. 

“For six months, I was scared for my life,” Khalaf said. “I had to hire a special driver to take me places and then go straight home.”

Already having a master’s degree in English and American literature from University of Baghdad — counting Jane Austen and Emily Brontë among her favorite writers — Khalaf researched similar programs in San Antonio, where her sister and brother-in-law were studying at St. Mary’s. 

“They wanted me to come sooner than later,” so she emailed Mary Lynne Gasaway Hill, Ph.D., Graduate Program Director and Professor of English Literature and Language. 

Hill became Khalaf’s advocate, doing whatever she could to ease her admission to the University as Khalaf prepared paperwork for her visa. 

Hill said she and Khalaf “emailed back and forth for nearly six months, troubleshooting various obstacles, discovering what her literary interests were and learning about each other.” [Read More]


First class of Flyer Promise Scholars to graduate; program removes financial barriers, offers support for underserved students

The University of Dayton's first Flyer Promise Scholars will graduate this spring — cementing the success of the program created to remove financial barriers and offer support for underrepresented and underserved students.

The first class of 40 academically talented undergraduates includes many who never considered applying to UD before Flyer Promise because they saw the University as financially out of reach. The program, designed for seniors at partner high schools who are eligible for the need-based federal Pell Grant, provides significant university- and donor-funded scholarship and grant assistance, along with mentoring, leadership opportunities and other supports. It has grown since 2017 to include 168 students, with 98% on track to graduate in four years.

"I am so proud of each and every student for what they have accomplished," said Dean of Admissions Donnell Wiggins, who oversees the program. "They have persevered through ups and downs; they have changed our campus for the better by starting new organizations like our first Hispanic fraternity; they have served as resident advisors, peer mentors and president's emissaries; and some have even secured job offers months before graduation. They are change agents. They're going to influence the world in a meaningful way."  [Read More]

Service in Action, A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

March 12, 2021 by University Communications & Marketing

“When I’m older, I want to join the Peace Corps.”

Her uncle’s stories of the Peace Corps, living in a faraway place called Togo (West Africa) among people very different from him yet who became lifelong friends, had captured the imagination of Alice Potter ’18, a precocious 4-year-old. It was in her blood. 

Potter and her family grew up in California while her father worked as a software engineer, and they also spent years living abroad, in Italy, Germany and France. Returning to the United States for college was never part of Potter’s plan; however, her mother did an internet search for colleges in the U.S. “with a good record of acceptance and graduation rates,” and Chaminade University of Honolulu popped up. The positive reviews about Chaminade’s student-to-faculty ratio, affordable tuition, overall quality, coupled with its location and Hawai‘i’s mild weather, all sounded very appealing. Her mother told her that if she got in, she would be going to the Marianist university. And to Potter’s surprise, the acceptance letter came. She was anxious to be going back to the U.S. and of all places the most remote 50th state.

There’s no place like Hawai'i

Intimidated at first, she soon made new friends and began thriving in Chaminade’s customized learning experience. She also shared its values of serving the community by volunteering at the  Waikīkī Aquarium. Aside from her studies, Potter also fell in love with Hawai‘i’s marine life and flora and enjoyed learning about the islands’ rich history. “Never before had I encountered a place so profoundly connected to its people like in Hawai‘i,” she says. [Read More]

Human rights award to honor champion of environmental rights; Students to unveil Moral Courage Project about fight for clean water

Environmental and climate justice will be at the heart of a series of University of Dayton events to honor the legacy of Saint Oscar Romero. The series will culminate with the University bestowing its human rights award named in his honor to Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic, leader of the Council of Ki’che’ Peoples which helps preserve indigenous lands against corporate exploitation in Guatemala.

"As a result of her frontline advocacy work, Lolita has faced persecution and has lived in exile since 2017," said Shelley Inglis, executive director of the University of Dayton Human Rights Center. "Her story brings awareness to the role of indigenous women in the fight for environmental justice despite the high levels of gender-based and other violence against them."

"Pope Francis has called for urgent action to combat climate change and protect our integral ecology. Yet, environmental and climate justice defenders remain under attack, with governments, corporations and financiers failing to protect their vital and peaceful efforts. The majority of the human rights activists killed last year were working on environmental, land or indigenous peoples’ rights, predominantly in Latin America."  [Read More]

Returning Home to Chaminade

March 19, 2021 by University Communications & Marketing  

Lupita Ruiz-JonesDr. Lupita Ruiz-Jones, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Chaminade University, wants students to plan their careers with intention, so they end up doing work they love.

The key, she says, is pursuing and doing the things you are interested in, even when you don’t know where they will lead. After all, that’s what worked for her.

She was in high school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when she learned about Chaminade University at a college fair. “I don’t think I ever would have heard of Chaminade except for that booth.”

She wanted to study human impacts on the environment, and she wanted to move away from the desert. Chaminade offered a major in environmental studies, and she was sold.

Seeking out opportunities and going after them has been a life-long pattern for Ruiz-Jones. It’s especially impressive when you learn she was raised by parents who didn’t complete college in a family without the trappings of success.

Her mother was always supportive but struggled with bipolar disorder. Ruiz-Jones’ father went to prison when she was 12, which she says had a significant impact on her. “I really appreciated the ability to choose where I put my attention,” she says.

In one of her first classes, Dr. Gail Grabowsky, now dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, told the students it was great they were there. “She told us, ‘You’re going to love what you do, you’ll make an impact, but you’re not going to become rich.’” [Read More]

St. Mary’s University appoints new Vice President for Mission and new Rector

St. Mary’s University today named the Rev. John Thompson, S.M., Ed.D., as Vice President for Mission; and the Rev. William J. Meyer, S.M., D.Min., as Rector. 

Rev. John Thompson                                                                        Rev. William Meyer                                             
Both appointments begin June 1, but Thompson will delay transitioning to campus until July 1 as he finishes fulfilling his commitment as pastor of Holy Rosary Parish, which is adjacent to the University. 

As called for in the St. Mary’s Bylaws, the appointments of the Vice President for Mission and the Rector are made in consultation with the Marianist Province of the United States and confirmed by the Board of Trustees.  

“Because we have two outstanding professed Marianists with significant leadership experience, including in Marianist higher education, I and my colleagues are delighted that the Marianist Provincial Council and the St. Mary’s Board of Trustees have approved these appointments,” said President Thomas Mengler, J.D. “Father Thompson and Father Meyer will enable the University to continue its strong commitment to educating for formation in faith in significant new ways.” 

In recent years, Thompson has worked closely with the University to build the local community’s Catholic faith and to integrate St. Mary’s students into that outreach. [Read More]


St. Mary’s University appoints new Greehey School of Business Dean 

New dean becomes first Latina to lead the business school 

St. Mary’s University today named Rowena Ortiz-Walters, Ph.D., Dean of the St. Mary’s University Greehey School of Business.  

Ortiz-WalteRowena Ortiz-Waltersrs comes to St. Mary’s from SUNY Plattsburgh, a public liberal arts college that is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) System, where she currently serves as Dean and Professor of Management in the School of Business and Economics. 

“It is an exciting time to be embarking on this new role as the next dean of the Greehey School of Business. I admire the school’s focus on ethical and global business, and I believe I can add a more intentional focus on equity to complement the academic portfolio and reinforce the mission of St. Mary’s University,” Ortiz-Walters said. “As a Hispanic professional, I am also uniquely positioned to engage the Hispanic business community in Texas, which may be an untapped resource for the Greehey School.” 

She begins her tenure as the first Latina dean of the Greehey School of Business in June 2021. 

“After meeting Rowena, I am confident her commitment to her faith and her leadership and work focused on success for all students make her an excellent fit for St. Mary’s University and the Greehey School of Business,” said President Thomas Mengler, J.D. 

Chaminade University Welcomes Jeff Scofield as Dean of Financial Aid

Chaminade University has named Jeff R. Scofield as Dean of Financial Aid, where he will oversee operations of the financial aid office. He brings more than 30 years of experience to the position.

“We’re excited to welcome Jeff to the Silversword team,” said Dr. Lynn Babington, president of Chaminade University. “His expertise will prove invaluable as he leads our experienced team of financial aid professionals in helping to guide students and their families through our many scholarships and financial aid opportunities available.”

Scofield most recently served as Assistant Vice President, Student Financial Services for Seattle University. Prior to that, he was Director of Financial Aid at University of Hawaii at Hilo. He also held financial aid positions with Longwood University in Virginia, Our Lady of the Lake University in Texas and Schreiner College in Texas.

Active in professional organizations, Scofield is a member off the Pacific Financial Aid Association, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, Western Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and The College Board. He received his master’s degree in higher education administration from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Coe College in Iowa.

Chaminade University’s Financial Aid Office offers numerous financial aid opportunities, including merit aid, scholarships, grants, federal loans, alternative loans and federal work study. For the 2020-2021 academic year, 97 percent of undergraduate students received some form of financial aid; more than $15.8 million was awarded in undergraduate aid; and an average of $15,340 in grants and scholarships was awarded to each student.


AMU News

  • AMU has joined “Catholic Organizations Promoting Education of the COVID-19 Vaccination: An Act of Charity and Solidarity.” The coalition is promoting vaccine equity in the U.S. and around the world, drawing on Catholic social teaching, for people who are underserved or marginalized. We join with other Catholic higher education groups e.g. the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the Christian Brothers Conference, the Conference of Mercy Higher Education and others.  For more on this effort see
  • A new AMU Affinity group has begun to meet, i.e. the Deans of the Schools or Departments of Education. They are exploring ways to collaborate on programs and projects.
  • The Marianist Educational Associates initial formation workshop will be virtual this year.  From 17-21 May, twenty-two colleagues will hear presentations and dialogue with each other about their vocation as an educator, the Marianist and higher education story and how to integrate the Marianist educational tradition in their everyday work life.  There are 9 from Chaminade University of Honolulu, 4 from St. Mary’s University and 9 from the University of Dayton.
  • AMU is planning a Symposium for 14-16 June 2022 with the title, “The Promise of Marianist University Education: Engaging a World in Crisis.” The Symposium will be in St. Louis, Missouri.  More information will be forthcoming. 
 Visit our refreshed AMU Website -


The AMU Newsletter is edited by Alex Salinas, St. Mary's University, Sharon LePage Chaminade University of Honolulu, and Verb Washington, University of Dayton

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