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St. Mary’s University alumna Neomi DeAnda, Ph.D., was recently recognized by the National Catholic Reporter as one of 12 women under 40 making a difference in the Catholic Church. Administrative assistant Timothy Powell of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences recently spoke with DeAnda about this honor, her memories of St. Mary’s University, any advice she may have for current students, and those considering a graduate education.

DeAnda (B.A., Psychology and English, ’97; M.A., Educational Leadership, ’99) is director of both the Oscar Romero Scholars Program and the Hispanic Theology and Ministry Program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

How did your St. Mary’s University career prepare you for where you are today?

Attending a university where the student population is primarily Latina showed me that I was part of something special. With the help of my many mentors and peers, I never questioned my ability to continue my education past my undergraduate education.

My psychology major showed me the importance of understanding people, especially genders, but in a more technical way, it taught me research methodologies that are not normative to theology, so it provided me with a foundation for the interdisciplinary work that I do today. My M.A. in Educational Leadership provided a solid foundation for being an excellent educator both in and out of the classroom. 

The course in educational law has been useful to me in many occasions, especially developing programs in higher education. My co-curricular activities through the Service Learning Center prepared me most for my career today.

Finally, I learned to engage with communities, that solidarity and subsidiarity are most important when working with other groups and cultures, and that to create systemic change; we must all participate in that change and understand that it may be a slow process.

Was there any one particular professor/class/activity that influenced your choice to further your education?

So many people fit into this category! Judy Geelhoed was the Director of the Service Learning Center and helped me get a graduate assistantship in the Center. That job provided the financial and career development support to continue beyond my undergraduate education.

Dr. Janet Dizinno’s course on Psychology of Women and Men set me on my long and continual path of gender studies, while Rey Gustamente, Mary Lynne Hill and Andy Hill planted the seed that led me to become a Lay Marianist and eventually a theologian.

While I didn’t finish my M.A. in Theology at St. Mary’s, Dr. Geri Telepak pushed me down that road with a phone call that changed my life when she offered me a scholarship to study theology at the graduate level.

Dr. Jim Sauer challenged our Method in Theology class that Lonergan’s method in theology is the way we all think as human beings. If we thought otherwise, he would use this method to prove how we used the method to reach our argument, therefore refuting our argument. I was hooked on disproving Lonergan’s method that day.

I eventually moved on to other methods and ways of theologizing, but Dr. Sauer really challenged me to think deeply. And of course I could never forget Society of Mary members Chris Jansen, Mike Sullivan and Fred Stovall!

What does your typical day, if there is one, look like?

My days vary greatly! They could include teaching a class or two, meetings concerning various aspects of higher education, writing papers and working on my book, presenting papers at local, national or international conferences, spending time in various archives reading original documents from 15th to 19th century Mexico, mentoring students on navigating the current educational system and how to continue to further education, talking with the media about areas of expertise, fundraising, meeting with various offices from the Archdiocese of Chicago, and coordinating conference sessions. Or any combination of those, too!

Do you have any advice for a St. Mary’s student?

Do not believe ANYONE if they tell you that you cannot do something, become something or create something. Instead, embrace that challenge to follow your dreams and goals in life. Keep in touch with the faculty, staff and administration of St. Mary’s. They will remember you for years, and they really do care about the lifelong education of the entire person.

What does your recent honor from the National Catholic Reporter mean to you?

This recognition is not mine alone. It truly belongs to the many individuals and communities who have journeyed with me and continue to challenge me to try and make this world a little bit better each and every day.

Finally, what is your most fond memory of St. Mary’s?

There are so many, it is very difficult to narrow it down to just one! On a grand scale, I would say building community on campus, on service immersions, and in the Marianist family in general.

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