Patricia O'Connor Myser Award for Faculty Excellence

About the Myser Award

The Patricia O’Connor Myser Award for Faculty Excellence was created in 2015 to honor St. Catherine University faculty members who are exceptional mentors to undergraduate students engaged in research and scholarly work.

Photo, left to right: Becky Roloff, St. Catherine University president; Patricia O'Connor Myser; Kristine West, associate professor of economics and 2019 Myser Award recipient; Lynda Szymanski, St. Catherine University associate provost

Becky Roloff, Patricia O'Connor Myser, Kristine West, and Lynda Szymanski
Myser Award Recipients
2020 — Caroline Krafft, Associate Professor of Economics

Each student I mentor not only becomes more able to achieve her own goals, but also more able to serve and help others achieve their goals.

Caroline's faculty profile

As an economist, why do I mentor? Economists have a concept called a “multiplier effect,” which describes how, when you take an action, the impact of that action is just the starting point. There is a ripple effect, and not a diminishing ripple, but rather a growing, compounding, multiplying effect. Each student I mentor not only becomes more able to achieve her own goals, but also more able to serve and help others achieve their goals. Having a multiplier effect fundamentally depends on providing students with meaningful learning experiences. This process starts with getting to know students as people, so I can tailor my mentoring, encouragement, and advice to their goals. Mentoring also means having fun. All of my mentees are delightful, impressive individuals who are a joy to work with. Yet research can become frustrating and having a sense of fun and humor helps us persist, learn, and succeed.

As a mentor, I try to involve my students in all the levels of scholarly thought. This starts with discussing the goals and planned outputs of the specific survey programming, data analysis, literature review, or writing task that we are undertaking. The research process also moves to thinking about how to manage time, collaboration, and tasks. As much as possible I give students leadership and ownership of their work and how they organize that work, as they learn more from being self-directed and problem-solving, with me as a cheerleader, coach, and backstop as needed. As students build their skills, they take them forward to their peers in the Economics Research Lab and teach each other. Ultimately, they build on their experiences in their careers, and their own future mentoring. While I get to enjoy their triumphs and accomplishments now, society will enjoy their ongoing impact, benefiting others in turn.

2019 — Kristine West, Associate Professor of Economics

Working on research with students is hands-down my favorite part of my job. Students quickly find their voice and learn that research is not some mystical thing done by a select few but rather a broad effort to expand our collective knowledge.

Kristine's faculty profile

In the Economics and Political Science Department, we place a high priority on collaborative research and working on research with students is hands-down my favorite part of my job. Students quickly find their voice and learn that research is not some mystical thing done by a select few but rather a broad effort to expand our collective knowledge. Students collaborate on every step of the process from forming the research question to conducting the statistical analysis to presenting at national conferences.

I want my mentees to have what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset” which comes when we realize that no one was born knowing how to code or how to write a journal article, these are skills you learn. Once students embrace this growth mindset they realize there are no limits to what they can achieve.

2018 — James Wollack, Associate Professor of Chemistry

What it takes to be a chemist cannot be read in a book as the problems encountered in lab can only be efficiently learned from multiple apprenticeships. These apprenticeships begin with me and continue when my students go onto graduate and medical school programs.

James' faculty profile

What it takes to be a chemist cannot be read in a book as the problems encountered in lab can only be efficiently learned from multiple apprenticeships. These apprenticeships begin with me and continue when my students go onto graduate and medical school programs.

Chemical apprenticeship does not mean a master apprentice showing students how to successfully complete chemical reactions but it refers to the intangibles that go beyond. It means teaching students not to be flustered when an experiment does not work correctly. It means installing the work ethic and resolve to keep trying even when they know they will likely no longer be around when their project is complete. It means teaching students to think like a chemist by analyzing all variables. It means teaching students to act like a chemist by not being afraid to try something new, or admitting a mistake, or going out on a limb to ask for advice from others that you may not even know.

Each student is different and needs to be pushed in different ways to be successful in the next step of their lives. This may mean needing to learn how to speak and write concisely, to refrain from saying sorry unless they actually did something wrong, or how to prepare to speak to a room of over 100 people.

If I do my job a student’s weakness may still exist but it will not be their downfall. If I am an effective mentor my students will complete projects, publish results and go onto successful programs and careers. More importantly they will know they are a chemist and have the self-confidence, resolve, and joy to back it up.

2017 — Daron E. Janzen, Associate Professor of Chemistry

Through my mentorship, I provide meaningful experiences for students in a variety of ways.  I engage students in research that helps them build on their classroom experiences (ideas and techniques) and connect their research to the greater community of chemistry scholarship.

Daron's faculty profile

 

Through my mentorship, I provide meaningful experiences for students in a variety of ways. I engage students in research that helps them build on their classroom experiences (ideas and techniques) and connect their research to the greater community of chemistry scholarship. I help students create meaningful research projects that build on students’ strengths and interests but also ensure they must stretch beyond their experience and become increasingly independent in guiding the direction of their work. I guide students to carefully examine the work of others, critically evaluate published work, and help students apply these same skills to their own scholarship. I emphasize the importance of scientific communication and expect and support all students I mentor to present their research to a variety of audiences. I stress the ethical and economic responsibilities that scientists have to disseminate their work, to use resources wisely, and carefully consider the implications of their work. At the same time, I help to instill in my mentees the respect for basic research and the importance of understanding research outcomes in the absence of obvious applications. I encourage my mentees to support one another, share their knowledge of techniques and theory, and experience the benefits of collaborative science research while also maintaining ownership of individual research work. I endeavor to publish quality research outcomes of all my students in a timely fashion to help best benefit those students as they pursue graduate school, REU opportunities, and employment. I involve students in the publication process, sharing the work, frustrations, and joy in bringing our scholarship to life. I continue to commit my program of scholarship to involve students at every level and help students develop as scholars.

2016 — Cecilia Konchar Farr, Professor of English

Literary scholars try out ideas, develop interpretations, and test theories in the classroom. For years, I have maintained that the best way to be an active researcher as a baccalaureate faculty member is to take your scholarly work to your students.

Cecilia's faculty profile

Literary scholars try out ideas, develop interpretations, and test theories in the classroom. For years, I have maintained that the best way to be an active researcher as a baccalaureate faculty member is to take your scholarly work to your students. But a few years ago, the other half of that dynamic emerged in a research project that my students brought to me, my first Harry Potter book, A Wizard of Their Age (SUNY 2015).

It started with a few English majors and their interest in and knowledge of these novels—and their desire to study them seriously. They requested a Harry Potter course, so we developed one together. Then, inspired by class discussions and their scholarly insights, we decided to put together a collection of essays from “the Harry Potter generation,” undergrads like them who had grown up with the books. Eight of us began to meet, in 2010, as an editorial team, and I guided them through the process of writing a proposal, a call for papers, a query letter. We sorted through and assessed the submitted essays, carefully naming our criteria for excellence. We edited the essays repeatedly, creatively arranging and rearranging them; we constructed a style sheet, and worked to make the essays consistent.

Once we got a contract from a university press, I walked the editors through how to respond to peer reviewers. After our final round of editing, we proofread together for hours on end and even settled, somewhat amicably, a passionate disagreement over the Oxford comma (I lost). It was an amazing, intensive, bonding, learning experience for all of us from beginning to end. To see the editors and contributors reading from their work at lectures, events, and parties the year the book came out was to see how transformative it could be for those women to have their ideas taken seriously, in print, in a scholarly book. It reaffirmed, for me, the significance of literary research.

Using that experience as a model, I took my inquiry into Gertrude Stein’s experimental Modernist novel The Making of Americans into an English senior seminar the following year in a different, more democratic way, asking my students to read and explore it with me for a paper I was writing. It was a big ask. When we made it through 925 repetitive, confusing, exhilarating pages, we all decided that there should be a handbook for reading it—and we were the ones to write it. Four years later, the project is completed and awaiting publication, and my student co-author and contributors’ voices echo through its pages.

The intensive advising and mentoring we practice routinely in the English department set me up for these profound exchanges with student scholars, just as my experience with my own research prepared me to work with theirs. Our collaborative practices in the humanities, the seamless shift from text to research to classroom to publication, are the foundation of my work as a mentor.

2015 — Kay Tweeten, Professor of Biology

Throughout my career at the University, I have done my scholarship in collaboration with undergraduates. Not only is participation in research integral to undergraduate education in biology; it allows students to explore their creative, intellectual, and scientific potentials.

Kay's faculty profile

Throughout my career at the University, I have done my scholarship in collaboration with undergraduates. Not only is participation in research integral to undergraduate education in biology; it allows students to explore their creative, intellectual, and scientific potentials.

My approach is to work with students as a mentor. I actively involve students in experimental design, in data gathering, and in interpretation of results. This fosters the development of a relationship which not only confers research savvy, but which also encourages students to engage in the risk-taking required of leaders. Together we pose significant, original research questions. Students learn a variety of methods, instrumentation, and  data collection processes in seeking answers to these research questions. 

It is my hope that the research environment I provide helps students discover for themselves that they are creative — able to think of good questions and contribute ideas to the lab effort. I try to step back, allowing them to be the first to see the results of an experiment and have the satisfaction of making the original observation.

My goal is that they experience autonomy in their thinking while seeing how collaboration enhances scientific creativity and productivity, see the value of perseverance through the frustrations that often accompany conducting and trouble-shooting experiments, that they apply integrity and thoroughness in their work, and that they embrace how mistakes in the lab often provide for progress. Because we are asking original research questions, our results contribute to what is currently a very limited knowledge base regarding biology of Lumbriculus — our work together and our dissemination efforts through conference presentations and publications is benefiting the larger scientific community. Participation in research activities as an undergraduate also helps some students decide if research is an appropriate career path and enhances their chances of being accepted into graduate programs.