THROUGH ST. KATE'S ASSISTANTSHIP MENTORING PROGRAM, STUDENTS REAP THE BENEFITS OF HARD WORK, INNOVATION
Sharon Doherty, Lorissa Gottschalk and Debra Miner: The team behind St. Catherine's Assistant Mentorship Program.
ollaboration. Teamwork. Partnership. Simple words for complex concepts. To collaborate
on a project is to share ideas, and then to share the
work while also sharing the responsibility for the
project's outcome. This delicate dance of give and take is difficult
enough among friends or co-workers; how is it accomplished when the
partners have just met, or are decades apart in age and experience?
Two women at St. Catherine University found out when they created the Assistantship Mentoring Program, or AMP, an innovative
work-and-learning experience that elevates the concept of
student work to an experience that is academically rigorous,
collaborative and relatively well-paid.
Based loosely on the teaching assistantships (TA) used in
graduate programs, AMP pairs students in their junior or senior
year with faculty or staff mentors who guide them in achieving a
specific project outcome. To make the experience more viable for
time- and cash-strapped students, the program pays the students
$10 an hour for up to 13 hours each week. This helps the program
compete against off-campus jobs and levels the playing field for
those students who could not afford to participate without pay.
Professor Sharon Doherty and administrator Debra Miner
launched the original AMP program in 2003, using dollars from
their respective departments
to fund a handful
of mentors and students.
They eventually secured
funding and a small staff,
leading to rapid growth
and visibility on the
St. Paul campus.
more than 35 AMP projects
run on both campuses
at any given time,
culled from a competitive
application process that
turns away as many
projects as it funds.
may rise as Miner and
Doherty seek to fund
more projects. They also
hope to add an additional
called AMPlify, that
would let students collaborate
with a department
rather than with
an individual mentor.
Miner, director of the
student center and activities,
and Doherty, associate
professor of women's
studies and anthropology,
a connection they discovered.
at the University of
where they both enjoyed
When they came to
St. Catherine, Miner and
Doherty noticed a pattern of
students holding multiple part-time
jobs that paid the bills but didn't
enhance their academic experience
— or build vital connections with
mentors. Envisioning more fulfilling
student work, they partnered to
create a program where projects
would be centered on what students
wanted and needed to learn.
To accomplish that, they decided that
students — in partnership with
mentors — would create the jobs themselves. "Part of what we
were trying to do was to build community," Doherty explains. "It
fits with St. Kate's. You are contributing to the community."
The program Doherty and Miner developed included a competitive
application process, ongoing workshops to teach collaboration
and other skills, and check-ins with a coordinator to ensure that the
teams stayed on track. As AMP grew, they brought on a half-time
director, and reduced their own involvement to leading some of
the workshops and presiding on the advisory board.
Lorissa Gottschalk, AMP director since 2008, praises the
process that Doherty and Miner developed. "It's really well-designed,"
she says. "It has academic rigor in combination with
support, so it's not just about working. The students are moving
forward and changing in their personal, academic and career lives,
all at the same time."
Gottschalk sees enormous changes in students as they grow in
their AMP experiences. Just as satisfying, she helps students see
that they can be paid for work they love. Too few women historically
have had that opportunity, she adds: "Our roles have been proscribed
Based on their research and their knowledge of other campuses,
Gottschalk, Miner and Doherty all believe that AMP is unique
among student work experiences. In addition to the competitive
pay and the focus on students' learning needs, a central element
to the program is the role of mentors. Unpaid, with collaborative
rather than supervisory roles, AMP faculty and staff mentors provide
a fresh angle on the old model of professor-driven teaching
The projects themselves are stunningly diverse, reflecting the
unique perspectives of the student-mentor teams who propose
them. For application purposes, they fall into three categories:
teaching assistantships, research collaborations and program
development assistantships. In reality, the imaginations of the
mentors and students seem to be the only real limits.
Sculpting a Career
ART HISTORY STUDENTS QUICKLY LEARN that sculpture studios
are not one-person shows. Teams of apprentices have traditionally
been used for the laborious work that goes into a sculpture, including
the fine detail work. Anyone who aspires to be a sculptor learns
first to collaborate with established artists.
As part of her AMP apprenticeship, art major
Aga Sulek '11 (right) and assistant professor
of art Tamsie Ringler are restoring a life-sized
work by artist Michael Richards.
For a full-time college student, such an apprenticeship would
not normally be possible–even as an art major. Thanks to AMP,
however, art major Aganeiszka Sulek '11 (Aga for short) found herself
in collaboration with two sculptors this past academic year,
one living and one deceased.
Her project centers on the restoration of a sculpture by Michael
Richards depicting the Tuskegee Airmen, the World War II–era pilots
who sought to become America's first black military airmen. An
artist of growing renown, Richards was killed in the World Trade
Center attacks of 2001. After his death, his three-figure fiberglass
installation, "Are you Down?" languished in the harsh Minnesota
elements in Franconia Sculpture Park, an outdoor gallery east of
St. Paul — until sculptor Tamsie Ringler, assistant professor of art
at St. Kate's, proposed bringing the life-sized figures to the
University for restoration.
The next step was to find a student
partner and develop an AMP proposal.
"Aga seemed like the perfect match,"
Ringler says. "She was very excited about
the project. She was also a junior, so she
had some experience already as an artist.
And she's interested in monument
For Sulek, the work has been a gateway to larger possibilities.
Coming to St. Catherine University four years ago from Poland, she
knew that she wanted to study art. She quickly gravitated to silversmith
work and then added other disciplines. Working on the
restoration this past winter, she spent 10 to 15 hours a week in the
sun-drenched basement studio of the Visual Arts Building, painstakingly
"healing the surface" of the fiberglass figure, in preparation
for mold-making and eventual casting in bronze.
When she graduates and returns to Poland next summer, Sulek
will seek further training or work in the arts, with the goal of building
on her AMP experience. "I feel more connected to other artists
because of my AMP work," she says. "Certainly I've become more
interested in the sculpture medium. It really contributed to my
thoughts about the future."
Learning Life Skills
Jessica Garceau '10 (right) gained valuable
real-world experience during her AMP mentorship
with Liturgy Coordinator Lori True.
JESSICA GARCEAU'S AMP PROJECT this past year was as diverse
in its duties as Sulek's was singular in focus. As an assistant to
Liturgy Coordinator Lori True, Garceau '10 has worked on Campus
Ministry's extensive music library, directed the choir, written a
student-worker policy manual and a best-practices handbook,
updated the department's web page, streamlined the process of
creating worship aids, and mentored other students and staff.
She even found time to reclaim a sun-porch-turned-storage-closet,
creating a space for reflection and study.
Garceau, who graduated this past May with a business degree,
discovered the Campus Ministry office as a first-year student,when
she made a commitment to embrace her faith more fully. From
volunteering in the choir, she moved into student worker roles for
the department, while maintaining a busy schedule as a resident
advisor. When Lori True asked Garceau to collaborate on an AMP
project, she jumped at the chance to customize her work for her
goals after graduation.
"Eventually I would like to go into human resources," Garceau
says. "So I told Lori we could use some best practices guides. It was
something I had learned about in my classes, and I wanted to try
my hand at it.'"
True, who calls her office the "Grand Central Station" of
Campus Ministry, says having Garceau complete projects at this
level has been more than just helpful. "I feel really blessed to have
found this program," True says. "I'm proud to be part of it, and I'm
just so pleased for Jes, because she's an outstanding young woman.
In the classroom you can say, 'Oh, that's the scenario,' but working
with a mentor lets you develop the real-life skills."
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN TO THE PUBLIC the way vaccines protect
against diseases such as H1N1? And what if you survey college students
and discover that they don't fully grasp the terminology,
much less the issue itself?
With the guidance of Marcie Myers,
associate professor of biology (left),
Annette Dias '10 (center) and Narlina
Lalani '10 (right) created podcasts that
explain everyday science.
Those are questions posed by AMP students Narlina Lalani '10
and Annette Dias '10 and their mentor, Marcie Myers, St. Catherine
associate professor of biology and endowed professor in the sciences.
Using interviews conducted with experts on campus to provide the
answers, the trio plans to create the first in a series of podcasts
aimed at explaining everyday science to the public–while elevating
the University's reputation in the sciences.
When she was developing the concept for this AMP project,
Myers envisioned two students from very different worlds: science
and communications. She got her wish. Lalani is a biology major
who plans to become a dentist, and Dias is a communications major
whose career plans now include writing about science.
The project's two semesters have flown by, as Lalani immersed
herself in immunology to prepare interview questions and Dias
mastered digital recording equipment and audio editing software.
Through collaboration, each student learned about the other's
discipline, and both learned about working as a team to develop
a product that's never been produced before at St. Kate's.
"Teamwork is on the very top of things I've learned," Lalani
says. "We've all had group projects, but in this one there's a lot of
communication and more outside resources as well. I think the
team work aspect is going to help me a lot in the future."
Dias, the communications major, has been surprised by her
growing interest in science. "I've learned that I really like doing research
and analyzing information," she says. She also appreciated
the workshops offered to all AMP students and mentors, a sentiment
echoed by both Myers and Lalani.
Those larger group sessions, covering topics such as career
planning, stress management, teamwork and diversity, bring the
AMP partnerships together with their
peers and let them discuss common
problems. "It really helps us to talk
about those things as a group and then
later as an AMP team," Lalani says. "It helps us communicate."
Amy Lindgren '83 runs Prototype Career Services in St. Paul and is a
careers columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.