Bold Dreams for Advocacy, Systemic Change

Dr. MayKao Hang
Dr. MayKao Hang, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Founding Dean of Morrison Family College of Health. (Courtesy University of St. Thomas)

recent addition to the University of St. Thomas, the Morrison Family College of Health aims to educate health providers to address the wellness of the whole person. 

Opened in 2019the Morrison Family College of Health consists of the school’s existing graduate psychology and social work programs. It consists of the existing Graduate School of Professional Psychology and School of Social Work programs, plus undergraduate programs in the Department of Health and Exercise Science, and the upcoming School of Nursing, consisting of proposed graduate and undergraduate nursing programs. 

Dr. MayKao Hang, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Founding Dean, said the College of Health is set apart by prioritizing diverse enrollment while also taking a unique approach to health care, emphasizing mental and spiritual well-being in addition to traditionally emphasized physical health for individuals, families and community members. 

According to St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan, the college has the potential to address systemic community health care problems.  

“I’d like to transform how we think about health, particularly through the education process that we’re delivering in the Morrison College, to look at those other dimensions of health,” Hang said. “The students who we educate through the Morrison College will have some guiding principles that they learn, and one of them is this piece that is about advocacy and systemic change.” 

landmark $25 million gift from John M. Morrison and Susan Schmid Morrison jump-started the college, according to the university. It has since grown, and Hang said the college has an enrollment of 853 undergraduate and graduate students, making it one of St. Thomas’ largest colleges.  

The university plans to expand by establishing a new School of Nursing, in addition to the psychologysocial work and exercise science programs. The School of Nursing, which is projected to open up in fall 2022, is a focal point of the university’s efforts toward diversification. 

According to Hang, the College of Health wants to have the most diverse class of students ever coming to St. Thomas for nursing. 

To reach her goal of at least 30% diversity, Hang said the College of Health is working on funding scholarships that will help bring in more first-generation, low-income and racially diverse students.  

Hang said much of what she focuses on in her job relates to engagement with local, underrepresented communities, true to the Catholic social teachings touted at St. Thomas. 

Hang has a background in serving the community, serving as the president and CEO of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. She said she has spent 24 years promoting health and wellbeing in the community. 

Hang came to the United States from Laos when she was 4 years old after living in a refugee camp in Thailand for a year. She knows the importance of helping those in need. 

“I really want to have better engagement with partnerships in the community and placements for students that look really different than what we have now,” Hang said. 

The increased diversity Hang envisions would be groundbreaking for St. Thomas; first time first year students at St. Thomas in 2020 consisted of 19% students of color, according to the university’s website.