By Kassondra Burtis ’12
Human rights. Women in leadership. Child welfare. Sustainability. Health, food and nutrition. Social justice. Migration and immigration. Educators from across the world converged Sept. 24-26 to discuss research in these crucial areas—and more—as part of the sixth annual International Symposium on Lasallian Research.
The symposium—held annually at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus and co-sponsored by the Christian Brothers Conference—involved about 130 professors, administrators, researchers, and students from 10 countries.
By sharing research being done through the Lasallian educational network, attendees were able to gain ideas, ask questions, and collaborate on future projects that revolve around crucial global topics.
The symposium featured three keynote presentations, the first of which was given by Carlos Costa, Ph.D, dean of the School of Engineering at De La Salle University in Bogota, Colombia. Costa spoke on the intersection of climate change, sustainable development, and how it relates to Lasallian higher education.
Costa explained how, in an effort to combat climate change, universities must research and implement the agenda set forth by the Sustainable Development Goals Fund. Climate action is one of 17 goals drawn out by the fund. Costa explain that we must both address current needs and anticipate future needs while working together in an effort to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Olaf Gruess, Ph.D, and Christine Nowakowski, Ph.D., of General Mills presented research and practices of their company in the context of external networking and creating global connections. Gruess, technology manager and global connector at General Mills, stressed the importance of embracing entrepreneurship and its growth within universities and the workplace.
“Universities are changing,” Gruess said. “It used to be subject matter education, now it is an entrepreneurial breeding ground. Our future new hires are ‘educated’ to be entrepreneurs. That entrepreneurial spirit is still there in big companies, but sometimes it’s hard to find. We partner with some startups and young entrepreneurs to bring that spirit in. We all need to adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset.”
Nowakowski is the principal scientist at General Mills and shared the company’s recent global philanthropic health and nutrition efforts. The company has utilized engineering and its external connections to support the Lasallian research agenda of food, nutrition, and health by helping to reduce food waste in Africa.
“We have to ask ourselves how we can apply our skills to make a difference,” Nowakowski said. “Small manufacturers may not have the technical depth or good knowledge of what the process is,” she said. “They can partner with an outside company who have the personnel to give them solutions immediately. It’s really important to leverage your partners. We are interconnected with other business groups and have formed a web of volunteerism.”
Tracy Adams, CEO of yourtown in Australia, was the final keynote speaker of the symposium. Adams spoke on the Lasallian mission and its dedication to serving children and the youth. Her organization attempts to break the cycle of disadvantaged in youth in Australia by providing support and resources in the form of telephone and online counseling, young parent programs, mental health services, and more.
Lasallian advocacy and research is an important part of yourtown’s growth. “If you see an issue, you need to take charge of an issue. Don’t stay silent on it,” Adams said. “That’s advocacy. It’s nothing new; De La Salle did it.”
Participants at the symposium also heard from several other researchers through smaller breakout session presentations. Saint Mary’s is part of a global network that includes 100,000 individuals engaged in the Lasallian Catholic educational mission of serving society and more than one million students throughout 80 countries. The Lasallian network is also comprised of nearly 4,000 De La Salle Christian Brothers carrying out the tradition founded by Saint John Baptist De La Salle, a priest and educational innovator of 17th century France.
To see more photos from the event, go to smumn.edu/photos. Click on “International Symposium on Lasallian Research” and then on “View album.”