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Paying Her UST Values Forward

Through alumna Tonia Labbé, University of St. Thomas’ four core values—goodness, discipline, knowledge and community—came full circle to encompass a bright, kind young man who is the first in his family to attend college.  

Francisco Jimenez enrolled at UST in fall 2013, taking the first step on a path to his dream of becoming a medical doctor.

Labbé traces the start of this happy occurrence in his life when she was the programs director at the faith-based Nehemiah Center. She had a passion for the center’s work—to assist children and their parents who are part of the low-income working class. Among its programs, Nehemiah Center provides early childhood education, after-school services and is home to a middle school for sixth, seventh and eighth-graders.

Labbé was told she would be a candidate for promotion to executive director there if she had her master’s degree. Because of UST’s proximity to her job, she enrolled in the master’s program there for psychology.

“I remember being shocked in a good way that classes were so small,” Labbé recalled. “It allowed for meaningful discussions, and I developed friendships that I have to this day.

“Learning psychology was important because much of what I do in my position as executive director is about being able to understand and work with children and their families in a way that validates them and is helpful.

“The academics at UST were rigorous and pushed me to another level. It really prepared me to succeed as head of Nehemiah Center.

“In fact, it was such a phenomenal experience that I was sad when I graduated because I wouldn’t be able to see my professors and friends regularly.”

But the University’s core values would stay with Labbé as a framework for spiritual leadership.  As Executive Director she models the behavior and shares the values with her staff and the families at Nehemiah Center.

When one of the center’s highest-performing kids, Francisco Jimenez, earned a scholarship to University of Rochester in New York and had trouble adjusting so far from home, Labbé suggested he look for a school that would keep him closer to his family. With impressive scores, Jimenez was accepted by several universities. He chose UST, and Labbé knew he made the right decision.

 “UST was the best fit for Francisco because of the quality academics, spiritual setting, and it’s close to his family and his surrogate family at Nehemiah Center,” Labbé said.

Now, he’s a trailblazer for his sister and parents, on his way to becoming a medical doctor. And he can do it. I have no doubt.”  

According to Labbé, UST will be foundational to Jimenez’ success, just as it has been to hers.

“I don’t think I could be the leader I am today without UST’s faith-based environment,” she said. “It creates a powerful dynamic that most other universities cannot offer.”

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