Building on a longstanding legacy of excellent science education, Saint Mary’s University is making a bold commitment to a new vision of science excellence in its second century.
“We are creating a vision for the university for the 21st century, a bold vision that responds to complex areas of global concern,” said Brother Ed Siderewicz, co-chair of the university’s science visioning task force.
It’s been an aggressive agenda.
This past fall an audit of the university’s sciences was assisted by Jeanne Narum, a nationally recognized advocate for STEM education and the founder of Project Kaleidoscope.
The Science Visioning Task Force was appointed by Brother William at the start of the academic year to engage the SMU community, identify strengths and opportunities, and advance the future of the sciences in the coming decades.
This past fall, Narum facilitated a visioning workshop entitled, “What Works: Shaping a Vision for the Sciences at Saint Mary’s University.” More than 80 members of the university community — including faculty, staff and students — convened for the two-day workshop in Winona. Narum was joined by Dr. Jim Gentile ’68, past president of Research Corporation for Science Advancement in Tucson, Ariz.
“Reforming undergraduate science education is increasingly a national priority,” Dr. Gentile said. “Earlier this year the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a report, ‘Engage to Excel,’ on the need to produce 1 million additional college graduates over the next decade with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“These graduates are needed to fill a wide spectrum of science and technology jobs currently going unfilled in our nation. … The future of our national economic preeminence is rooted in science and technology, and it’s imperative that the United States produces future scientists of world-class caliber. “A commitment to integrating teaching and research may well be the most important ingredient to maintaining American preeminence in scientific and technological innovation in the 21st century.”
Visioning conference participants completed a series of case studies and exercises designed to tease out a future vision and concrete steps to achieve that vision. Following the visioning workshop, the task force took several months to engage science faculty, programs and departments at the College and Schools of Graduate and Professional Programs in listening sessions to help shape and develop the new vision in sciences at Saint Mary’s.
Dr. Donna Aronson, vice president for Academic Affairs at the College said, “Saint Mary’s currently provides excellent foundational science programs. The goal is to develop science programs that meet the changing needs of today’s learners. Therefore, faculty must reevaluate what and how they teach.”
“The Schools of Graduate and Professional Programs offers many programs that are based in the healthcare and behavioral health sciences, business sciences and technology,” added Merri Moody, dean of the Graduate School of Health and Human Services. “This science initiative offers SGPP faculty and staff the opportunity to collaborate with the Winona programs and determine resources that can be shared or enhanced. This collaboration benefits students from both campuses and helps promote the university to even more partners throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin.”
“We’re looking at a major transformational impact,” Brother Ed said. “Saint Mary’s is forging ahead to develop external partnerships in the various fields of science and health care as well as in environmental sciences.”
These science partnerships include:
- Undergraduate research and internships at Gundersen Lutheran’s Kabara Cancer Research Institute, La Crosse, Wis.
A visit to this regional center of medical research (and return visit to SMU’s Winona campus this spring) holds great promise for advancing the undergraduate science programs. This world-class research facility is made possible in large part through the vision and generosity of SMU Trustee and benefactor Betty Kabara and the foundation she started with her late husband and SMU alum Dr. Jon Kabara ’48. Institute staff are connecting with faculty and students and examining the possibilities of Saint Mary’s faculty joining the La Crosse BioResearch Forum.
- Student internships with R&D Systems
The R&D Systems Summer Internship Program will offer four research positions for SMU students this summer. Dr. Roger Lucas ’65 and R&D Systems (a subsidiary of TECHNE Corporation, one of the world’s largest suppliers of biotechnology products) have shown continued support of science excellence at Saint Mary’s.
- New science majors in collaboration with Mayo
Two new undergraduate science majors are being offered in collaboration with Mayo School of Health Sciences in radiography and echocardiography. In both programs students spend two years at Saint Mary’s taking required courses, and then finish with two years at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Spearheaded by Dr. Jeanne Minnerath of the Biology Department, these are exciting additions to our collaboration with Mayo for in-demand healthcare fields. Saint Mary’s is the only private college in Minnesota to partner with Mayo in these programs. Other existing SMU affiliated programs with Mayo include technology, cytotechnology, and medical laboratory science.
- Summer research at Fermilab
For the past three summers, two SMU physics undergraduates have worked as summer research interns at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) with Physics Department Chair Paul Nienaber ’55. Fermilab, funded by the Department of Energy Office of Science, is the flagship particle physics laboratory in the U.S. The work of the undergraduates was supported by a Research Undergraduate Institutions grant from the National Science Foundation.
- Prairie Island Field Station community programming
The Prairie Island Field Station, located on the banks of the Mississippi in Winona, gives the university direct access to the upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and close proximity to the natural aspects and human activity defined by the river. The university’s GeoSpatial Services research and consulting staff operate the facility. The station has allowed for expanded environmental sciences programming for faculty, staff and students, and for regular river-related programs that benefit the larger community. This new location provides excellent access to the river for Saint Mary’s students as they study environmental science.
- Engagement with Cascade Meadow, Rochester, Minn.
The Science Visioning Task Force has visited Cascade Meadow in Rochester, a new regional wetlands and environmental education center. Jack Remick, longtime Saint Mary’s friend and former member of the SMU Board of Trustees, serves as president. His wife, Mary Ann, is a current trustee and chairperson of the First-Generation Initiative Advisory Board. Science faculty have already offered programming at Cascade Meadow. The university is exploring ways to partner with Cascade Meadow to connect people and communities through water, energy and sustainability education.
- Mayo Innovation Scholars Program
The Mayo Innovation Scholars Program is a partnership between business and education to provide real-world opportunities for students who are potentially uncovering innovations that will have a positive impact on both health care and the Minnesota economy. Four students have spent the past several months researching projects submitted by Mayo Clinic professionals and presented their findings in March. Manu Nair, the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program project manager from Mayo Clinic New Ventures, commented that the Saint Mary’s group’s presentation was the best he had seen in the program. Now in its seventh year, the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program continues to be an innovative model for student experiential learning.
Featured photo caption: SMU Biology Professor Phil Cochran talks about aquatic plants at Bartlet Lake during a Plant Communities and taxonomy class.