Fontbonne Helps Students Soar Higher and Find Their True Calling
Anna Hotop, a 2013 graduate from Fontbonne University’s religious studies and psychology programs, started her college career with a plan to become a theology teacher. But plans change, and with the loving support of the Fontbonne community, Hotop ended up discovering her true calling. Today, she’s the director of campus ministry at St. Joseph’s Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school in St. Louis founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the same religious order that founded Fontbonne.
As Hotop now knows, what you learn in the classroom may prepare you for a job, but Fontbonne University gives students more than that. The entire university experience empowers students to succeed with purpose through academics, the support of a caring community and a service-oriented mission that helps students discover not just their place in the world, but how they can make a real difference. Fontbonne University helps its students soar higher.
A Strong Academic Foundation
Fontbonne offers strong, varied academic programs within a personalized campus community. Like many students, Hotop was drawn to Fontbonne’s small size. “I felt like my education was geared toward my interests and my professors were invested in my success,” she says.
DeMarcus Davis, who earned a bachelor’s degree in communications at Fontbonne in 2017 and is now a graduate student working toward a master’s degree in management and leadership, agrees. “Professors have more direct contact with students here, and if you’re not feeling well or if you get behind, they really care and reach out to check on you,” he says. “They want to help you reach your goals.”
To ensure students are given the best chance for success, Fontbonne offers a number of academic supports, including individualized tutoring, supplemental instruction and academic coaching.
One-on-one coaching, in particular, has helped many students, whether they are struggling or simply want to step up their studying game. “Students work with an academic coach to create strategies to become autonomous, self-sufficient learners,” says Amy Simons, director of student success and engagement. “A lot of what we do is help students organize and manage their time, which is a common source of struggle.”
A Caring Community
Hotop said she knew Fontbonne was home when she realized she couldn’t walk across campus without someone greeting her by name. “In high school, I was used to people knowing who I was, and I was nervous that going to college meant I would lose that —but I didn’t,” she says. “I am so grateful for the environment at Fontbonne where I felt known, cared for and supported.”
There are countless ways for students to get involved at Fontbonne. For Hotop, that meant becoming an orientation leader, participating in student government and playing on the women’s soccer team. “It’s so fulfilling being with people who enjoy the same things as you. Fontbonne taught me the importance of community and doing what you love,” Hotop says.
She also got involved in campus ministry her senior year, a step that would change the course of her career. During a retreat, she met with a spiritual advisor each day who helped her focus on her future. “At the time, I thought I wanted to be a theology teacher, but my advisor encouraged me to think deeper and reflect on where God was calling me,” Hotop recalls. “She connected me with St. Joseph’s Academy, and now here I am, loving going to work every day.”
Davis likewise found a sense of belonging through campus ministry and is now the campus ministry graduate assistant at Fontbonne. In addition to planning retreats and promoting campus ministry events, Davis is an advocate for vocational discernment. “Vocation is not limited to the religious world,” he explains. “We all think about what we want to do in life and what we want to get out of it, and I want to help those in the Fontbonne community set their path.”
Home for All
Through various campus organizations and scholarship programs such as the Fontbonne Promise, Fontbonne works to continue evolving as an inclusive campus, and hopes all students feel a similar sense of belonging.
And it seems to be working. This fall, Fontbonne welcomed the largest, most diverse incoming class in a decade, with increases in students of color, as well as first-generation students and those with high economic need — populations that are often sorely underrepresented on college campuses.
Once students get to campus, Fontbonne offers solutions to ensure students successfully make the transition to college life. One such program is Griffins Achieving Progress, which pairs incoming students with upperclassmen in mentoring relationships. The program began in 2015 and has been a huge success, achieving a 90 percent retention rate among participants. “We encourage our mentors to meet their mentees at least once a month to check in,” says Leslie Doyle, recent past director of service, diversity and social justice. Particularly first-generation college students, who often don’t have someone to teach them the ropes, it’s important for them to have someone on campus to guide them.
Another indicator of Fontbonne’s inclusive community is the recent growth of the school’s Black Student Union. Currently the largest it’s ever been in Fontbonne’s history, the organization plays a significant role in retaining students of color. “We have a vibrant group of women on the board, and they’ve done a great job engaging first-year students and providing them with a strong sense of community. They’ve worked hard to educate the campus community on issues of diversity,” Doyle says.
Rooted in Love
Everything at Fontbonne, both inside andoutside the classroom, is rooted in the school’s mission to form students into global citizens who think critically, act ethically and serve responsibly, as well as to “serve the dear neighbor without distinction,” a charge passed down from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Service is an important piece of students living out Fontbonne’s mission, and the school offers students many opportunities to serve, both locally and farther afield.
Each spring break, students can participate in an immersion service project. This year’s project, called the St. Louis Urban Plunge, will take a look at food sustainability in St. Louis. Smaller, but no less important service opportunities take place on Service Saturdays with a variety of organizations, such as Gateway Greening and the St. Louis Housing Authority.
During her time at Fontbonne, Hotop participated in a service trip to Kenya, where students spent two weeks serving in a school for children with special needs. “Before I went to Kenya with Fontbonne, I didn’t know I was missing that part of my life. It opened up a whole new world for me,” she says. “Overall, Fontbonne gave me the time and space to intentionally think about what my calling was and to become fully me. That was accomplished through the whole picture — the service opportunities, the education, the support and the community.”