Pillars of the academy: our faculty

By Andy Steiner, from .

The first women鈥檚 colleges in the United States, in the 1800s, were mostly not much more than finishing schools with the goal of turning out graduates to be 鈥済ood鈥 wives and mothers. But from the very start, that wasn鈥檛 the case at the College of St. SWAG视频, where pioneering founder Mother Antonia McHugh decided that her institution would be different: this new school was anything but a finishing school. It would educate women who would one day excel in scholarship and career. To do that, Mother Antonia figured, she needed to support and cultivate faculty who were nationally recognized experts in their fields. From St. Kate鈥檚 founding in 1905 through the 40s and 50s, she sent them off to be educated at the top colleges and universities around the world, increasing their scholarship while cementing their 鈥 and the college鈥檚 鈥 reputation.

That commitment continues today at St. SWAG视频 University, where faculty development remains a core value that spreads through the University鈥檚 ecosystem, according to Anita Thomas, PhD, University executive vice president and provost. While faculty see a direct impact from this support for their scholarship, students also benefit. Mother Antonia鈥檚 legacy is lasting.

鈥淪t. Kate鈥檚 has attained a level of academic excellence and rigor in the classroom that is enhanced by the vibrant portfolio of teaching, engaged scholarship, and creative activities offered by our faculty,鈥 Thomas says. 鈥淔or me, the synergistic relationship between scholarship, teaching, service to the community, and service to our disciplines and professions only enhances the academic rigor and activities in the classroom.鈥

The University鈥檚 commitment to faculty development is informed by three pillars: teaching and pedagogy, scholarship and research, and service. To demonstrate this in action, three St. SWAG视频 professors explain how the three pillars support and enhance their work on campus today 鈥 with students and in the world at large.


St. Kate's tradition of dedicated faculty development reaches back to its founding, when Mother Antonia McHugh began sending sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet to pursue top-tier advanced degrees around the world. Pictured, three CSJs in England in 1931.聽

Teaching and pedagogy

One of the first things Katie Campbell, PhD, noticed when she came to St. SWAG视频 University five years ago was a sense of support, a campus wide ethic that held up not just students but also the faculty who educate and mentor them. This culture of support felt like a self-sustaining ecosystem, with faculty nourished by opportunities to engage in their research while strengthening their teaching muscles, and a student body eager for the chance to learn and participate in research.

At St. Kate鈥檚, Campbell explains, 鈥淲e educate women to lead and influence. That focus on leadership is also there when we think about faculty being supported in their roles so they can support the mentorship of undergraduate students.鈥

As director of collaborative undergraduate research, Campbell heads up Summer Scholars, a unique program where faculty and undergraduate students spend the warmer months of the year collaborating on real-world research projects, an opportunity that is all too rare at many colleges.

鈥淪ummer Scholars is broad in terms of its scope,鈥 Campbell says, explaining that participants include faculty and students across all of the University鈥檚 disciplines. Strong donor support for the program means that all participants are paid for their work, she adds. 鈥淭his year we had 13 teams conduct collaborative research over 10 weeks in the summer.鈥

Katie Campbell

Katie Campbell, PhD, director of collaborative undergraduate research and assistant professor of interprofessional education

Summer Scholars deserves its position as a St. Kate鈥檚 signature program, Campbell says: it feeds the ecosystem and helps keep it strong. 鈥淚t is a high-impact program that supports faculty in their research and launches students to become leaders into the future.鈥

Another way Campbell鈥檚 work with students has been supported at St. Kate鈥檚 is through the University鈥檚 Office of Sponsored Programs, Research, and External Engagement (SPREE). Campbell explains that SPREE helped her and two colleagues snag a five-year, $1.5 million National Institutes of Health funding for Katies for Aging Research and Equity (KARE), an integrated,聽multi-year research education program that supports underrepresented minority students to study, challenge, and reimagine systems to promote healthy aging and longevity.

鈥淪PREE is amazingly high-touch,鈥 Campbell says. 鈥淭hey are incredible partners when it comes to grant writing. Compared to the support I got in the past at other institutions, they offer a hands-on, collaborative approach.鈥

Programs like Summer Scholars and KARE feature research and out-of-the classroom mentoring, but time spent in the classroom is also essential to the health and development of the student body, an ever-changing organism that reflects society as a whole.

From St. Kate鈥檚 very beginnings, it has always been a given that culturally relevant teaching is mission- central. Mary Unger Henderson 鈥80, EdD, professor of business administration, has a history with the institution that goes beyond her 23 years as faculty. A St. Kate鈥檚 alumna, she understands that what goes on in the classroom is at the core of the University.

鈥淭eaching is at the heart of our institution,鈥 Henderson says. 鈥淭hat鈥檚 our priority.鈥

To keep their teaching fresh and relevant to the student body, St. SWAG视频 faculty receive support through development programs focused on enriching teaching and pedagogy, says Dianne Oliver, PhD, associate provost.

鈥淥ne of the things that鈥檚 been important for us as an institution has been trying to work to continue development around diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. Some of that is related to content in courses. Some of it is pedagogy: 鈥楬ow do I teach in ways that are inclusive?鈥 We are teaching 鈥 and learning 鈥 what it means to be a faculty member in 2022 and 2023.鈥

West and Williams

Kristine West, PhD, (left) and Daniel Williams, PhD, (right) at a "Welcoming the Dear Neighbor?" event this summer.

Scholarship and Research

While academics have a reputation for noses firmly stuck in books, Rachel Neiwert, PhD, knew that wouldn鈥檛 be the case when she came to St. Kate鈥檚. She arrived fully aware of the University鈥檚 long history of support for women scholars, and she鈥檇 heard the stories about Mother Antonia sending her fellow religious sisters to universities around the world for advanced degrees. To Neiwert, these stories cemented the core belief that learning is an active, outward-facing pursuit.

鈥淲hat I have been cognizant of during my time at St. Kate鈥檚 is that scholarship is not meant to be something that I am doing by myself in my office,鈥 she says. 鈥淪cholarship happens out in the world with my students.鈥

Rachel Neiwert

Rachel Neiwert, PhD, Sister Mona Riley Endowed聽Professor in the Humanities and associate professor聽of history

A British historian by training, Neiwert understood it would be financially difficult to bring her students to England for hands-on research with primary documents. So she set out to find local history projects, including working with students to research racial housing covenants in the neighborhoods surrounding the University.

In 2019, Neiwert joined fellow professors Kristine West, PhD, and Daniel Williams, PhD, on 鈥溾, an in-depth research project that reveals the history and impact of racially-based housing discrimination in the Twin Cities.

For months, Neiwert and a host of students across disciplines studied old local newspapers on microfilm, looking for mentions of racially-based housing discrimination. The project has gained attention in the local and national press and praise in academic circles. This kind of in-depth research takes time and resources. To make these projects available to students, St. Kate鈥檚 sponsors a number of support programs, including the Assistantship Mentoring Program (AMP) which provides funding for students to engage in research with faculty through the Office of Scholarly Engagement.

This support for students is essential, explains Neiwert. 鈥淚 have a responsibility to think about how I can provide these kinds of opportunities to my students in a way that聽makes the work feasible for them,鈥 she says. 鈥淎MP allows my students to participate in this program.鈥

Henderson explains that programs like AMP underscore the University鈥檚 commitment to supporting faculty and students in producing powerful research with social impact. 鈥淪cholarship is very important to who we are at St. Kates,鈥 she says. 鈥淚t informs our work as teachers. We bring the content from our scholarship into our classrooms 鈥 and we invite students to participate in that scholarship.鈥

Ramsey county overview

In June, "Welcoming the Dear Neighbor?" team members unveiled new data and maps of racial covenants in historic Ramsey county housing deeds聽鈥 indicated with dark green.

Another way that Neiwert鈥檚 research is supported is through the Sister Mona Riley Endowed Professorship in Humanities. The award comes with funding that makes it financially possible for Neiwert to do her own research 鈥 and support her students in theirs. The professorship is one of many endowed positions available to faculty across disciplines.

鈥淭he Sister Mona Riley Professorship is a significant way my scholarship has been supported,鈥 Neiwert says. 鈥淓ach of these endowed positions comes with course releases to offer us more time to focus on research and build a community of scholars. They are essential to supporting the academic life of this campus.鈥


Though she knows that her classroom is an essential place for learning and community SWAG视频, Pa Der Vang, PhD, also has an innate belief that it is important for social work faculty and students to leave the classroom and serve others in the outside world. Over the course of her career, Vang鈥檚 scholarship has been focused on leadership development in communities of color.

鈥淎ll of the work I鈥檝e been doing has centered around developing Hmong leaders in the field of social work,鈥 she says. 鈥淭here are a lot of barriers
faced by professionals of color interested in entering licensed professions like social work. My work has been around understanding why that happens and how to influence change.鈥

Vang鈥檚 interest in supporting equity in the field of social work led her to create the . 鈥淚 created the coalition so we could have a collective voice with the Minnesota Board of Social Work,鈥 she explains. Within the first year of the group鈥檚 foundation, Vang was asked to join the Minnesota Board of Social Work鈥檚 advisory board. She also created an annual conference for Hmong social workers.

Pan der Vang

Pa Der Vang, PhD, associate professor of social work

This level of 鈥渙utside鈥 service, 鈥渘ot only to the University but also to make a difference nationally and locally,鈥 is simply part of being St. SWAG视频 faculty, Vang says. Thomas adds that service to society is seen as service to the University.

Work like Vang鈥檚 is actively encouraged and supported, says the provost: 鈥淭hat synergistic sense of development, engagement, teaching and scholarship, and service to the larger community and the profession all goes back to academic excellence in the classroom.鈥

Because social work is a profession that is very much focused on the larger world, Vang says she believes that activism and service should be required of all faculty and students in the department. She was drawn to the University a little over a decade ago by its focus on developing women in positions of leadership.

At its founding, St. Kate鈥檚 was 鈥渂uilt from that recognition of oppression,鈥 Vang says. 鈥淲e wanted to help a group that was oppressed at the time 鈥 that group was women. St. Kate鈥檚 opened doors for women. Now we are opening doors for other communities who historically did not have access to education.鈥 Because of that history, Vang says her service to students of color and immigrants is very much connected to the ethos of the University.

鈥淚 don鈥檛 think of it as outside my work. It is very in line with my field, and very much in line with who St. Kate鈥檚 is as a school.鈥 Continued work toward diversity, equity, and inclusion is a major focus for the University, and outside service, like her work in the state鈥檚 social work community, is a key part of that, Vang says: 鈥淚t鈥檚 part of who we are as an institution, and one of the things that drew me here.鈥