Multi-generational Mendel gift supports futures in STEM

A photo of a student, Morgan, doing an experiment

“We need to be investing in the next generation of hard science students,” says chemistry major Morgan Batiste-Simms ’22, above.

From the St. Catherine University Magazine 2022 donor tribute. Photos by Rebecca Slater '10 / By Rebecca Studios.

On October 5, alumna Katherine Buuck Fratzke ’17 attended the St. Catherine University Expanding HERizons town hall event and was struck with a vision: a multi-generational family gift to support the education of underrepresented students in the sciences. After the town hall, which focused on the obstacles faced by women of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, Fratzke brought the opportunity to her parents, Robert and Gail Buuck. They echoed her desire to get involved, and together the family committed $1 million toward the renovation and improvement of the Mendel building as part of LEAD & INFLUENCE: The Campaign for the Next Level of Excellence.

“There are so many voices and ideas that are not being heard and explored,” Fratzke says. “We are limiting ourselves and the possibilities to address current issues if we don’t bring a diverse set of thoughts and ideas forward."

With exactly this at heart, St. Kate’s has been educating future leaders and changemakers for over a century. Essential to continuing this legacy, Fratzke notes, is a learning space with access to state-of-the-art technology and resources to provide students with the support, opportunities, and freedom to discover.

“Mendel was a place where I felt energized to learn and explore new ideas,” recalls Fratzke. “St. Kate’s students are big thinkers and dreamers, and an environment in which to investigate and discover is vital to their success.”

Those sentiments are echoed by Morgan Batiste-Simms ’22, a chemistry major with a biochemistry concentration who has spent countless hours in the building during her studies.

“There is a sense of community within Mendel that is so special,” says Batiste-Simms. “Everyone is consistently willing to have a conversation, review different scenarios, and find the best path forward. St. Kate’s has given me the confidence to go into classes and not be intimidated, to enjoy the learning process and not just struggle through it. It is a place where I have been able to flourish.”

As a current student, Batiste-Simms also envisions the potential these updates will help unleash in Katies to come.

“STEM is never not going to be crucial. We need to be investing in the next generation of hard science students, our next round of researchers,” she says. “While part of being a researcher is having to deal with obstacles, it’s usually due to the research itself — not the physical space in which it is being conducted. Updating the space and technology will allow us to focus more on the science.”

“Updating the space is just the first step in our trajectory to extend and reinvigorate our approach to STEM,” says Taviare Hawkins, PhD, division chair for math and sciences. “We are embedding career competencies into classwork and establishing close partnerships with the industry. These are the steps that will empower students with clear paths to careers in STEM.”

Group shot in Mendel



Katie Buuck Fratzke ’17 (far right) and her parents Robert and Gail Buuck (at center) were moved to give to the campaign after attending an event featuring division chair Taviare Hawkins, PhD (far left).