Academic Innovations

Academic Innovations

Student sitting at a table studying

In March of 2020, Saint Mary’s College was forced to pivot and rethink how we would continue to provide stellar academics during the unexpected challenges associated with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The College immediately established the COVID-19 Response Group, composed of targeted teams of members from the Executive Cabinet, faculty, and staff to develop a collaborative and resilient planning model that offered multiple modalities of instruction, all while remaining compliant with National, State, and County Department of Health guidelines. The intense and focused planning by both the COVID-19 Response Group and the College’s Academic Contingency Planning Group resulted in a highly successful fall reopening of the Saint Mary’s campus that included a hybrid of online and in-person classroom instruction.

Student showing a child something on a computer

Saint Mary’s Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action (CILSA) is transforming lives, not just for our students who are actively engaged in social justice and civic engagement programs at home and abroad, but especially for the diverse communities they serve. Established 20 years ago in 1999, CILSA has grown in depth and breadth, collaborating with students, faculty, staff, and community partners to create and sustain programs of impact and change. CILSA is an academic center that we are extremely proud of—as they continue to successfully embrace their framework of head, heart, and hands guided by our Lasallian principles. “CILSA’s vision is that we are working toward the day when all people collaborate to enact justice, inclusion, and sustainability in all aspects of life. To work toward this vision with integrity, we need to approach internal and external partners with deep listening and wide-awakeness to the ways that power and oppression affect the work,” said Jennifer M. Pigza, CILSA director.

Women who run the Center for First-Generation Student Success sittin in front of an HP

Saint Mary’s College is proud to have been named a First Forward Institution by the Center for First-Generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA–Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation. This nationally ranked designation welcomes the College as a member of the inaugural 2019-20 First Forward Cohort. The prestige afforded to Saint Mary’s as a First Forward institution confirms and celebrates that our High Potential Program is achieving stellar success for our first-generation students by employing best-practices for student retention and graduation. First Forward also recognizes the Saint Mary’s High Potential/TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) Program for being awarded the largest grant received since its inception at the College in 1970. The five-year $1.3 million grant was awarded this summer to enhance academic support services for low-income and first-generation students.

Two women in lab coats laughing

Women who are STEM majors at Saint Mary’s recently received a significant financial award from the Henry Luce Foundation though its Clair Boothe Luce (CBL) Program. The $300,000 grant supports the CBL Scholars Program and provides full undergraduate scholarships for three years to support eight upper-division women majoring in science. "Our Lasallian mission calls for us to provide an outstanding, rigorous education to all of our students. This award ensures women studying science at the College are afforded all the opportunities needed to be successful in their scientific pursuits,” said James A. Donahue, President of Saint Mary’s College. Women are underrepresented in STEM, and the grant will support our women STEM majors in the field of physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, and environmental and Earth sciences.

A student smiling while working with a child something in a classroom

Saint Mary’s Kalmanovitz School of Education (KSOE) and the University of Kansas (KU) are partnering on a student-centered education initiative, and received part of an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to engage in innovative programming efforts to boost student engagement, learning, and achievement. Known as the Class-Wide Function-Related Intervention Teams (CW-FIT) program, KSOE received $1.4 million from the grant to establish a training center at Saint Mary’s, and to expand the program nationally. The grant is supporting researchers to work with nearly 100,000 students in grades three through five in designated states, to promote positive student behaviors and outcomes. Peter Alter, KSOE associate professor of Special Education, is leading the CW-FIT training center at the College. “We’re excited to train district personnel to implement the CW-FIT program,” said Alter. The CW-FIT grant is for three years and renewable for two more years, for a total of five years and nearly $8 million. The U.S. Department of Education received roughly 300 applications for the grant awards, and only 14 percent of the applications were funded, including the grant received by Saint Mary’s and our partner, the University of Kansas.

A professor smiling while showing students two different algae samples

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded one of the largest science grants ever to Saint Mary’s College, supporting the innovative research of Jim Pesavento, assistant professor of Biology in the School of Science. The $460,000 four-year award has both an environmental and social equity impact. Specifically, Pesavento is uncovering new findings about algae and its utility in removing carbon dioxide from the air and creating biofuels. Only a few scientists in the nation have delved deeply into this area of research, and Pesavento has been acknowledged as being on the cutting edge. His biology and biochemistry students are also benefiting from the grant by now having funding to attend national science conferences, and to have paid internships. “I live for moments like this. Instead of asking for money from the limited funds available to send my students to these conferences and to have paid internships over the summer, I now have the resources from the grant to fund this,” said Pesavento. The social equity opportunities that are being realized as a result of the NSF grant are benefitting underrepresented students interested in science at nearby Los Medanos Community College. The students shadow Pesavento’s upper division students for peer-to-peer learning experiences, expand their science research skillset, and realize a more clear vision of  themselves as future transfer students to Saint Mary’s.