Professors Sandra Menssen and Patrick Van Fleet have been named recipients of the John Ireland Presidential Award for Outstanding Achievement as a Teacher-Scholar for 2015.

The award, presented annually since 2008, recognizes outstanding academic achievement of faculty in teaching and scholarship, and exemplifies the mission and values of the University of St. Thomas as an institution committed to the teacher-scholar model. Awardees are tenured members of the St. Thomas faculty who have demonstrated a sustained commitment to not only their respective disciplines but also to the university.

Menssen, professor and former chair of the Philosophy Department, has taught at St. Thomas since 1988. Van Fleet, professor and the chair of the Department of Mathematics, has taught at St. Thomas since 1998.

Awardees will have their names added to the John Ireland Presidential Award plaque, located in Aquinas Hall, and will receive an annual award of $1,500 to support continued professional development activities while actively employed as faculty members at St. Thomas.

Sandra Menssen

Menssen received her B.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Minnesota. Her primary area of research has been in the area of the philosophy of religion. She has taught a wide range of classes, from the introductory to advanced courses in areas like biomedical ethics and metaphysics. Terry Langan, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, notes that she is “… an exceptional teacher. Her specialty is teaching the required course for majors in logic (Philosophy 220),” and that students in that course give her excellent reviews.

Menssen’s published research appears in a wide range of journals and books, including The Oxford Handbook of the Epistemology of Theology, Faith and Philosophy, Religious Studies, The Review of Metaphysics, among others. Langan notes that her research productivity continued across her three terms as department chair, a significant accomplishment given the many duties of running a large department. The foreword to one of her recent books, co-authored with Professor Emeritus Thomas Sullivan, is written by William J. Abraham, Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Southern Methodist University, who calls the book “A startling achievement … I cannot overemphasize how original and groundbreaking this work is, or recommend this book too highly. The argument throughout is clear, succinct, and rigorous. It represents the highest standards of analytical philosophy.”

Menssen has served twice as the president of the Minnesota Philosophical Society and as a member of numerous national societies. Over the past 28 years she has served on dozens of university committees.

Patrick Van Fleet

Van Fleet received his B.S. from Western Illinois University and his Ph.D. in mathematics from Southern Illinois University – Carbondale. He joined the University of St. Thomas after teaching at Sam Houston State University, where he was an associate professor of mathematics. He has served for five years as chair of the Mathematics Department and, since 1998, as the director of the Center for Applied Mathematics.

Van Fleet’s primary area of research is wavelet theory, and he has published two books in that area, including a 2016 second edition. In addition, he has published numerous articles in The Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Application, the Journal of Computational Analysis and Applications and others. Notably, he has published in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, a prestigious journal that scholars at major research universities hope is on their C.V.

Since coming to St. Thomas he has been the principal or co-principal investigator on four grants from the National Science Foundation. Many of these grants have supported collaborative research between faculty and students, enhancing the work of the Center for Applied Mathematics at St. Thomas. As Langan notes, this “has allowed him to work closely with student researchers. This undergraduate collaborative research is some of the best teaching that we do at St. Thomas and Professor Van Fleet has done more than his share of our best teaching.”

Prior John Ireland Presidential Award recipients

  • Dr. Stephen Brookfield, School of Education, 2008
  • Dr. Terence Nichols, Department of Theology, 2008
  • Dr. Mary Reichardt, Department of Catholic Studies, 2008
  • Dr. Thomas Sullivan, Department of Philosophy, 2008
  • Dr. John Abraham, School of Engineering, 2009
  • Dr. Kendra Garrett, School of Social Work, 2009
  • Mr. Neil Hamilton, School of Law, 2009
  • Dr. Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell, Department of Art History, 2009
  • Dr. Matthew George, Department of Music, 2010
  • Dr. Teresa Rothausen-Vange, Department of Management, 2011
  • Dr. Bernard Brady, Department of Theology, 2012
  • Dr. Meg Wilkes Karraker, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, 2013
  • Dr. Sameer Kumar, Department of Operations and Supply Chain Management, 2013
  • Dr. Lisa Waldner, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, 2014
  • Mr. Gregory Sisk, School of Law, 2014
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