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Campus News

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn., July 11, 2018 – The Saint Thomas Academy Experimental Vehicle Team (EVT) culminated another successful year on Sunday, July 8, as it finished fifth in the world in the 2018 Shell Eco-marathon Drivers’ World Championship. Unlike the 2017 grand finale cut short by rain, the 2018 race took place on a sweltering, sun-drenched day at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. 

The Saint Thomas Academy team earned its third-consecutive trip to the global stage by placing first in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas Drivers’ World Championship, held in Sonoma, California, in April. The EVT beat out teams, including several university teams, from North and South America that raced hydrogen, battery-electric and internal-combustion powered UrbanConcept cars. The top three teams from the Shell Eco-marathon Americas, Asia and Europe comprised the nine-car field for the international finale.

Unlike a typical race, this real-world engineering competition recognizes teams for both finish position and using the least amount of energy. Drivers and their pit crews are in constant communication as they consider their laps to go and their cars’ remaining energy levels, which are provided by onboard telemetry systems. Teams carefully strategize when to expend more energy to move up in the field. This year’s serpentine course provided limited opportunity for drivers to overtake others during the 10-lap race.

The EVT started in the seventh position and had a further set back when its telemetry system malfunctioned. Driver Joe Zirnhelt ’18 of Eagan maneuvered the team’s battery-electric car to a fifth-place finish. After some confusion, Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember of Indonesia was named the champion, followed by Saskatchewan Polytechnic of Canada.

The Shell Eco-marathon encourages interest and skill development in engineering disciplines among high school and college students as they design, build and race the most energy-efficient concept cars. Alumni of the Shell Eco-marathon have gone on to work at Telsa, Toyota and other major automakers. Four class of 2018 EVT team members have secured spots in the freshmen class at the highly selective School of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, which receives 14,000 applications for 1,100 spots. 

The Academy team members in London included:

  • Driver: Joe Zirnhelt ’18 
  • Devin McGill ’18
  • Nicholas Kern ’18 
  • Alex Moeller ’18 
  • Zachary Keller ’18 
  • Joe McMahon ’19 
  • Peter Holmes ’19 

Vehicle specifications

  • Developed using CAD software
  • Single-person vehicle
  • Weight: approx. 114 kilograms
  • Top speed: 35 mph
  • Street-legal lighting
  • 4-wheel independent suspension
  • 4-wheel hydraulic disc brakes
  • Full roll cage, seat belt and 5-point safety harness to protect the driver in the event of a crash


MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn., July 2, 2018 – Saint Thomas Academy Swim and Dive Coach John Barnes has been named the National High School Athletic Coaches Association's (NHSACA) National Swimming and Diving Coach of the Year. He beat out seven other finalists from across the nation. He received his award at the National Coach of the Year Awards Banquet on June 27, 2018.

Barnes was nominated for this national honor by Minnesota’s high school coaches’ association. This selection was based on longevity, service to high school athletics, honors, championship years and winning percentage. The nominees and finalists are evaluated by experts in the field of coaching using sport-specific rubrics to assign points in each category.

With 15 state titles, Barnes has won more state swimming titles than any other coach in Minnesota history. His dual meet record, 144-3-1, is one of the highest high school dual meet winning percentages. In his career, he has coached:

  • 8 Olympic-Trial Qualifiers
  • 15 National Qualifiers
  • 36 Junior National Qualifiers
  • 26 High School All-Americans
  • 2 World University Game Gold Medalists
  • 15 State Championship Teams - 14 at Saint Thomas Academy, 1 at Minnetonka High School
  • 2 National Age Group record relays (13-14-year-old boys)

He was named Minnesota High School Coach of the Year in 1996, 2014 and 2015.

The National High School Athletic Coaches Association is the oldest coaches’ association in the nation formed by coaches, for coaches, and has been recognizing national coaches of the year since 1978.

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn., May 29, 2018 – The Most Reverend Bernard Hebda, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, has appointed Father Mark Pavlak to be chaplain of Saint Thomas Academy, effective June 13, 2018. In addition to working with faculty and staff to fulfill the Academy’s mission of developing boys into young men of character, Pavlak will lead the school’s sacristan committee, eucharist adorations, sacraments of reconciliation and all masses.

“As one of the four pillars of Saint Thomas Academy, our Catholic identity is central to daily life at the Academy,” said Matthew C. Mohs ’90, Headmaster. “Our chaplain plays an important role in the way we live out that Catholic identity every day, the faith formation and character development of our boys, and the overall spiritual life of our community.”

Pavlak currently serves as parochial vicar at both the Church of Saint John Neumann in Eagan, and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in West St. Paul. In 2017-2018, he was appointed to serve as chaplain to Visitation School. Pavlak received his master’s degree from Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, and his bachelor’s degree in Catholic studies and economics from the University of St. Thomas.

“It is a real joy for me to be the chaplain of Saint Thomas Academy, and I am very grateful to Archbishop Hebda for this assignment,” Pavlak said. “There is a deep tradition here of forming young men to be disciples of Jesus Christ and men of Christian virtue. I look forward to carrying on that tradition.”


MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn., May 23, 2018 -- Caroline Little, French teacher at Saint Thomas Academy, has been named a regional honoree in the WEM Foundation’s 2018 Outstanding Educator Awards program. 

Little is being honored by the WEM Foundation and Synergy & Leadership Exchange for outstanding accomplishments and contributions to student learning. She is one of two regional recipients of the Teacher Achievement Award, which recognizes exemplary teachers who support, inspire and assist students to attain greater learning as evidenced by student achievement.

Little has been teaching for 17 years and currently teaches high school French at Saint Thomas Academy. She takes great pride in bringing STEM into her French language classroom. Translating commands involves not so much about telling someone to wash their hands or brush their teeth, but more of where to put the solder or how short to cut the wires. Little finds these and other unique ways to marry STEM into the world of language. Her French students hear about the International Space Station and the newest advances in engineering.

“Madame Little combines hands-on, active learning with listening skills as well as written text to create a unique learning environment that my child benefits from,” said a parent. “One of my child’s favorite activities in class was the opportunity to build a robot. All directions and interactions with other students and Madame were done in French. Students in her class learn and enjoy learning.”

Most recently, Little completed more than 50 hours of professional development at NASA's Microgravity University for Educators. She worked with her advisory students to develop and build a Satellite Launching Experimental Device that was tested on the Precision Air Bearing Floor at Johnson Space Center. Little connected with her students during a virtual meeting and showed them how well their SLED design worked. Always thinking of ways to engage others, Little has created a series on Twitter, tweeting out new and original pieces of artwork to connect with people around the world and build excitement for space travel.

“Little’s success is due to her acute ability to understand adolescent and adult learning styles, ability levels and technology comfort levels, as illustrated in her daily interaction with students and faculty at various grade levels,” shared Michelle Mechtel, director of academic life at Saint Thomas Academy. “She has a warm style that results in being uniformly loved by students, parents and faculty.”

In addition to the Teacher Achievement Award, other Minnesota educators are being honored with the Academic Challenge Coach Award (teachers who are exemplary coaches of student teams that participate and compete in academic challenges), Ethics in Education Award (exemplary educators who embody ethical behavior and promote ethical development for students through classroom or school activities, policies or curriculum) and Athletic Coach Award (teachers who are exemplary coaches of athletic teams).

Educators are first nominated for the WEM Outstanding Educator Awards program by students, parents, colleagues or community members. Those who accept the nomination provide additional information for consideration by Synergy & Leadership Exchange and a blue ribbon selection panel, which reviews and ranks the nominees.

Six educators received statewide honors, and six educators were named as regional honorees for the 2018 WEM Foundation Outstanding Educator Awards. Synergy & Leadership Exchange is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering collaboration to advance the development of ethical citizens, providing educational resources, and celebrating achievement and best practices in Minnesota schools, businesses and communities. For more information on the WEM Outstanding Educator Awards Program and Synergy & Leadership Exchange, visit: