In the heart of Johnson County—amidst booming growth, retail bliss, and chain-restaurant heaven—lives a 90-year old mission to educate students of diverse backgrounds to reach their God-given potential.
Though this Overland Park scene is far from what the Sisters of Charity met when they landed in Leavenworth a century and a half ago, the calling is much the same—meeting a need. In 1990, no other four-year institution had a presence in Johnson County, yet thousands lived and worked there.
The University of Saint Mary Overland Park Campus first opened its doors in 1990 at King’s Cove Business Park at 75th Street and Nieman Road. Within eight years of establishing this campus, an opportunity to share a piece of Saint Thomas Aquinas High School’s campus arose.
“Aquinas perfectly fit our needs at the time,” said Pat Howard, site director at the Overland Park Campus. “Their administration welcomed Saint Mary with open arms, and over the years, we’ve developed a wonderful relationship with the school and its faculty.
Equipped with top-notch technology and ample classroom space, USM truly had hit the jackpot with the Saint Thomas Aquinas space. A wing of the high school became home to USM and its degree-completion programs.
USM continued to build its relationship with local community colleges, chambers, and businesses—and along with filling our degree-completion and graduate classes, state universities and major corporations were actually renting our space to host special events and trainings. “Before Sprint built their World Headquarters in Overland Park, they’d call us to use our computer labs and classrooms,” explained Howard. Even a driver’s ed program called USM’s Overland Park Campus home (and continues to this day).
Growth continued in nearly every way imaginable for the next decade. Johnson County exploded in numbers, while competition in adult higher-education multiplied— every university saw opportunity in this niche. All the while, USM launched new academic programs, developed concentration tracks, and its enrollment surged.
As the demand for Web-based learning grew in popularity, Saint Mary erected a presence in the online space— offering online programs beginning in 1999.
- RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-to-BSN)
- Master of Science in Nursing with 2 specializations (MSN)
- Master of Business Administration with 7 concentrations (MBA)
- Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
Over 660 students have received degrees after completing coursework through an entirely online learning platform— including Michelle Phan, a 2015 MBA graduate, with a bachelor’s in public health and anthropology from the University of California-Irvine.
“I’ve always wanted an MBA,” said Phan. “I just like learning— and I felt like no matter what path in life I was going to take, an MBA would provide me with the knowledge I needed in order to move up and understand the business.”
Just as our on-ground program values individual attention, Phan found that true online, as well: “I’ve never really had professors who cared so much about their students and who gave this level of attention. I went to really large universities in the past, with lectures that had hundreds and hundreds of students. In this program, I had classes of 10 or so people, which makes it easy to talk to the professor whenever you need to.”
As quickly as our online programs took off, the technology at USM’s on-ground Overland Park campus began to show signs of age—problematic when classes center on Skype, discussion boards, and online resources. And after 18 wonderful years at Aquinas, our contract with the school was nearing expiration. A comprehensive real estate search began—and just like buying a home, the process had its fair share of hurdles, challenges, and waiting. The factors prioritized when buying a home look very similar to those topping the list when choosing a new site—location and price.
On June 1, after months of shopping, USM officially had a new home: 4500 College Boulevard—just seven miles east of Aquinas.
The new space offers USM upgraded classrooms, improved technology, and an open lounge space for students to meet, study, or enjoy a meal.
Classrooms Equipped with Excellence
- High-speed internet, capable of webcasting
- Each classroom has a Smart TV, SMART Board, or projector with motorized retractable screen
- In-ceiling sound systems in every class
- A self-contained learning environment (USM is the only tenant on the first floor.)
- Flexible classroom layouts (rows, pods, semi-circles, or conference-style)
A SMARTer Way to Learn
A SMART Board is an interactive whiteboard responding to touch, much like a tablet. The screen mirrors the presenter’s PC—allowing group collaboration and discussion.
Real Materials for Real Teachers in New Curriculum Lab
- Real basal texts for reading instruction
- Real math manipulatives, like pattern blocks and Cuisenaire rods
- Real science and social studies trade books to develop curriculum
Relax. Refuel. Recharge.
- Comfortable lounge area
- Study space
- Charging stations and outlets
“Our new Overland Park campus reflects who we are and the excellence our students, faculty, and staff strive for every day,” said USM President Sister Diane Steele. “Our students help carry on our historic mission, and they deserve to learn in a space that fosters collaboration and creativity.”
The impact our Overland Park graduates have made and continue to make on our world is impressive—and hard to overlook without being overcome with a sense of awe.
Saint Mary celebrated the Overland Park Campus grand opening with a blessing and dedication of the space. President Sr. Diane Steele led guests in a prayer and reflected on our historically rich Vincentian mission, while faculty and staff hung pictures on the space’s Mission Wall (from front to back): St. Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and Mother Xavier Ross.
Leanne Hilligas, M’16
- Training Coordinator for the Professional Development Department at The Family Conservancy
- Board Member of the Mid-America Association for Education of Young Children
A month after graduation, Hilligas was selected to present at the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Professional Development Institute (NAEYC PDI) in Baltimore, with approximately 3,000 people in attendance.
Pulling from the research she completed as a student at USM, she discussed how educators can teach and advocate quality conversations in childcare centers. School readiness is a big topic in the Kansas City area, and her findings showed a lack of quality conversations in the classroom. For children to build their vocabulary, creativity, and school readiness, quality conversations with children from parents, teachers, and family is crucial.
She credits Saint Mary for preparing her for such an incredible opportunity: “My experience at the University of Saint Mary encouraged me to explore my creative side in the adult education world. Dr. Bogdon’s Adult Education course was one of my favorites. She modeled facilitation techniques and questioning methods I applied at the NAEYC PDI Conference and can continue to apply in my own professional development workshops.”
Thomas Ngundo, M’16
- Chairman of the St. Francis African Catholics Community
- Clinical Laboratory Scientist
Upon meeting, Ngundo said, “I don’t have a story,” yet a 90-minute interview would indicate otherwise. Ngundo has an amazing story of perseverance, achievement, and aspiration. In 2004, he left Nairobi, Kenya to pursue a future in the States. He was a newlywed, with a wonderful family surrounding him, and had just been accepted into medical school—but Ngundo couldn’t forego the opportunity the Green Card Program presented him. He was placed with a family in Kansas, and 12 years later, Olathe is still home.
On top of working full-time as a clinical laboratory scientist, he’s earned two master’s degrees (health care administration and business administration), multiple certifications, and serves as chairman of the of the St. Francis African Catholics Community. This community has grown from just 15 members to over 150—thanks to the leadership efforts of Ngundo. “I’ve actually taken what I learned at Saint Mary and completely restructured our finances, while also organizing the first-ever Catholic Convention in Kansas City, which brought more than 250 Africans across the Midwest together in the name of faith, worship, and community,” said Ngundo.
On top of that, he’s following his dream of building an eight-room guesthouse in Kenya. This idea sat stagnant since 2005, but with all that he learned in USM’s MBA program, permits have been approved, the foundation is laid, and walls are going up. “You just find yourself being a businessman,” said Ngundo with a smile.
Ed Rafter, M’16
- Vice President of Critical Systems Operations at Switch
Rafter wouldn’t call himself an expert, but after 30 years in the business of electrical and mechanical systems design, installation, commissioning, maintenance, and testing, he understands the technicalities of million-dollar data centers—and he’s passionate about sharing his expertise.
He’s not just mentoring rookie technicians on the ins and outs in the industry, he’s actually worked with his employer, Switch (developer of award-winning, highest-ranking colocation data centers in the world), to develop a formal training curriculum. Rafter has spent endless hours talking through this structured curriculum with community colleges, universities, and industry leaders to adopt and recognize Switch’s rigorous training program as THE universal curriculum for all data technicians nationwide. Along with the curriculum being a national model, Rafter also hopes to have Switch’s curriculum recognized at a bachelor-level.
Earning a Master of Arts in Education at USM has bolstered his credibility in adult education, while it also serves as a reflection of his personal philosophy on learning. Rafter explained, “I’m not your typical student. I came back to not only honor my late wife who was a teacher, but I also believe education is a life-long process. It’s both formal and informal. It’s not just an event that starts and ends. It goes on.”
Journeys like this keep our mission alive and remind every one of us to look at how our story is being written. Success isn’t solely defined by a degree, a title, or a promotion—it’s about impact.
Some of the brightest minds and boldest thinkers call Saint Mary home. USM faculty make student success priority and equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to truly leave a mark on our world. Our new space in Overland Park—and our growing space online—mirror our dedication to every students’ potential and the true strength of a Saint Mary education.
Learn more about all that the Overland Park Campus has to offer at stmary.edu/Success.