By Walter Villa, Special To STU
What is old is new again.
Colin Roche, Ph.D., the Dean of Biscayne College for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, has made sure of that fact.
The two-story building that houses his and other offices as well as classrooms serves as the historic foundation of St. Thomas University.
STU’s roots trace back to May of 1961, when Cuban dictator Fidel Castro forcibly closed Universidad Catolica de Santo Tomas de Villanueva, confiscating the land and jailing at gunpoint the school’s American vice president, Father Edward McCarthy.
He was held for 11 days at a makeshift detention center before he was freed, boarding a plane to Miami. It was there that Father McCarthy and other Augustinian priests/faculty members started Biscayne College.
Dr. Roche, in a sense, has inherited that legacy, embracing Biscayne College’s rich history while simultaneously modernizing both the look, and the function of the school.
Among the physical changes the tireless Dr. Roche has instituted since becoming the full-time dean in July of 2023 are new LED lighting, bulletin boards for each college, accent walls with assorted colors in every room, and a lounge for the Honors College with fresh fruit and snacks donated by Publix. Dean Roche also had the old carpeting replaced by new flooring.
“At a public university, all those changes would have to go through eight committees,” Dean Roche said. “But here, with the support of President David A. Armstrong, J.D., and of Provost Michelle Johnson-Garcia, we got all of that accomplished quickly.”
Aesthetics aside, Biscayne College is truly the heart of the university, as it houses nine undergraduate programs, five Master’s programs, and three doctoral programs, including numerous minors, specializations, and certificate programs.
There is also the aforementioned Honors College, which consists of students with a 3.5 grade-point average and above.
Among the fields of study at Biscayne College are English, Psychology, Criminal Justice, Criminology, Communications and Media Studies, Political Science, Education, Organizational Leadership, Theology, and Ethical Leadership.
That last one is a big part of STU’s mission.
A degree in Ethical Leadership is a great idea for students who are interested in public service, students who encounter uncertainty with regards to their selection of an academic discipline, students seeking to acquire a broad understanding across various disciplines, and students who exhibit a predisposition for leadership.
Most of the undergraduate classes at Biscayne College are face-to-face and on-ground. Most of the Master’s and doctoral programs are online.
And, if anybody is testament to the value of an education, it is Dr. Roche.
A Boston native, Dean Roche grew up poor in the rough Roxbury neighborhood. His family was on food stamps, and, after high school, he started his career as a dishwasher. Offered an on-the-job chance to learn how to cook, Dr. Roche quickly said ‘yes’, and he became a chef.
“I needed to make more money,” Dr. Roche said, “and the only way to get more was to go to school and get a degree. I figured I already knew everything in the industry, but I needed that degree to work at top hotels.”
As it turned out, Roche did not know it all, and he embraced all that he learned in culinary school at Newbury College in Brookline, Massachusetts.
He soon earned another degree, in Hotel & Restaurant Management, followed by a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management. An MBA allowed him to do consulting work. Dean Roche followed his Master’s with a Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership, which allowed him to not only teach, but move into administration at the university level.
Along the way, he became a corporate chef for American Cruise Lines, and the opening Executive Chef for the Miccosukee Resort and Casino, among other endeavors.
But after he and his wife began to start a family, he went into teaching, which offered a better life/career balance than the hospitality industry.
Prior to coming to STU, he taught primarily at Johnson & Wales for 18 years.
After Johnson & Wales closed its Miami campus, Provost Johnson-Garcia recruited him to become the dean of Biscayne College.
“I have a strong background in business, hospitality and the culinary arts,” Dean Roche said when asked for his initial reaction to being asked to oversee Biscayne College. “But that’s OK. I have a degree in Education and a strong background in Communications, and, so, I said, ‘sure.’”
Besides serving as dean, Dr. Roche publishes three podcasts and a YouTube channel. He also writes a travel blog.
(We told you he is tireless!)
Another Dean Roche goal is to build a kitchen media studio as part of the planned STU Culinary Center, set to open in the fall of 2024.
“That way we can livestream chef demos and culinary programming,” Dr. Roche said, “and I can get Communication students to run the cameras and teleprompters.”
Besides fresh ideas, Dean Roche is bringing stability, leadership, and growth to Biscayne College.
For example, the Organizational Leadership major currently teaches about 50 students. He believes it should teach hundreds.
“It’s great for everybody — their students, their employers and the community at large,” Dr. Roche said of the major. “Employers who offer tuition reimbursement should put all their employees who are looking for a Bachelor’s degree through our STU Organizational Leadership degree program. Get them all Bachelor’s degrees – it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Just like bringing Dean Roche to STU.