June 2010 cover SCAN - St. Catherine University St. Catherine University
June 2010
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The Rainmaker

Beth Koenig and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs help turn intellectual curiosity into groundbreaking research and scholarship.

By Mary Beth Leone-Getten | PHOTO BY BILL KELLEY

A small office in the basement of Derham Hall is a beehive of scholarly productivity and collaboration. It is the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP), where faculty and staff members work together to nurture fledgling ideas into project plans and grant proposals that, in turn, will yield groundbreaking research or fund vital initiatives at the University.

In 2002, St. Kate's received a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to create an office that would support faculty and staff in seeking, applying for and managing grants from local, state and federal government funding sources. Beth Koenig '92 was tapped to be ORSP's founding director.

Koenig, who studied speech communication and music vocal performance at St. Kate's, had previously worked in human resources and alumnae affairs. After graduation, she earned a law degree from Hamline University. With a big smile and a hearty laugh, Koenig has an enthusiastic presence on campus and a reputation as a connector — someone who has the innate ability to make introductions among the right people in order to move projects along.

She's been called a "driving force" for many St. Catherine initiatives — including a key role as co-collaborator in the creation of St. Kate's National Center for STEM Elementary Education. In May she was nominated for St. Kate's "Staff of the Year" award.

Since 2008, Koenig has also served as the director of government relations, keeping St. Kate's visible to government officials at the local, state and federal level. Through her work with U.S. Representative Betty McCollum '87, the University has been awarded an appropriation of $600,000 to create a nursing technology lab.

An engine for Ideas

In developing and enhancing ORSP, Koenig wanted an office with a welcoming, collaborative atmosphere, where faculty would feel supported to launch their ideas.

Kirsten Walters became the second ORSP professional staff member. Together the pair created a comprehensive professional development model that provides leadership, education and mentoring to faculty in five interrelated areas: grant seeking and management; research design and methodology; research ethics; evaluation; and writing, publication and dissemination.

In collaboration with Corporate and Foundation Relations, ORSP also provides intensive workshops that focus on grant-writing, management and evaluation.

— Psychology Professor Jamie Peterson

Assistant Professor of Psychology Jamie Peterson credits Koenig and ORSP with getting her research on the fast track. She has received two internal grants (funds awarded by a St. Catherine faculty committee from the general operating budget, endowments, corporations or other sources). The grants allowed Peterson and a student to study perceptions of power in the classroom, and, with psychology colleagues Gil Clary and Andrea Olson, she examined behaviors of female students in learning science in order to develop better STEM curricula.

Since 2002, ORSP has submitted 86 government grant applications and subcontracts. To date, 46 have been awarded, totaling $6.3 million, and notice is pending on 15 more grants. The University's average annual funding rate of 61 percent exceeds the national average.

Some highlights include:

  • A five-year grant of $1.5 million to the CATIE Center from the U.S. Department of Education to create one of six regional centers working to increase the number of American Sign Language interpreters available for vocational rehabilitation and other professional settings.
  • A National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for $160,000 to buy equipment that allows biology faculty to engage in research critical to the study of ecosystems.
  • ORSP submitted 24 government grants and subcontracts during this past academic year, doubling the rate of two years ago. In addition, the office currently has budgetary oversight for 40 active internal grants and 52 active external grants, representing nearly $5 million.

The impact on students is significant. In 2008–09, grant funding allowed 21 students to participate in collaborative research with faculty members in disciplines ranging from biology and education to social work and ASL and interpreting. ORSP's work also helped support academic opportunities for 75 additional students.

By all measures, academic research at St. Kate's is thriving, due in no small part to Koenig's laser focus and generous spirit. "She had such optimism about my projects,"says Peterson, the psychology professor, who currently is working on an NSF proposal. "It felt like my dreams and goals had become hers, too."

Mary Beth Leone-Getten is a Twin Cities–based freelance writer.


Behind the Scenes

Beth Koenig '92

Beth Koenig '92 works to get national visibility for St. Catherine University. Recently she presented at a conference in Washington, D.C., about her development of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.