One gift alone can contribute to transformative educational opportunities — the defining moments that change a student’s trajectory from unsure to successful, elevate a professor’s research into the national limelight and support the St. Mary’s University community in its faith journey through Catholic and Marianist traditions.
Now, multiply the glory these types of gifts can bring. Not by 10 or 20, but by more than 10,000.
Each takes St. Mary’s a step closer to realizing its vision to become one of the finest private universities in the region. Each propels the most ambitious fundraising effort ever undertaken at St. Mary’s — The Defining Moment Comprehensive Campaign launched in Fall 2017.
In November 2019, the University announced already surpassing the goal of $130 million and increasing the campaign to a new $150 million goal.
St. Mary’s has received $51.5 million in student scholarship gifts and grants, which created 78 new endowed scholarships. Another $11.9 million has funded state-of-the-art transformations of classrooms and labs with equipment that graduates will use in industry, research and health care.
In the words of Alicia Cordoba Tait, D.M.A., whose position as the inaugural Beirne Director of the Center for Catholic Studies was funded by one of these donations, “the ‘Defining Moment’ is believing what is possible.”
She shares that belief in what is possible with the students and faculty across campus who — thanks to the campaign’s donors — have already witnessed the evolution of their experiences in faith formation, and academic and research excellence.
“In Catholic higher education, I found an environment where you can be all of who you are, especially when you allow your faith to be prominent in that,” Tait said. “I’m a better musician. I’m a better teacher. I’m a better human being because I’m allowed to be true to myself and I’m surrounded by people who are allowed to be true to themselves.”
Jose Figueroa, a junior from San Antonio studying Physics and Mathematics, gives thanks for the opportunities provided by those who have donated to improve research opportunities.
“Young people, especially people of color in the sciences, just need a chance,” said Figueroa, who has interned with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. “Breaking the mold is something I don’t take for granted. Doing that internship proved that I can research. I can go anywhere in the world and be a good scientist.”
The recently renovated Brother William Hamm Physics Lab is greatly enhancing courses “crucial in the preparation for future engineers and scientists,” said Richard Lombardini, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physics.
A St. Mary’s scholarship also changed the life of Mya Culiver, a Computer Engineering junior and Women’s Basketball guard from New Mexico.
“Any financial assistance is a blessing,” she said. “I believe we have a purpose here on Earth to love and serve others. The people who have provided funds for me are a step ahead on that, and I will be doing the same when I’m in the position to do so.”
Gifts to support scholarships help the School of Law recruit and retain the best and hardest working students.
“Donors’ generosity has enabled me to not have to take out so many student loans. It created an opportunity for me to go to school and work less if needed. I can be a member of the mock trial team in the evening, study in the morning and work in the afternoon. I’m also the chair of the Board of Advocates,” said Marina Lewis, J.D. Class of 2020, Deborah K. Melaas Scholarship recipient.
In addition to scholarships, the University increased the number of Marianist Leadership Program students on campus, thanks to donations. These opportunities give students like Laura Dicún, a junior Management major and Entrepreneurship and Innovation minor from Argentina, more skills to propel their careers.
“The Marianist Leadership Program has empowered me to be a leader for my community,” she said. “It has helped me discover where my strengths and weaknesses are, where I need to grow even more. The idea of being able to lead with the Marianist charisms is very significant to my future, especially because I want to be in education.”
The Defining Moment is not just changing the lives of students through scholarships and programs, but it is also helping by funding and refurbishing classrooms and labs. Funds have also supported 14 new endowed academic positions.
Verónica Contreras-Shannon, Ph.D., Professor of Biological Sciences, now teaches the scientists of the future within a recently renovated biology classroom.
“Research as an undergraduate can be a transformative experience,” she said. “As a mentor, I can see that transformation at work in my students. When students are in the research lab working on answering real questions that could impact health and disease, they learn biology in a whole new way.”
Nicholas Romero, a senior Mechanical Engineering major from California, has benefited as a student from The Defining Moment Campaign because of the new labs on campus and as a member of the Marianist Leadership Program.
“The Mechanical Engineering program has given me the skills required to work in an engineering-related industry right out of undergraduate school, but with an emphasis on the importance of establishing interpersonal relationships and reflecting the characteristics of a Marianist education,” he said.
Benefits also extend to students within the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Samantha Shine Trabucco, a Master of Arts in Public History student from Floresville, Texas, said she is able to give back to the San Antonio community thanks to the University’s Promoting Post-Baccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans Program.
“Through the Program, I’ve had the opportunity to partner with the nonprofit Esperanza Center to produce a digital project on the history of the Missions and Tejano culture, she said.
The Defining Moment does not just help students today, but creates leaders of the future.
“My life was transformed because a St. Mary’s professor saw in me more than I saw in myself and cared enough to spend the time necessary to get me to see my potential,” said David Sommer, Ph.D., Charles E. Cheever Chair of Risk Management and a St. Mary’s alumnus. “The most rewarding aspect of my job is being able to play a part in the transformational process our students undergo here. To assist our students as they develop into promising young professionals and genuinely good people is an honor that I never take for granted.”