Alumni Association Angle

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Alumni Association Angle

Summer 2010
Edited by Cynthia Scott
A Great Teacher with a Personal Touch
If the first-year experience forms the foundation of a successful collegiate career, Jeanne Higbee is the bedrock. As student athlete Brandon Kirksey puts it, “Dr. H is the Michael Jordan of teaching.”

Higbee, a professor in the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning, is one of this year’s recipients of the Horace T. Morse–University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award. (See all of the recipients and pages 58 and 59.) A nationally recognized expert on undergraduate education, Higbee designs and teaches undergraduate courses that help students transition to college life.

Students from all majors enroll in her freshman seminar, “Exploring Diversity through a Popular Culture Lens,” which fulfills

Jeanne Higbee with students Rachel Katz (left) and Lisa Clinton. The students co-authored articles with Higbee that were published in academic journals. Photo by Sher Stoneman
students’ intensive writing requirement. “One of the barriers to student success is that institutions assume first-year students know how to navigate systems like universities,” Higbee says. That assumption can be disastrous for students who are motivated and intelligent enough to succeed, but might not have what Higbee calls the “academic capital” to guide them through first-year challenges. Certain students are more likely than others to lack this academic capital, she says, such as those who are the first in their families to attend college, or those who struggle to fit in because they are different in some way from the majority.

“I can’t talk about my work without addressing diversity and multiculturalism in higher education,” says Higbee, who was raised in Milwaukee by a civil rights attorney mother. “I also can’t discuss teaching, advising, research, outreach, and service related to social justice as separate entities—they go hand-in-hand with a liberal education.”

Recently Higbee has integrated teaching and research by inviting students to co-author scholarly publications with her. This year, two student co-authors published papers on the power of language in creating a welcoming postsecondary environment and on redefining mainstreaming of students with disabilities in higher education. “What’s most important about these projects is that the participating students now consider themselves social justice allies and have moved into active roles as advocates,” Higbee says.

Students have helped Higbee shape her perspectives on multicultural education: a young woman with epilepsy who had been told she could never become a resident assistant but who, under Higbee’s guidance, went on to graduate school in student development; a student who carried a noose in her backpack and spent hours fantasizing about ways to end her life as she struggled with conflicting messages from her family and church about her sexuality; and a student athlete who faced prejudice because of his skin color. He eventually graduated, became a police officer, and served the same community that had never really accepted him.

“It is entirely possible that Professor Higbee was more invested in my personal education and development than I was at the time I took her class,” says Isaac Monke-Lundberg, a former student in Higbee’s freshman seminar. Now a junior with a double major in American studies and Spanish studies, he says Higbee and her class had the single greatest impact on him as a student, and credits her with instilling in him the belief that he could make valuable contributions to the University, the community, and the world.

As institutions and individuals increasingly rely on electronic, mass communication, Higbee says there’s a danger of discouraging one-on-one communication. One way she tries to encourage it is to put her home phone number on class syllabi with the invitation to call as late as 2 a.m. if needed. “I want students to know that I am accessible to answer their questions and provide resources as needed, and that means being accessible on their timeline,” Higbee says.

Higbee doesn’t apologize when her voice cracks as she talks about her students. “I know it’s a cliché to say that I learn more from my students than I teach them,” Higbee says. “But I hope I have to a very small degree touched my students’ lives the way they’ve touched mine.

- Cynthia Scott

Ertugrul Tuzcu photographed by Josh Kohanek.
National Board Chair
Here's the Plan

In mid-April, about 75 people from the U community gathered in the McNamara Alumni Center for the unveiling of our strategic plan, “Beyond Traditions: Vision 2016.” As CEO Phil Esten explained the scope of this intensive nine-month process and what our surveys of more than 3,300 alumni revealed, I watched heads nodding in appreciation. Our findings clearly resonated with this crowd. For example, nearly 9 out of 10 alumni report that they are satisfied with the overall experience they had as a student at the U.

But not everything we learned about alumni perspectives had us doing cartwheels. I heard a few gasps when Phil noted how likely alumni are to recommend the U of M to a prospective student. Our score is lowest among peer institutions. And, despite the fact that a world of information is available to all of us 24/7, too many of our alumni (57 percent) say they do not feel informed enough to comment about whether their alma mater is moving in the right direction.

This might sound disheartening to some, but we at the Alumni Association look at this data and see enormous opportunities. Hundreds of stakeholders rolled up their sleeves and offered foresight and insight to help shape our strategic plan for the next five years. We now have a new vision and mission and more clearly defined core values. (Read our mission statement on page 4, and read more about the plan at

Vision 2016’s objectives and initiatives will serve as our roadmap. In collaboration with other U partners, Alumni Association staff will execute the plan, and, as a result, alumni will find new ways to engage with the U and each other no matter where they live. They’ll be able to stay informed about the U in new formats. They’ll enjoy new programs and activities that strengthen their U ties. And, best of all, they’ll begin doing these things long before they’re alumni.

U students are already beginning to grasp what the Alumni Association means in their lifelong relationship with the U. In fact, several undergraduate students participated in the strategic planning process, providing their impressions and opinions about the Alumni Association’s role.

Steve Ruiz, a student in the College of Science and Engineering, was one of them. He attended the unveiling of the plan and later said he was impressed by what he experienced. “I definitely believe that staying involved with the U and the Alumni Association will be a benefit to me,” he said. Judging by what he said next, I feel confident that our strategic plan will be a success. In addition to the opportunity to connect to a network of amazing alumni and a way to give back to the U, he said he understands that “the Alumni Association provides a way to keep in touch with your inner Gopher.”

My heartfelt thanks to Phil Esten for his tireless leadership and to Steve Ruiz and all the participants for their input and passionate deliberations in creating a great plan—one that is challenging but doable and owned by us all.

This is my last column as national board chair. It has been a privilege and an honor to serve you. But I am not going away. I will continue serving behind the scenes. See you later.

—Ertugrul Tuzcu (M.S. ’78)
Honoring Great Teachers

The University of Minnesota recognizes excellent teaching with two annual awards: the Horace T. Morse–University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award and the Award for Contributions to Postgraduate, Graduate, and Professional Education. The University of Minnesota Alumni Association, the University’s Office of Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, and the Senate Committee on Educational Policy cosponsor the annual awards. This year’s 15 recipients explain what teaching means to them.

The Morse Award recognizes excellence in contributing to student learning through teaching, research, and creative activities; advising; academic program development; and educational leadership. The award represents the highest recognition by the University community of its most distinguished scholar-teachers.

Christopher Cramer, professor, Department of Chemistry, College of Science and Engineering

“I view my role as an instructor as a quintessentially personal one. I want my students to feel not merely that they have learned a subject from me, but more importantly that they have been part of an intimate transfer of knowledge and experience that defines the human endeavor moving forward. That’s my definition of professorial success.”

Kirsten Fischer, associate professor, Department of History, College of Liberal Arts

“In addition to learning a great deal of religious, social, and legal history, students practice skills they need as citizens: skills of analysis, of civil debate and fair augmentation, of engagement with opposing positions. When students develop their own historically informed opinions while remaining open to counterarguments, I feel it’s been a good day’s work.”

Jeanne Higbee, professor, Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning, College of Education and Human Development

Gary Jahn, professor, Program in Slavic Languages and Literatures, College of Liberal Arts

“I have been a teacher for so long now (more than 40 years) that I find it difficult to remember not being in front of a class. . . . My goal as a teacher of literature has been to provide my students with the context they will need to deal adequately with the texts and with a constant pressure upon them to encourage and elicit their personal experiences of the text."

Soo-Yin Lim-Thompson, associate professor, Early Childhood Education Program, Liberal Arts and Education Department, University of Minnesota, Crookston

“My students consistently motivate me to seek creative ways to reach each one, support them during times of challenges, provide and challenge them to discover their fullest potential, and guide and affirm their interests and aspirations.”

Susan Mantell, professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Science and Engineering

“I feel compelled to ensure that students have opportunities to touch things, take them apart, to make something work, and to analyze failure. It is through these types of experiences that we can train our students as lifelong learners.”

Michelle Page, associate professor, Department of Secondary Education, Division of Education, University of Minnesota, Morris

“Education is not only about information, it is about transformation. I do not seek merely to ‘embrace diversity’ or ‘teach tolerance’ alone. Rather, I seek to play a role in creating a more equitable and just society.”
The Award for Outstanding Contributions to Postbaccalaureate, Graduate, and Professional Education recognizes faculty members for excellence in instruction; instructional program development; intellectual distinction; advising and mentoring; and involvement of students in research, scholarship, and professional development.

Melissa Avery, associate professor and chair, Child and Family Health Cooperative, School of Nursing

“The most rewarding part of my day as a faculty member is the opportunity to see a student through a success, whether that is sorting out a resolution to a small challenge, achieving a milestone such as completion of a course, paper, or program, or those ‘aha!’ moments that come along frequently during the teaching/learning process.”

Janet Dubinsky, professor, Department of Neuroscience, Medical School

“Providing professional development to post-baccalaureate teachers [who are studying] the biological basis of learning and memory applies the new knowledge generated in my field towards solving a pressing societal need: improving K-12 science education. As a research scientist who is privileged to spend [federal funds] on the pursuit of new knowledge, communicating this knowledge to teacher audiences is my way of returning the favor.”

Edward Goetz, professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, director, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs

“I remember that as a student I learned best when I was truly engaged in the topic or by the instructor. As a result, I keep the ‘space’ between me and the students as minimal and as uncluttered as possible.”

Ralph Holzenthal, professor, Department of Entomology, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

“I consider myself a ‘hands on’ adviser, mainly because of my genuine interest in the students’ research, but I hope with enough ‘hands off’ to give students the freedom to follow their own course.”

Anatoly Liberman, professor, Department of German, Scandinavian, and Dutch; College of Liberal Arts

“Every year, young people come to me, certain that I know answers to their questions. . . . And every time I have to decide how to open and shape their minds, without instilling dogmas into them, and how to bring out their best qualities, without making them too dependent on my judgment.”

Raymond Newman, professor, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology; College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

“I am particularly interested in developing interdisciplinary teams and programs to help solve important environmental problems and, more importantly, to help train the next generation of scientists and managers to be better equipped to deal with these challenges.”

Margaret Root Kustritz, associate professor and assistant dean of education, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine

“I was blessed with great teachers and mentors. . . . Those mentors instilled in me great attention to detail and an appreciation for how to take what others had done and to build on it for the future.”

Ann Van Heest, professor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Medical School

“The essence of medicine is helping others. Mentoring the professional training of other orthopaedic surgeons to become competent, ethical, board certified healers, as well as my core work as a pediatric orthopaedic hand surgeon, has been the joy of my academic career.”

Learn on the Fly

Few sights in nature are as captivating as a bird of prey. Eagles, hawks, owls, falcons, and other raptors are among the world’s most majestic and fascinating creatures. Take Lois and Bud, for example.

The University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center (TRC) rescued Lois, a great horned owl, and Bud, a bald eagle, 10 and 14 years ago, respectively.

Someone found Lois out of her nest near Bemidji, Minnesota, and took her to the Raptor Center after caring for her for a month.

Lois and her handler Vanessa Hallstead. Photograph by Gail Buhl
An evaluation concluded that she had imprinted on humans—imprinting occurs during a critical period of brain development and means that an individual of one species sees individuals of another species as belonging to its own kind.

An eagle researcher found Bud, then a juvenile, in a nest near Delta, Michigan, with an injured eye that had become infected. The bander took Bud to the Raptor Center, where they discovered the infection had spread to surrounding bone. The eye and the area around it were surgically removed.

Neither bird was able to return to the wild following rehabilitation, so they became proud members of the education department at TRC, one of the world’s premier organizations contributing to the health and well-being of raptors.

Located on the St. Paul campus, TRC, part of the College of Veterinary Medicine, treats approximately 800 birds a year for injuries ranging from lead poisoning to collisions with vehicles. It also provides training in avian medicine and surgery for veterinarians from around the world and identifies emerging issues related to raptor health and populations.

The Raptor Center’s educational programs reach more than 200,000 people each year. Members of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association pay a discounted price of $5 (regular price $7.50) for admission to “Raptors in Minnesota,” a popular hour-long educational program presented every Saturday at 1 p.m. The program, which features birds like Lois and Bud, includes a tour of TRC and its outdoor raptor housing area. Admission is on a first-come, first-served basis, and spaces fill quickly. (Programs are not held on some weekends; check the website first.)

Alumni Association members are also entitled to a 20 percent discount on Hatch Day parties, a unique, fun, and educational way to celebrate a child’s birthday. Parties include raptor invitations, the chance to meet some of the educational raptors, a make-and-take craft activity, photo opportunities with a raptor, and a decorated party room. Prices vary depending on the number of children.

For more information, visit
In Celebration of Mentoring

 Former WCCO-TV anchor Don Shelby, who won a Peabody Award for his year-long public service project, “One-to-One: Mentoring,” gave a heartfelt keynote address about how mentoring changes lives at the Mentor Appreciation Dinner on April 20 at the McNamara Alumni Center. More than 400 mentors and their mentees, who are University of Minnesota students, gathered for the celebration to cap off a year of mentoring. The University of Minnesota Alumni Association assists U colleges and schools in pairing students with alumni mentors. Shelby is pictured with Melinda Brown (left), a student in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and her mentor Valerie Were (M.S. ’07). Photograph by Mike Lee

A Heartfelt Tribute to Bruininks and Hagstrum

Nearly 500 alumni and other friends of the University of Minnesota gathered on Tuesday, May 3 to honor President Bob Bruininks

Left to right: First Lady Susan Hagstrum, Bob Bruininks, son Brett Bruininks, and friend Cynthia Connor. Photograph by Patrick O'Leary
and First Lady Susan Hagstrum at the Alumni Association’s annual celebration. A reception at the Carlson School of Management preceded the program, which was held at Ted Mann Auditorium. Bruininks will conclude his tenure as the 15th president of the University of Minnesota on June 30.

The Demon Barber Boards the Showboat

University opera legend Vern Sutton teams up with director Peter Moore to stage The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, this summer’s production of the University of Minnesota Showboat Players on board the Minnesota Centennial Showboat. Following the performances on June 29 and July 19, the University of Minnesota Alumni Association will host an exclusive dessert reception with the cast for Alumni Association members. Tickets are $27.

Nathan Barlow (reclining) as Harlequin and Christian Bardin as Hermidas in last year’s Showboat production, Triumph of Love. Photograph by Cody Baldwin
Originally a Victorian melodrama by George Dibdin Pitt and recently popularized by Tim Burton’s film adaptation, Sweeney Todd, starring Johnny Depp, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street tells the story of the sinister barber Sweeney Todd, who wields his razor to exact revenge on customers who have wronged him. Once dispatched, the victims show up again as ingredients in meat pies—a gruesome tale to be sure, but Moore promises that the Showboat production is full of wit and humor. “We’re using all the drama and suspense that everyone associates with Sweeney Todd, but we’re using the Showboat’s signature vaudeville style to make it fun. And it is—it’s just so much fun!” he says.

Sutton retired from the University of Minnesota School of Music in 2003 after a 36-year career. A master of classical and contemporary opera with a fondness for country and western music, he has been a frequent guest on public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Moore and Sutton co-directed the Showboat’s The Count of Monte Cristo in 2008.

For tickets, go to

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