They Came Back

Alumni return to teach, engage students' minds

And they came back to teach, determined to recreate old experiences and ezpose students to study government in Washinton, D.C., or across the Mississippi River to Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis to study prejudice. They teach online courses and bring in National Science Foundation grants. They ask students whether robots will rule the world and help direct a new science complex. They leave the investment world and discuss environmental ethics – all to make a positive impact in someone's life.

And the guy who once flunked out of St. Thomas – and returned to chair his department and serve as president of the faculty – finds it a great place to study and teach.

What they love most seems to be the engagement with students’ minds, and they remember teachers they had who did just that. At present, more than 30 full-time and 20 part-time faculty were undergraduates at St. Thomas. We asked some of them to talk about teaching, past or present.

In high school Dr. Bonnie Holte Bennett ’82 took some advanced computer programming classes and hated them. “There were two kinds of people in the world: those who could work with computers and me,” she remembered thinking.

St. Thomas changed that. In 2002, Bennett formed Adventium Labs, a nonprofit research lab that focuses on software applications for automated reasoning and human-system interaction, and which has contracts with NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Now an adjunct instructor at St. Thomas, Bennett holds an M.S. (1987) and a Ph.D. (1992) in artificial intelligence from the University of Minnesota. She began teaching at St. Thomas full time in 1988 in Graduate Programs in Software and founded the Artificial Intelligence, High-Performance and Parallel Commuting Lab at the university.

As her family and business made more demands on her time, Bennett scaled back her teaching to evenings and weekends. Now she teaches graduate courses in neural networks, artificial intelligence and expert systems.

As an undergraduate, Bennett ended up majoring in English and quantitative methods-computer science. “It was Dr. Bernie Folz who actually influenced my career as much as anyone,” she said. As a business major she was required to take Folz’s quantitative methods class, and “I loved it. Then I met the rest of the QM faculty and found all were interesting and insightful and really diligent teachers.”

Dr. Eric Jaede, for example, “consulted widely and worked in a number of different companies, so he always had great real-world examples of the theory he was teaching. He was such an energetic lecturer. At the beginning, he would be professionally dressed: jacket and tie every day. Then he’d be writing matrix math equations on the board and gesticulating, and pretty soon the coat would come off, then the tie would be loosened. By the end of class, his shirtsleeves were rolled up. His class was so intense that most of us would meet for an hour before every lecture to review material and prepare for the deluge of information we would receive that day. We loved it!”

Bennett, who chose St. Thomas for its liberal arts requirements, double majored in English: “I had wonderful teachers like Dr. Robert Foy, who just exuded joy over the texts and virtually glowed when we read Shakespeare. It was infectious enthusiasm.” Teaching in the largest graduate software design and development program in the United States, Bennett finds St. Thomas students “high-talent, high-ambition individuals. They are working professionals who thrive on intellectual challenges and seek career advancement. In addition to working demanding jobs in the dynamic technology sector, they make time for graduate school in the evenings and weekends. These people want to learn the cutting edge in technology. It makes classes very interesting for me, because I get to learn a great deal from my students as well.”

Bennett and her husband, John ’80, whom she met while an undergraduate, have two children and live in Sunfish Lake.

“The most provocative writing on artificial intelligence appears on the Web now,” Bennett said, and recommends the following sites: for Raymond Kurzweil’s In the Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. Bennett also said “an interesting robotics book is Robo Sapiens by journalists Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, who present the next generation of intelligent robots and their makers.”

“Many faculty remember teachers outside their majors,” said Dr. Paul Ohmann ’90.“ Father George Welzbacher, history, was an amazing storyteller. He would walk into a class like Ancient Mediterranean World to the Birth of Christ every day without notes and simply lay out history as a beautiful story. His stories occasionally segued into a Shakespearean soliloquy or a personal example. I remember one story in particular. He poignantly described watching FDR’s funeral train as a boy and talked about its meaning to him. I felt it was such a privilege being in his class.”

Ohmann, who earned a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in an unusually short time – four years after his bachelor’s – is an assistant professor of physics at St. Thomas. “I am thrilled to be working with many who were my teachers – especially Tom Tommet and Paul Lane in physics – and I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to be here. I enjoy the students, first and foremost. Their youthful enthusiasm is infectious and the personal contact is very fulfilling. I also enjoy working with my colleagues.”

Ohmann began teaching classical mechanics, quantum mechanics and modern physics at St. Thomas in 2000. He specializes in computational (high energy) physics and just received a $96,000 National Science Foundation grant for research in that field.

Married with a 2-year-old son, Ohmann lives in St. Paul.

He recommends a recent book, The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, for those interested in physics.

In contrast to Ohmann – one of the newest faculty – Dr. Paul Schons ’62 has taught German at St. Thomas since 1967. And he has been one of the university’s most innovative teachers.

Schons, who has an M.A. from the University of Colorado and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, teaches all aspects of the German language – from poetry to business and current events.

Schons began teaching St. Thomas’ first online undergraduate course, German Cultural Heritage, for the School of Continuing Studies in 2000. As founder and director of the St. Thomas study abroad program from 1972 to 1983, he officially sent the first two students abroad to the University of Vienna in 1972. “Going abroad offers intense learning, especially in the flexibility of distinguishing that the absolutes of daily life in the U.S. are not the same in all human activity,” Schons said. In 2002-03, more than 750 students studied abroad.

Co-founder of the master’s program in international business, Schons has been a guest professor at several German universities. When Schons was the Fulbright applications adviser at St. Thomas, he guided about 10 winners, an amazing accomplishment in that highly competitive program.

What he enjoys about St. Thomas is the “freedom to explore all avenues of inquiry, and not being restricted from teaching and investigation involving religion.” He remembers teachers from his student years – Dr. Joseph Kraus, who “showed me the way to academic intensity and intellectual integrity,” and Dr. Max Schmidt, who “showed me the interest and intellectual challenge of knowing another language and another culture.”

The final thing Schons enjoys is, succinctly, “Very pleasant students.”

Schons and his wife have three children, three grandchildren and for 40 years have lived “20 feet off campus on Cleveland Avenue.”

For those interested in German studies, he recommends his Web site,

Having outstanding teachers at St. Thomas was one of the reasons Dr. John Tauer ’95, psychology, decided to go into teaching. “I hoped I could have the same type of impact on students’ lives as my instructors had on mine,” he said. Tauer received his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000, the same year he returned to teach at St. Thomas.

He also is assistant men’s basketball coach, putting to work the four years of experience he had as an outstanding varsity player at the university. Tauer was named to the first team in the MIAC and held the school record for three pointers until 2000.

“Dr. John Buri’s General Psychology class was my first formal exposure to the field,” Tauer said. “His passion for the material and ability to present it in a way that was relevant to students’ lives piqued my interest. As I took classes from current professors Greg Robinson-Riegler, Paul Mabry, Mary Ann Chalkley and Ann Johnson, I became convinced to explore this career path.

“Some other instructors who stand out in my mind integrated multiple fields of study, including an interdisciplinary seminar in the Renaissance Program taught by Mary Daugherty and Father John Malone’s Ethics and Economics course.”

Tauer says he “feels blessed in many ways to teach at St. Thomas,” including “wonderful colleagues and students, interesting research projects in the field of motivation and emotion – my primary areas of interest.” He also enjoys “the opportunity to make a positive impact on students and the chance to collaborate with students on research projects.”

One way he has done that is take his Cross-Cultural Psychology class to meet and talk with Somali students at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. The class defines culture and analyzes the causes of prejudice and stereotyping.

Tauer lives with his wife and son in St. Paul.

He recommends The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson for a good overview of social psychology.

Teaching college courses before he got a Ph.D. was Dr. Thomas Sturm’s experience. He got a B.A. in mathematics in 1968 while taking part in the developing computer studies program at St. Thomas.

One of his outstanding teachers was James Lindsay, first director of the Computing Center. “He was a role model, a mentor, a supervisor, a friend and like a temporary substitute father,” Sturm recalled. Another teacher who affected him was Floyd Barger in mathematics. “He was my adviser and instilled in me a great deal of common sense.”

In 1971 Sturm returned to St. Thomas to teach and received a master’s in computer and information sciences from the University of Minnesota the same year. Sturm obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1978.

Now a full professor in quantitative methods-computer science, Sturm teaches database design, digital electronics and microcomputers, and artificial intelligence and robotics. He chaired the department from 1977 to 1981 during a period of very rapid growth. “We went from one graduating senior to the fourth largest major in the school during that time,” he said.

“I enjoy interacting with students and having discussions with colleagues,” Sturm said. He also regularly presents lectures about whether robots will rule the world that draw crowds of students, staff and faculty.

Sturm and his wife, Adrienne, who directs the St. Thomas Credit Union, have three children and live in St. Paul.

“Although dated, one of my favorite ‘popular’ books about computers is Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine, ” he said. “I think people would get more out of magazine articles (such as some of the features in Wired magazine each month) or from the Internet.”

Dr. Michael Degnan ’77, summa cum laude graduate in philosophy, also taught at St. Thomas while getting a doctorate. He received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Minnesota in 1990. Degnan began teaching part time in 1980, became full time in 1982 and is a full professor who teaches ethics, logic, Aristotle’s Nichomachean ethics, contemporary philosophy, environmental ethics and honors seminars.

“I treasure that we are free to engage the contemporary world and its problems with the framework and wisdom of the Catholic intellectual tradition, as well as the thinkers who contributed to and challenged that tradition,” he said.

“I love the engagement with students seeking to understand their world and construct their world view. I love talking and learning from colleagues in my own discipline and beyond,” said Degnan. He particularly remembers from his student years such teachers as Father James Reidy and Joe Connors in English, Hubert Walczak in calculus, Paul Schons in German, and Tom Sullivan, Richard Connell and Monsignor Henri DuLac in philosophy.

Degnan enjoys “stretching my understanding to new and unfamiliar areas and learning from the students I teach, the authors we study and my colleagues.” He enjoys teaching students to be “inquirers,” he said. “In my Human Person class, students must read and examine both sides of a question in many areas – biology, psychology or theology, for example – in preparation for forming a foundation for making moral decisions.”

Degnan now teaches from a wheelchair after a fall at home seven years ago. “I get so involved in the ideas and students that I sometimes forget I’m in a chair,” he said. “But I do miss walking around as we talk, so I arrange the class in a U and wheel around at their eye level.”

He himself was not the perfect student in terms of classroom decorum. “One gorgeous May morning, I looked at the wonder of the day and crawled out the window of Room 301 Aquinas to the tiny, fake balcony there. My friends pulled the shade when they heard our teacher, the very proper Monsignor DuLac, coming. As the class stood up for prayers, I flicked the shade up, climbed in and took my seat in the front row. He said, ‘Degnan, what dinosaur brought you in?’ and started the prayer. And that was it.”

The Catholic nature of St. Thomas means a great deal to him: “I deeply treasure the opportunity to worship at daily Mass and to seek spiritual guidance from the priests on campus.”

Degnan and his wife and two children live close to the campus in St. Paul.

“To raise lots of good questions,” He recommends reading Tom Nagel’s Mortal Questions and John Haldane’s An Intelligent Guide to Religion.

“I love my alma mater,” is Dr. Joe Brom’s simple statement about St. Thomas. A 1964 graduate, Brom received a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Iowa State University in 1970.

After teaching at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., for 12 years, Brom returned to St. Thomas in l987. Now a professor, he teaches chemical thermodynamics and reaction dynamics, quantum chemistry and molecular spectroscopy.

As director of the Division of Sciences and Mathematics from 1994 to 1999, Brom took a leadership role in the design of the Frey Science and Engineering Center. “The new facility has changed the way science is taught at St. Thomas and has opened the door to increased opportunities for student-faculty collaborative research,” Brom said. “The beautiful center has become a science-student magnet. Onward and upward!”

Two outstanding teachers he admired were Dr. William Larson in chemistry and Father Cajetan Chereso in theology. “Many of my teachers were really outstanding,” Brom recalled. “In fact, I cannot think of one who did not contribute to my goals of lifelong learning.”

Brom and his wife live in Maplewood, have two children and twin grandchildren.

“I have a delightful book to recommend,” he said. “It is Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks and is subtitled Memories of a Chemical Boyhood. Sacks, a masterful storyteller, relates his childhood memories of growing up in England during World War II. This memoir will be enjoyed by all, not just the chemistry geeks like myself.”

“Who wouldn’t love teaching here?” asks Dr. Mary Daugherty, associate professor of finance. A 1980 graduate, Daugherty has an M.B.A. in finance (1982) and a Ph.D. in educational administration (1991), both from the University of Minnesota.

She began her career as a securities analyst, but “I left the investment business for St. Thomas in 1987, merely two months prior to the ‘big crash’,” she explained. Daugherty teaches most of the university’s investment courses. At the graduate level, she teaches the Student Managed Fund (the “Aristotle Fund”) course, in which students manage $1.5 million in investments. Daugherty is also an active consultant specializing in asset allocation.

“I had many great professors at St. Thomas. In the business school, Dr. Tom Bohen gave me the best advice ever. When I asked if I should double major in finance – my undergraduate degree was in marketing with an English minor – he suggested graduate school. I had not even considered that,” she recalled, “but sometimes it takes someone else to state the obvious.

“Dr. Tom Sullivan, philosophy, made sense of even the most complex arguments in a logical sequence. He really shed light on the great thinkers and how I could apply the same principles in my own life. And I never struggled so hard in a class as in Father James Stromberg’s philosophy class. Five pages on the meaning of happiness was a killer for me, but I met an alum at a conference recently and he had the same conclusion I did – tough teacher, great educator.”

“I am blessed,” Daugherty concluded, “with great colleagues, respectful and (most of the time) hard working students, and a chance to hopefully make a positive impact on someone’s life.”

Daugherty and her husband have four children and live in St. Paul.

A valuable book about the financial field is Financial Shenanigans: How to Detect Accounting Gimmicks and Fraud in Financial Reports by Howard Schilit.

His career goal to become an academic had what Dr. Robert Farlow ’65 calls one major detour – spending seven years working as a Soviet Union and Eastern Europe analyst at the U.S. State Department.

Now chair of the Political Science Department, Farlow received a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in 1971. Familiar with the American University Washington Semester program, he led St. Thomas to affiliate with it in 1986. More than 100 students have studied there and carried out part-time service internships.

Farlow, who began teaching at St. Thomas in 1985, recalled teachers such as Dr. Fred Flynn, philosophy, who “had a unique ability to convey philosophical concepts with verve and humor, making the class an enjoyable learning experience. Dr. Richard Hartigan was just out of Georgetown – young, enthusiastic, insightful (especially in survey courses of major political philosophers) and contributed to my own desire to have a career in academia.”

Farlow’s St. Thomas career has been “a varied one that challenged me in different ways and different levels. I enjoy the range of teaching opportunities in various programs: political science, international studies and master’s in international management. In the process I’ve had the chance to interact with a diverse set of students.”

Farlow, who lives in downtown Minneapolis, thinks Michael Mandelbaum’s The Ideas That Conquered the World provides a “broad view of concepts and developments in international contemporary politics and is fairly accessible.”

When he enrolled at St. Thomas in 1955, Father David Smith ’58 planned to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and become an engineer. But Smith, who graduated summa cum laude in mathematics in three years, became a priest.

“I found philosophy and theology to be even more exciting than science,” Smith explained. “The St. Thomas experience steered me into the seminary.” He attended the St. Paul Seminary and was ordained a priest in 1964. Smith has a licentiate in sacred theology (1968) and a doctorate in sacred theology (1970) from the Angelicum in Rome. Smith also studied at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and at the Ecole Biblique et Archeologique Francaise in Jerusalem.

Now professor of theology and founding director emeritus of the Justice and Peace Studies program at St. Thomas, Smith joined the faculty in 1970. He teaches justice and peace courses and Introduction to the New Testament.

Smith had Herbert Slusser for freshman English at St. Thomas, and he “got me excited in the Catholic intellectual tradition as represented by Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton and others. Jim Colwell was another Renaissance-breadth mind in European-literature.” Other good teachers he recalled were Ray Dowling in mathematics, Walter Peters in Sacred Scripture and Jerry Quinn at the seminary who “rescued me intellectually.” He concluded with Father Robert Probst, who he had for chemistry: “Now he’s been around.”

“A faculty which thinks ideas are important ought to affect how we live our lives” is one reason Smith enjoys teaching here. He also appreciates “the opportunity to be explicit about all ideas which excite me, including spiritual and controversial ideas, and a faculty that stretches my mind with even more new ideas.”

Smith recommends reading Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. The reporter worked in three cities – Key West, Fla., Orchard Beach, Maine, and Minneapolis, Minn. – to see if she could survive on the minimal income provided by a series of low level jobs.

And then there was that student who “dropped out” of St. Thomas but made an impressive comeback. When he was chair of the History Department, Dr. Tom Mega received a letter from the evening program at St. Thomas “urging me to come back and finish my degree,” he recalled with a laugh. “That was nice, but I had to write back and say no.”

Mega, who last attended St. Thomas in 1965, ended up with a bachelor’s summa cum laude (1975), master’s (1978) and Ph.D. (1984) in history, all from the University of Minnesota.

He taught his first class at St. Thomas in 1982 and became full time in 1984, served as department chair for nine years, Social Sciences division director for three years and president of the faculty for one year. He teaches American, constitutional and Minnesota history.

“We are supposed to be the teachers but hardly a week goes by that I don’t learn something from my students,” Mega said. “Their perspective, not only on the discipline of history but on life, keeps my approach fresh and my outlook on life young.”

Teachers with a lasting influence on him were Robert Fogerty, who “taught me the value of rigor in the discipline of history,” and Jack Brownstein, geology, “who infected me with his love of teaching.”

Mega likes “the support the institution gives to faculty. First is the emphasis that UST places on excellent teaching and the resources available to improve one’s teaching. Second is the support the university gives to those actively engaged with their discipline.”

Mega and his wife have one son and live in Roseville.

For those interested in American history, he suggests reading Robert Middlekauff’s The Glorious Cause, which he uses as the general text in his American Revolution course.