June 2010 cover SCAN - St. Catherine University St. Catherine University
June 2010
 
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Lifelong Learners:

THROUGH ST. KATE'S ASSISTANTSHIP MENTORING PROGRAM, STUDENTS REAP THE BENEFITS OF HARD WORK, INNOVATION
AND COLLABORATION.

Sharon Doherty, Lorissa Gottschalk and Debra Miner
Sharon Doherty, Lorissa Gottschalk and Debra Miner: The team behind St. Catherine's Assistant Mentorship Program.

Collaboration. 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. Today, 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.

Those numbers may rise as Miner and Doherty seek to fund more projects. They also hope to add an additional program, tentatively 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, became collaborators themselves through a connection they discovered. Each completed undergraduate degrees at the University of Minnesota–Morris, where they both enjoyed high-quality on-campus work experiences.

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 for us."

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 assistantships.

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.

Tamsie Ringler and Aganeiszka Sulek '11
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 restoration."

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

Lori True and Jessica Garceau '10
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."

Curious Minds

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?

Marcie Myers, Annette Dias '10 and Narlina Lalani '10
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.

 
Working Together

Stop, Look & Listen

RELAXED AMP GATHERINGS ALLOW PEERS TO SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER IN THE LEARNING PROCESS.

AMP DIRECTOR LORISSA GOTTSCHALK knows all about catching the attention of super-busy students. That's why she put out bagels, peanut butter and fruit in Derham Hall one chilly morning last spring, with the invitation simply to stop by and enjoy a bite.

The free-flowing conversation that followed demonstrated the type of collaboration the students have embraced.

General questions directed to the group were answered thoughtfully as they built on other participants' answers; students even disagreed without contradicting or talking over one another.

One point of complete agreement? The value of AMP, students said, and the relationships they've built with one another and with their mentors.

"If I'm having a hard time with my students, I really like the fact that I can talk to my peers in AMP," said Julie Lor, a nursing major who is an AMP teaching assistant for a class on Hmong culture and language. "And I like working with my mentor and seeing all the thought she puts into teaching the class."

As a teaching assistant for a "Critical Studies in Race and Ethnicity" class in her major, Elissa Johnson developed a weekly discussion session based on current media. "It's great to work with the professors directly," she said. "And through AMP I was able to meet other students who were excited to talk about these ideas."

Connecting with AMP peers influenced senior Rebecca Roepke's decision to stay at St. Catherine University. "I found a group of students who were passionate about what they were doing and excited about going out in the world," said Roepke, a social work and American Indian studies major who is on her third AMP project. "In AMP, everyone wants to push themselves."

— AMY LINDGREN '83



Real World, Real Success

ALUMNAE CREDIT THEIR AMP EXPERIENCES WITH BOOSTING CAREER OPPORTUNITIES.

HOW DO YOU MEASURE the impact of an education or a learning experience once you graduate? If recent conversations with AMP alumnae are any indicator, this program is one whose impact will last — regardless of the student's project or major.

Jessica Lopez Lyman '08 believes her AMP projects laid a foundation for her graduate studies. Now completing her first year in an intensive master's-to-Ph.D. program focused on Chicana/ Chicano studies at the University of California–Santa Barbara, she says she is reminded every day of how well her AMP collaborations prepared her. "This year I'll be working as a TA," she says. "I know what to expect in a classroom. For that, I'm really grateful to the AMP program."

Nursing major Bethany Beams '09 credits her AMP work tutoring students in the demanding pathophysiology course with helping her land two jobs in a competitive field after graduation.

She worked in a Milwaukee hospital before landing an oncology nursing job back in the Twin Cities in the Fairview Hospital system. "AMP set me apart because I had that teaching and leadership ability, and the communication piece with the students," she says.

Erin Eid Omann '07, a second-career nurse, came to St. Kate's after working in hydrogeology. Her AMP experiences — helping biology students and implementing teaching software for biology Professor John Pellegrini — prepared her for the daily rigors of her current job as a nurse at Hennepin County Medical Center.

"I work on many teams every day, and being in AMP really prepared me for that," she says. "It has also helped me work with my patients' families. We serve people from so many different backgrounds; because of AMP I can spot that look of questioning on a family member's face, and I'm much more in tune with how I need to back up to tell them what they need to know."

— AMY LINDGREN '83