10:46 AM

UST Celebrates Retiring Faculty Members, Drs. John Starner, Michele Simms and Lee Williames

Read about the careers of three UST faculty members – Dr. John Starner, Dr. Michele Simms and Dr. Lee Williames, who will retire in 2021. UST celebrates their legacies.

Make Plans to Attend the Retirement Party for 2020 and 2021 Faculty Retirees

The University will celebrate faculty retiring in 2020 (delayed due to COVID) and 2021 at a party scheduled at 3:30 – 5:30 p.m., May 12 in Scanlan Room, Jerabeck Center. The campus community is invited.

Retires include Charles Krohn, Robin Williamson, Carl Scott, Nicole Casarez, Lee Williames, Sr. Marie Faubert, Ravi Srinivas, Fr. Donald Nesti, (late) Sheila Waggoner, John Starner, Livia Bornigia, Michele Simms, Robert LeBlanc, Randy Soffer, Eduardo Torres, Angelina Chambers, Phyllis Kritek and Yvette Rolle.

Math Professor Dr. John Starner Retires,
His Servant Leadership Lives On

Dr. John StarnerGoing but not gone, Dr. John Starner plans to stay on at St. Thomas as a professor emeritus, who will continue to teach and to serve the Math Department’s activities where needed.

When you think of John Starner, two things come to mind. One is that then UST President, Dr. Robert Ivany, saved his life when he had a heart attack at a University golf tournament. The other is that over the years, he has fulfilled a myriad of duties at St. Thomas which revealed leadership talents beyond his award-winning teaching in the classroom. Starner earned the St. Thomas Aquinas Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2004-2005.

“Dr. John Starner is finally getting to enjoy his much-deserved retirement,” Dr. Dominic Aquila, former VPAA and Provost during a good part of Starner’s tenure at UST, said. “He had wanted to retire much earlier, but instead, answered the call over and over during the past decade to continue serving as Professor, Chair, and Dean. He is the embodiment of servant leadership. John was our always-reliable, go-to person for the urgent academic and administrative needs of the University. He had that rare blend of leadership virtues: approachability, affability, good humor and high competence in whatever he put his mind to. John was a trusted counselor during my years as the University’s Provost, and now and always a good friend.”

Leadership in Action

From 1998 - 2008, Starner served as chair and associate professor of the MISY Department. There he developed the MSIS graduate degree program in the Cameron School of Business. He became an associate professor of mathematics and computer science in 2008 and served in that position until 2020. He also served as chair of that department from 2016 - 2020. During that time he was instrumental in developing and teaching the summer STEM program, which later morphed into the Mendenhall STEM track. He co-authored with Dr. Shelia Waggoner the Computer Science undergraduate curriculum, and he co-authored with Dr. Jack Follis the graduate Master of Science in Data Science Program.

While serving as chair of the Senate Leadership from 2009 - 2010, Starner authored the Faculty Development Planning Process. In 2010 he was elevated to associate dean of Arts & Sciences, a role he held for five years. During that stretch, he established the Arts & Sciences data-driven enrollment management system and brokered the cooperative engineering program partnership agreements with Texas A&M University.

Starner served as Interim Dean of Arts & Sciences twice from 2015 - 2016 and 2019 - 2020. During those times, he began the process of doing data-driven fiscal management in Arts & Sciences, and he co-authored, along with Dr. Chris Evans, the restructuring of the A&S plan that led to the current A&S structure and a balanced budget.

Cherished Moments

Starner had this to say about his time at UST: “The University of St. Thomas has given me many things that I will continue to cherish as I step away. Among these is a deeper understanding of Christ’s role in all of our daily lives; a wonderful collection of colleagues and friends; and many hundreds of experiences with, and memories of, the wonderful students on their journeys through St. Thomas.”

Business Professor Dr. Michele Simms Retires,
Leaves Long-lasting Legacy

Dr. Michele SimmsCameron School of Business Professor Michele Simms joined the faculty in 2001 after serving as an adjunct for two years. During her tenure, Simms taught for 12 years in the MBA program and 10 years in the undergraduate program in management. She also taught in the programs for Honors, Catholic Studies, and Women and Culture. She co-taught in PHIL/BBA courses with Dr. Ted Rebard. Simms became a full professor in 2013.

Simms Service

Also, Simms served as co-director/director for the Center for Faculty Excellence from 2008 - 2011; director and Cullen Endowed Chair for the Cameron School of Business’ Center for Business Ethics from 2011 - 2013; Director of Initiative for University Excellence from 2013 - 2017; and Cameron Endowed Chair in Management and Marketing 2017 - 2021.

Simms said, “In my 21-year tenure at UST, I've served three presidents, seven vice presidents for Academic Affairs, seven deans, six chairs and a few thousand students, who are my first love.”

Simms Shapes the Cultivating of Faculty Excellence

“I congratulate Dr. Michele Simms on a stellar career at the University of St. Thomas,” Dr. Dominic Aquila, former VPAA during much of Simms’ tenure at UST, said. “She was always at the ready to step up and take on new responsibilities. Besides her excellence in teaching and scholarship, as director of the University’s Center for Faculty Excellence, Dr. Simms shaped the University’s approach to cultivating faculty excellence and collegiality. She organized round tables in which faculty members from all disciplines would meet regularly to discuss books and innovative teaching strategies. I know that I speak for many, many faculty and staff at the University in celebrating Dr. Simms as the ideal colleague. She will be greatly missed.”

Ever so Humble

"UST has given me several opportunities to contribute, learn and grow in both academic and nonacademic roles,” Simms said. “I've had a remarkable number of encounters with the incredible people who grace this campus. I count myself among the most fortunate, certainly among the most grateful.”

When asked about her legacy is, Simms noted, “I hope to be remembered as someone who took the time to listen.” And she will be.

After retirement, Simms plans to travel and re-engage her volunteer commitments to equine rehabilitation and animal rescue.

History Professor Dr. Lee Williames Retires,
72-years in Catholic Education

Dr. Lee WilliamesHistory Professor Dr. Lee Williames is closing his grade book and leaving Catholic education after being steeped in it as a student and a teacher for 72 years.

He was formed as a person and scholar/teacher through 18 years of Catholic education from first grade through his master’s degree. His doctoral mentor was Dr. Sidney Harcave who was a person of faith, an Orthodox Jewish scholar and a famous Russian historian. Williames states, “I chose to commit my life to Catholic higher education. I have taught and led for more than 54 years in three Catholic universities.” 

UST President Emeritus Joseph McFadden and his wife Norma sent these good wishes to Lee Williames and his wife Frances. “Lee was a long-time UST administrator, faculty member and dear friend. Early in my term as president, I hired him as vice president for Academic Affairs and he served me and UST faithfully. He never let himself become discouraged, always found a way to work through any issues without losing his cool or self-confidence. We had many great experiences together and maintained our friendship and faith in UST throughout our tenure at this great University. One cannot thank Lee for his services without mentioning his faithful wife Frances who was always assisting him in some way or another. May God bless them both in their new stage of life. “

Prior to coming to UST in 1992 as vice president for Academic Affairs and professor of History, Williames served at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania as assistant provost for Academic Affairs and professor of History. Before that engagement, he served 20 years as professor of History and Government, Director of Liberal Studies and director of the Honors Program at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania.

Administrators Teaching

“I believe it is worth noting that Dr. McFadden as president taught at least one course each year and he expected all academic administrators to do the same,” Williames said. “This was a practice I had experienced previously and strongly supported. As a teacher, you remain in touch with the heart of the enterprise — students and learning. You also experience the underside of the pyramid of delivery of services and support, you know how the system actually works. It was also a joy and therapeutic to work directly with the students.”

Notable Moments as VPAA at UST 

  • Academic Council: During his tenure at St. Thomas as VPAA, Williames, with the approval of the President, formed an Academic Council coordinating the actions of all of the schools in the University and facilitating academic planning, budgeting and integrated academic action including the Master Schedule at UST. 
  • Academic Program Review: Williames, with the approval of the President, also led the creation of the Academic Program Review process that enabled evaluation to be linked with planning: identifying quality initiatives, and then coordinating that with budgeting. 
  • Move into Computer Age:  In consultation with then-President Dr. McFadden, he was able to move to “desktop computing” for all faculty, as well as across the University, and to move to the internet and email.
  • Faculty Earn Terminal Degrees: Another source of pride was facilitating, in consultation with the President, faculty initiatives to complete their terminal degrees, and by 1998 more than 92 percent of the faculty held terminal degrees in their field. In addition, he saw a need and gained approval for a Dean of Special Sessions and the Master’s in Liberal Arts Program.
  • Diversity at St. Thomas: During his tenure as VPAA, Williames supported diversity at St. Thomas and nominated for appointment three women for dean’s positions in the School of Theology, the School of Education and the MLA and Evening & Special Sessions Programs. “I supported diversity in hiring at all levels,” he said. He also supported Black students at UST in the early 1990s and helped the students to found an African American Club, where he served as faculty sponsor.
  • UST Intercession Program, also The Compressed Track Program, and related Courses: He led the creation of the UST Intersession Program and courses. He also created, with the Chairs and Deans, the compressed Track Program and the Intercession as a larger effort to increase enrollment and options for traditional and non-traditional students. It also stimulated study-abroad opportunities.
  • Undergraduate Research Program: He also focused attention on the Undergraduate Research Program and, through the Academic Council, committed funding to support the student research and faculty mentorship. “I focused these efforts, creating funding to support this high-quality teaching-learning experience in all majors. I initiated the University-Wide Research Symposium in April and allocated funding for it,” he said. “This energized and spotlighted (undergraduate and graduate) research in all majors at UST. It also profiled the mentoring and high quality of faculty-guided Student Research.”

Back to the Classroom full time

After a series of major orthopedic surgeries in 1997 and 1998, with one post-operation period requiring five months in bed wearing a chest-to-knee body cast, he resigned as VPAA and took a sabbatical. In 2000, he returned to the classroom full time, teaching history, his first love, and eventually when needed, served as the department chair for four years.

Sense of Achievement as a Teacher:

“I am retiring as a teacher and my sense of achievement comes from the idea that ‘a teacher affects eternity,’” he said. “Teachers pass what we have learned on to several generations of students. In my case, now over more than five decades, I have taught thousands of students, and they, in turn, teach others, passing on ideas they have learned or created through time like ripples in an infinite pond. I had the privilege of making many ripples over half a century touching the minds of many.”

Williames retires as Professor Emeritus and VPAA Emeritus.

What Retirement Holds 

“After retirement, I hope to write on topics and ideas I have developed over the past years that I didn’t have time to write about in the rushed flow of life and teaching,” Williames said.