There is about each student at Saint John's a unique story to tell, but every now and again there's a back story that makes it an even more compelling tale. Such is the case with Valentin Sierra ('10) and the alumni who've made all the difference in the world for this promising young man.
My part in this story began on a sunny June day in 2006. For some reason I had not joined my colleagues for lunch, which meant that I was at my desk when Vernon Dahlheimer (1929-2015) called. He had received a letter from Brother Dietrich Reinhart, and in it Dietrich had outlined the University's need for scholarships to support potential students whose dreams for a college education far exceeded their financial means. As an example, Dietrich had cited the case of one specific individual, and quite by chance Vernon had recently heard this young man speak at an event in Saint Cloud.
Valentin Sierra was an international student at Cathedral High School in Saint Cloud, and he was there because of the support of Myriam Mansell, an alumna of the College of Saint Benedict and Spanish teacher at Cathedral. Valentin had impressed Myriam with his drive and personality, and it was clear to her that he belonged at Saint John's University. That caused her to make a special appeal to Brother Dietrich, who in turn sought help from alumni. Fast forward, and it was Mr. Dahlheimer who was on the phone, wanting to devote an IRA to just such an international student.
Valentin was from Manizales, Colombia, where he came from a family of limited circumstances. That allowed him to meet the first of the criteria for the Colombia Scholarship at Cathedral. But as Saint John's emerged as his dream college, it seemed like too much of a stretch, until the day when Mr. Dahlheimer called. At Saint John's my colleague Jim Dwyer ('75) helped Mr. Dahlheimer transfer the IRA, and Rob Culligan ('82) found an anonymous donor who made a four-year commitment to fund international students. Out of the blue, Saint John's had become a reality for Valentin.
Valentin arrived at Saint John's full of promise and energy. He majored in political science and minored in economics. He was active in the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement, and he flourished under the tutelage of its director, Professor Matt Lindstrom ('92). In 2008, along with Professor Lindstrom, he received a Rooney grant for scholarship and travel, and his research had its focus on food systems in his native Columbia.
Valentin went on to write an honors thesis entitled "The Federal Reserve's Mission Conflicts: The Case of the Subprime Crisis." At the end of his senior year he graduated magna cum laude, and then he was accepted into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa national honors society -- the first international student at Saint John's to gain such recognition.
Formative for Valentin's future was his summer in Washington, DC, in 2009, where he participated in the Political Science Department's Summer Study Program. There he interned at Dutko Worldwide and worked with Mark Irion ('83), who at the time was CEO at Dutko and later became president at Levick, a public relations firm.
Still later that internship brought a job offer from Dutko, which led to yet another Johnnie-connected position at Washington Core. There he worked with Kiyoshi Nakasaka, CEO, a graduate of Tokyo's Sophia University who had been an exchange student at Saint John's during the 1986-87 school year.
Last year Valentin returned to Colombia, where he now does work in business and consulting for an international conservation organization, as well as working as a contractor for Washington Core. There he's enjoyed the chance to reconnect with family and friends, but he knows the journey's just begun.
Eventually Valentin plans to return to the US for graduate school. What life holds after that is anyone's guess, but it's filled with possiblities because of the promise one alumna of CSB first saw in him. And there's no doubt that a network of Johnnie alumni will be with him as he steps into a bright future.