Investing in faculty is a natural focus for the LEAD & INFLUENCE campaign, as a strong faculty body is not only essential to student success but also bolsters the entire reputation of an academic institution. For example, funding for endowed chair positions helps the University recruit esteemed professors and empowers them to innovate and enrich the academic experience.
The University’s newest endowed chair was created through a gift from Brenda Grandstrand Woodson ’80, JD, in honor of her former advisor and English professor Mary Alice Muellerleile ’60. Its first appointee, Kristen Lillvis, PhD, is making the most of the opportunity.
“I’m really grateful for this position’s focus on pipeline building: the pipeline into St. Kate’s, the pipeline of helping students think about the arts, humanities, and English while they’re here, and then for them to consider what they would do afterward,” says Lillvis. As part of this work, she visits high school classrooms to speak about storytelling, poetry, and more. These visits, and her interdisciplinary collaboration with other staff and faculty such as Anh-Hoa Nguyen and Anupama Pasricha, PhD, are a chance to get students excited about English and about St. Kate’s.
Lillvis’ outreach extends to current Katies outside of the English department, too. She teaches students in science and business classes how to relate their personal stories to a variety of different audiences. She also engages students in her work as director and co-editor of Movable: Narratives of Recovery and Place, an online platform that shares stories about recovery from substance- and alcohol-use disorder.
Occupational therapy student Aubrey Lemon ’23, MAOT’25 is working with Lillvis on Movable to reduce stigma and create a recovery community right here at St. Kate’s. “On-campus support is integral to removing barriers from self-care and recovery,” said Lemon.
Last spring, the Muellerleile position made possible another impressive collaboration, this time with Minnesota poet laureate Gwen Westerman, PhD, who visited campus in February and April. In between Westerman’s visits, Lillvis taught poetry analysis to students in various disciplines and encouraged them to create works inspired by Westerman’s poetry and fiber arts specific to their fields. Students and faculty participated in creative writing, costume design, dance, ASL interpretation, quilt making, mobile construction, photography, and more.
“Learning to read poetry in an unbiased way has been a new experience for me,” said fashion design student Carrie Zirbes ’23. “The creative process was organic and had an element of spirituality, which was a very special way to explore my skills.”
Woodson, whose generous gift sparked the Muellerleile chair’s efforts, was moved by what the community had developed over the semester. “I wanted to fund a position that would maintain the relevance of and create innovation in the field of English,” she said. “Kristen’s work this past year has absolutely brought that to St. Kate’s, but she has spread it to the larger community, too. It’s been a joy to see this work come to life.”