Interview with Dr. Victoria Young

Dr. Victoria Young, professor and chair of the St. Thomas art and history program.

The University of St. Thomas announced that North Oaks’ own Dr. Victoria Young, professor and chair of the St. Thomas art history program and architectural historian, has been named their 2019 Professor of the Year. A press release put out by the university explains, “This award recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and service. A dedicated faculty member, mentor and leader at the university since 2000, Young has positively influenced countless students and colleagues. Her global leadership in architectural history has helped art history rise to a new level at St. Thomas, and her positive influence has helped shape the university through the campus master plan and construction projects over the past two decades.”

I asked Dr. Young some questions about her position at the University of St. Thomas, her thoughts about her profession, and how living in North Oaks has shaped her view of architectural history.

Congratulations on being named the 2019 Professor of the Year at the University of St. Thomas!

You’ve been with the university since 2000, and you’ve worn various hats: professor, mentor, chair of the art history program. What has been the most rewarding aspect of your two decades at St. Thomas?

The most rewarding aspect of my career is working with students and watching them grow as not only scholars, but as people. I am particularly reminded of this at this time of year with graduation. Students I have been working with for four years are now heading to law school, graduate school in art history, and other careers. I still remember the first time I met them and I am so proud of all they have done.

It is also fulfilling to have all areas of my work—teaching, research, and service—relate to each other. For example, as a member of the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas renovation and addition design committee, I’m able to bring this project into the classroom and serve as a useful committee member because of my own research on sacred space. I love the synergy of it all!

As chair of the St. Thomas art history program, your leadership can have an important and lasting impact on the scope and direction of students’ field of study and career choices. How do you bring students and faculty together to create the best possible learning environment?

Our faculty support, challenge, and engage with our students in a very powerful way during their time together in art history classes. We offer ideas for internships, connect them with possibilities for funding to support research travel, offer networking strategies, and provide positions in our department for student workers, etc. Being connected to a student happens beyond the classroom for us. Our students are people first and our goal is to have them succeed in whatever way best suits them.

You’ve been instrumental in the school’s campus master plan and the campus master plan and building construction projects at St. Thomas. What are some exciting projects on the horizon? 

The renovation of the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas and the addition of the Iversen Center for Faith excite me! The project will re-enliven the chapel and add on much needed space for a variety of functions, including a multifaith art gallery and worship space. We also have a call out for permanent artwork for the building and it has been great fun to run our first ever art competition during my time as chair of Art History. For more information, visit news.stthomas.edu/university-announces-major-renovation-for-chapel-of-st-thomas-aquinas.

When did you first become interested in the architectural history discipline of art history? 

I became interested on a visit to Oak Park, Illinois during my undergraduate days. Oak Park is the center of Frank Lloyd Wright’s early works and I was mesmerized by how architecture created place in Oak Park. It was unlike anything I’d seen and I was hooked! I went on to get a Master’s and Ph.D. in architectural history at the University of Virginia because of that trip!

How long have you and your family lived in North Oaks? What architectural elements are significant about the Hill Farm buildings?

We have lived in North Oaks for almost a decade. I grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota so was drawn to North Oaks because of the integration of buildings into the landscape rather than the other way around. I also like the fact that we do not have streetlights, as there are no streetlights on the county roads of Minnesota! The architectural character of this place was also instrumental in buying a house here, and that goes all the way from single family residences to the Hill Farm buildings. James J. Hill helped found the Seminary of St. Thomas—the precursor to the University in some ways—and I’ve studied his role in the built environment for years. We are fortunate to have part of his legacy right here in our backyard.

What architectural “gems” are nearby that you’d encourage people to explore? 

The first place I send any visitor who comes to town is up to Collegeville to see Saint John’s Abbey and University and the work there by architect Marcel Breuer. Breuer’s church is a special place for me and was the subject of my first book. In Minneapolis, Lakewood Cemetery is amazing from its landscape to the 1910 chapel by Harry Wild Jones with its complete mosaic program inside, to the 2013 Garden Mausoleum by HGA Architects. St. Paul’s hidden gem is the downtown airport Holman Field, and its 1939 terminal building designed by Cap Wigington.

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