The co-chairs of this year's Faculty and Staff Giving Campaign are Lê Xuân Hy, associate professor of psychology, and Katie O'Brien Gozart, associate director of admissions. Both took very different paths to Seattle University. And both are about as invested as you can be in the institution.
Hy fled Vietnam in 1975, the evening before Saigon surrendered, and settled in Saint Louis where he attended Jesuit sister school Saint Louis University. He would go on to earn a PhD in psychology and work at Rockhurst, a Jesuit school, and other universities, as well as a stint in D.C. as a congressional fellow before arriving at SU in 1999. He is director of both the Institute for Human Development and Catholic Studies program and is serving as the 2014-2016 Gaffney Chair.
O'Brien Gozart similarly knows her way around Jesuit education. Hailing from Spokane, she graduated from Gonzaga Prep before earning two degrees from Seattle University-a BA in Communication Studies (Nonprofit minor) in 2007 and an MEd in Student Development Administration in 2013. Since 2008, she has worked in SU's Admissions Office.
The Commons: Why did you agree to serve as co-chairs of the Faculty and Staff Giving Campaign?
Katie O'Brien Gozart: I've been involved as a committee member for the past several years. It's been a good process for me to get to know the people in my division and to do a little bit of a reflection on why I choose to work at Seattle University and why I enjoy the work that I do. Asking people to participate is not always the easiest thing to do but it always goes back to the students that we serve. In the Admissions Office, we're serving them before they get to campus. (The Faculty and Staff Giving Campaign) is a way to be engaged with the students after they are here and allowing people to understand the different ways that students need support, financially. In my time as a Seattle University student, I benefited from scholarships and subsidized programs, so I definitely want to be able to give back.
Lê Xuân Hy: I am a team player and repaying a debt. Forty years ago I was admitted to another Jesuit school, Saint Louis University, and had a financial aid package. A third of it was guaranteed student loans. I had to have someone cosign because I was not a U.S. citizen at the time. I went out and asked every person I knew and no one cosigned for this refugee. When I went back to the loan officer and told them no one would cosign for me, I expected to be expelled. But he said, "Fine. You got a grant." That made the difference in my life between being expelled and going on to receive a doctorate. It was a crucial moment.
The Commons: What would you say to encourage a faculty or staff member to make a gift to Seattle University?
Katie O'Brien Gozart: In the admissions world, we have two sides of the coin. My job is one part counseling when I work with students in a very tug-at-your-heartstrings way-they're making this big choice-and the other side is very business-oriented. So I approach this campaign sort of in the same way. On the business side of things, the more that the university can show that faculty and staff and alumni are supporting the institution-not in terms of quantity of dollars, but percentage-can actually boost the value of a Seattle University degree because it's something that can leverage more donations, it can improve our rankings in various national publications. From the heartstrings side, I think it's about the students we work with, day in and day out, and recognizing that higher education is not something that is easily accessible for a lot of students.
Lê Xuân Hy: I would not tell a faculty member to donate because faculty members are trained to critique everything (laughs). It's my opinion that the most tremendous contribution our faculty make is their heart and mind, not their pockets, and so they've done a lot already. I want to take any opportunity to appreciate everybody here. Behind endless disagreements, however, is a united heart, for the students and for one another. I would like to appeal to my colleagues to show this unity by making a donation of any size, even (a donation of) $5 as a sign that "I'm in with you all." (I am also an alumnus of a college with the highest ratio of alumni donation in the nation, and I am very proud of that. I also hope that we, at Seattle University, can all feel great to have the highest ratio of faculty unity in this, and that would be amazing.)
Katie O'Brien Gozart: I think that's a hard thing, too-recognizing that higher education doesn't pay a whole lot, so helping people understand that it doesn't have to be a significant amount.
The Commons: Why did you decide to work at SU?
Katie O'Brien Gozart: After I graduated from SU, I worked at Big Brothers Big Sisters, in development, and really liked the idea of working for an institution with a strong mission. I had been a tour guide in the Admissions Office when I was an undergraduate student and found that speaking about the merits of a Seattle University education every day to prospective students was something that I really enjoyed. And in true Jesuit fashion, it helped me reflect a little bit about how much I liked all the elements of not just Jesuit education but in the context of Seattle University and being right in the middle of the city. So when an admissions counselor position opened up, I thought, "Yeah, I think I'd like to do that." I didn't know that I was going to make a career of admissions initially, which I think you'll find with a lot of people in that field. I started working with the undergraduate tour guides. I really love working with students and seeing their growth over their time here. I was inspired by those students to go on and get my master's in Student Development Administration.
Lê Xuân Hy: Before I came to SU, I was working for the U.S. Congress and really enjoyed it. I conducted research for the Subcommittee on International Relations and Human Rights. I often gave briefings to senators and congressmen. Almost every time, they asked me, "Are you a teacher?" I guess I kind of had this professorial (quality to me). In the evenings I found myself going back to universities-teaching a course on human development, taking courses. I was doing my left-hand work at universities and after a while thought, "Why don't I make this my real work?" So I came to SU and on my first day Father Bill Le Roux and Father Steve Sundborg knew me by name. There was a camaraderie. I just got a different feel (at SU than the other institutions I was considering). And our department (psychology) is amazingly friendly. I've never seen it in any other department anywhere in the country.
The Commons: What keeps you at SU?
Katie O'Brien Gozart: I love working with (prospective) students who are in such a hopeful time in their lives and making a transition, and even if they're not going to select Seattle U, I love being able to help them understand that this is their first big choice that they get to make of where they're going to go and eventually who they're going to be. I read college essays pretty much straight from November through February and you get these students who write about their hopes and dreams for college and it's so exciting and I cry very easily so I'm not a very good barometer but a lot of them make me tear up. Being able to see just a snippet of these very diverse backgrounds and experiences and getting a snapshot of who they would be on our campus and getting to play a small role in shaping the students who are here is very exciting to me, and seeing the students who maybe haven't seen their full potential because that's what Seattle U did for me as a student. I did fine in high school but Seattle U is a great place to take students who are on that upward swing, not necessarily valedictorians-they're great, too!-and find a place for them here. And I did way better in college than in high school, I think because I had that attention from professors and people who saw potential in me and gave me that space to grow.
I also love the people I work with. I think we have an outstanding team, not only in my specific department but across campus and am really grateful for the support that they give me.
And just as a university, the way the university listens to our community through things like the Seattle University Youth Initiative or even with the campus climate survey (conducted by the Task Force for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence), everything's not perfect but the university, I think, really strives to make sure this is a place where people can pursue that mission together.
The Commons: How about you, Hy, what keeps you here at SU?
Lê Xuân Hy: The same thing that drew me here has kept me here: the relationships, with colleagues, students, staff, administrators, parents, donors, and the larger community. I have also discovered excellent quality. Our Psychology department balances qualitative and quantitative methods better than any school I know, including Harvard. Our Center for Community Engagement is vibrant, with the best approaches. Our Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture connects Seattle University to top-notch minds around the globe. There are so many other good people and programs here.
The Commons: What do you like best about your job?
Lê Xuân Hy: Four things-it really nourishes my soul. The Ignatian spirituality (and opportunity to) keep learning. Maybe three-quarters of teaching is actually learning so I enjoy that. Second, I'm proud that a number of my students have achieved well. One student in my class was reading a selection by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi-who wrote the book Flow and is one of the creators of positive psychology. The student said, "I want to study with that guy," and he's now about 23 years old and finishing a doctorate with Csikszentmihalyi. So we have strong students here. Third is the collaboration of faculty. Right now I'm teaching a course with Catherine Punsalan (director of the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture), Tito Cruz (associate dean of academic affairs in the School of Theology and Ministry) Bob Stephan (chaplain for Ignatian leadership) and Trung Pham. The fourth is Seattle U has really allowed me to work in the community and I've done that around the world.
The Commons: When did you realize you wanted to be a teacher?
Lê Xuân Hy: When I was eight years old. I went to a friend's house. He was not home and his mom kind of glared at me and asked me, "What are you here for?" And it just came out of me-"I'm here to tutor your son!"
The Commons: What is your hope for Seattle University in the years ahead?
Lê Xuân Hy: (As fewer Jesuits will be available to us in the years ahead) we need to ask how we can really capture their spirit. We really have to ask, "What is the Jesuit Catholic spirit that we want and how can we embody that?" It's a very difficult task and an interesting challenge.
Katie O'Brien Gozart: Aside from meeting our enrollment goals (laughs) , for me, it would be continuing to increase diversity in all different kinds at Seattle U. Access is going to be a continuing conversation. So there's that one foot rooted in the history, tradition and mission, and how we can continue (to build) on that as a modern university.
The Commons: What do you like to do in your free time?
Katie O'Brien Gozart: I like to be outdoors. I'm an avid reader. I live in Greenwood and enjoy being close to Green Lake and living in Seattle.
Lê Xuân Hy: More and more I'm enjoying writing. One little pet project I'm doing on the side is writing a third-grade religious education book. I use everything I know to work on that book, from developmental psychology to pedagogy to spirituality to everything else I have. That would have more readership than anything else I've ever written (laughs).