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February 2011
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Thanks for the Memories

Four respected faculty members — Theresa McPartlin '69, Tom Thieman, Pat Ode and Jo Ann Holonbek, set to retire this year — reflect on their careers at St. Catherine.


  • Theresa McPartlin Right: McPartlin on her wedding day with husband, Dennis, in 1984, the same year she started at St. Kate's.

    Theresa McPartlin '69
    Assistant Professor of Social Work
    Started at St. Kate's: 1984

    How social work education has changed: The use of technology has been an amazing change in my field. We have also balanced our use of the medical model, which is illness- and problem-focused, and adopted the strengths perspective, where we also use clients' assets and capacities in helping them with barriers in their lives. That sounds simple, but it is revolutionary.

    Not living by the academic calendar: This summer I hope to enjoy the lake. In fall, I will be doing private practice in social work supervision and working at the Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services at the University of St. Thomas. I will find a new rhythm to my life, and I promise not to miss deadlines and meetings.

    What you've learned: Both my social work practice and my teaching have continued to make me believe in people's capacity to change and grow. I absolutely love meeting people. Their stories give me courage and hope. I am still an optimist at 65. That's no small trick in our world.

    How St. Kate's stands apart: It is a place where women find their voice and position in a community of women leaders — and in the world at large. We expect our graduates to lead and influence, in the mix of real life. Our graduates may not all be famous, but we are committed to making a difference in the world. Is that unique? I hope not.

    Biggest accomplishment: I've played all roles in our joint social work program with St. Thomas. I started as a field instructor supervising students in an agency; then I was hired at St. Kate's as one of the first adjunct professors and taught for 19 years. I became a full-time professor nine years ago and for four of those was director of field education for baccalaureate social work students. I leave as a professor emerita, which is an amazing honor.

    How students have changed: The students are as wonderful today as they always were. The demands on their lives as they attend the University are a burden that they all must carry. Students are even more attuned to social justice in a society that is so individualistic and in which helping your neighbor and the common good are all but forgotten.

    Biggest change in your career: I graduated from St. Kate's in 1969 with a degree in mathematics. I was a Benedictine sister. I taught for eight years and then was allowed to study at the University of Chicago. That was life-changing for me. I realized I was smart, and I had an obligation to make a difference. I left the doctorate on the table to return home with my master's in social work and practice with real clients. I followed my "call" out of the convent and eventually met a man who loved and supported me. I got married in 1984, and that same year I wed my two careers in teaching and social work by becoming a professor of social work. How lucky! I never looked back on either choice.

    How young women are different today: They have more demands on their lives. They sometimes need to learn to listen to their voice rather than find it.
  • photo Tom Thieman Right: This photo of Thieman appeared in the 1977 Renaissance, St. Kate's yearbook. Is that a typewriter?

    Tom Thieman
    Professor of Psychology
    Started at St. Kate's: 1976

    Biggest accomplishment: Teaching about 6,500 students during my career here and helping some of them realize their own dreams to pursue challenging careers and earn advanced degrees in lots of disciplines.

    Not living by the academic calendar: The opportunity to travel during the academic year, to experience New England in the fall or the Greek isles in the spring, is one of the great attractions of retirement. I look forward to December and May without piles of assignments to assess and grades to assign. On the downside, I will miss the bright faces at the beginning of each new term. In what other career do you have the opportunity to start totally fresh twice a year?

    Biggest change during your career: The computer revolution has dramatically affected how we conduct our daily activities in all aspects of life, not just in academia. Statistical analyses and literature searches that took days to complete 40 years ago can now be accomplished in nanoseconds. But I am not convinced that there have been commensurate gains in creativity and practical problem solving. Faster is not always better.

    How young women are different today: They seem to be a lot younger — or maybe I've just gotten a little older!

    Changes in your field: The scope of psychology has broadened over the past four decades, in terms of the topics it addresses, the places it is studied and practiced, and the methods it uses. Over this same period, women have gone from a minority to a majority of degree recipients at all levels of psychology, including the doctorate.

    How students have changed: Students still find the study of psychological phenomena very interesting. But students increasingly are career-oriented, more independent and very tech-savvy. Being around so many energetic and highly motivated young women has helped me continue to feel young (except on Monday mornings).

    Lessons from teaching: I learned that I enjoy teaching, especially when a student experiences that "Aha!" moment of enlightenment and she remarks, "I get it!"

    Why St. Kate's: St. Kate's has an important mission, a commitment to social justice and a beautiful campus. But the people are what make it so special. I have been blessed with marvelous colleagues and friends here, and I will miss my daily interactions with them.
  • photo Pat OdeRight: Ode, with her son Matt when he was 6 months old.

    Pat Ode
    Assistant Professor of Foods and Nutrition, Director of the Dietetics Program
    Started at St. Kate's: 1976

    Biggest accomplishment: Mentoring students and seeing them grow, mature and succeed in their careers. We also achieved successful accreditation site visits and reports for the dietetics program in 2004 and 2009, and I designed the St. Catherine Grill Servery in 1991.

    How students have changed: Today, students' lives are complex. Most work and go to school, and many have responsibility for financing their education and supporting their families. Perhaps because of the speed of technology, students today are looking for immediate information and response from professors. The pace of living has increased dramatically. A high-speed life contributes to more stress, a feeling of less permanence. In some ways we all may seem less safe. Are we also becoming less thoughtful and reflective?

    What you've learned: The influence of all types of technology and the speed of acquiring information has led to rapid changes in all areas of our lives. St. Catherine students have challenged me to be up to date with technology. Over the years, I've also grown to realize that real learning takes place when students and faculty work together.

    Changes in dietetics: The content in the discipline continues to expand. Students have a wide variety of career opportunities, focus and specialization. The information age contributes to more rapid information and change.

    The St. Kate's difference: We get to know our students well; we use a women-focused teaching/learning style. The mission to educate students to lead and influence is evident in our course content and the outcomes we see in our graduates. Students have more opportunity for community involvement, labs and hands-on learning with our smaller class sizes.

    What's next: I have some interests which I haven't had time to pursue. I will have more time for family and friends and some travel. Plus, no academic calendar means that a September family wedding in Rhode Island will be the beginning of a vacation trip in New England.
  • photo Jo Ann HolonbekRight: Holonbek has ushered the theater department through 37 years of artistic pursuits.

    Jo Ann Holonbek
    Associate Professor of Theater
    Started at St. Kate's: 1974

    How theater has changed: More and more women aren't just members in a theater company or theater organization, but instead they are heads, leaders, chairs. More and more female writers aren't identified as "women playwrights," but rather as "playwrights." I also think that today, theater companies are willing to produce scripts that they know aren't going to make money. They are more aware that theater is a powerful, insightful and necessary voice to be heard in society.

    How students have changed: Students today enter college to complete a major that will secure them a job or a career. They are very focused. When I began teaching 37 years ago, students entered college to learn who they were in connection to the people around them and to understand society's needs, wants and cares.

    How teaching has changed: Of course there is the inflated "A" grade. When I was in college, students were graded "A" through "F," and "C" was an actual grade that meant average. The "C" is now the "F" of our school system and society. How St. Kate's stands apart: Past, present and future St. Catherine students take an active part in their neighborhoods, communities and society at large. Social awareness has always been a part of the Sisters of St. Joseph's history, and that awareness really sets our graduates apart.

    How St. Kate's stands apart: Past, present and future St. Catherine students take an active part in their neighborhoods, communities and society at large. Social awareness has always been a part of the Sisters of St. Joseph's history, and that awareness really sets our graduates apart.

    Lessons from students: Each student is an individual, and yet each graduating class has its own personality, its own characteristics of governing, and its own contributions to their class and to the University community.