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Superheroes come in all forms—even disguised as teachers, like Marygrove's Sally Welch and Jeanne Andreoli, Co-chairs of the Department of Science and Mathematics: two educators who have made their careers dispelling myths, debunking conventional attitudes and literally tearing down walls to improve the way their students learn. Thanks to their innovation, initiative and, in part, to a $1.8 million grant, the department they run offers cutting-edge labs, instrumentation, and coursework to science and math majors –an enrollment that has increased by 100 students this year.

It all began little more than a decade ago. "In the 1990's, our department was organized like most other small liberal arts colleges," says Jeanne Andreoli, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology and Co-chair of the Department of Science and Mathematics. "We offered the typical majors in biology, chemistry or mathematics." But Andreoli and Welch had begun to immerse themselves in Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL), an undergraduate STEM organization sponsored by the National Science Foundation. PKAL advocates strong, integrated undergraduate programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. "PKAL showed us how important it is to use an interdisciplinary approach to learning...it was like rediscovering the world is not flat!" Andreoli said.

PKAL also positions educators as facilitators, rather than the traditional notion of teachers as "managers" of a student's learning. "We were so inspired by what they had to say...PKAL completely changed the way I viewed teaching," said Sally Welch, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Chemistry and Co-chair of the Department of Science and Mathematics. Their students are the lucky beneficiaries of an energized faculty.

'Energized' is probably an understatement when you realize the leaps and bounds the department has made in recent years. "With the support of our leadership team, and the help of Dr. Barbara Johns, IHM, we co-wrote and received a Title III grant from the U.S. Department of Education," Welch said. Title III-A grants are awarded to colleges and universities for academic improvements, and are not easily achieved. The time commitment is significant, but definitely worth it.

Transforming a department required a major overhaul in every sense of the word. Labs were built; classrooms became "smart" with updated, state-of-the-art computers and equipment. Faculty members who had been teaching their own way for years, were now challenged to embrace newer, more integrated teaching methods. It sounds a little daunting, but not to these two. "It wasn't scary at all—it was a dream." Welch says. "We were given the chance to realize our dreams for our faculty and our students, it has been amazing."
Andreoli agrees. "I feel it was a lot like working on a jigsaw puzzle from the inside out—we didn't know where the borders were, we just knew what the core should be. There should be no limits for students who want to reach as far as they can. Learning in a supportive environment where boundaries are stretched and broken down fosters better learning...that's 21st century scholarship."

Today, the Science and Math Department at Marygrove is a place where students are given the tools to learn, to carve out their own path. Curriculum enhancements are numerous, with built-in flexible tracks for students interested in industry or teaching. By design, there is a social science component in every course offering, so that students graduate with an appreciation for how the real world operates. They are prepared to be compassionate, productive workers in their chosen fields.

Consequently, field experience like internships and volunteerism is not only encouraged, it is required. Welch says it's a cultural change that has opened doors for unprecedented partnerships—just the type of change needed for a city like Detroit, where Marygrove's human service mission is deeply rooted:
Marygrove partners with the Detroit Science Center for teacher enrichment courses. The premise is common sense. Expose primary and secondary school teachers to new science and math concepts, and students gain greater preparation for college coursework.

As a means to get students interested in the environment, an important partnership through the Michigan Colleges Foundation brings students from other colleges together to problem-solve, such as the current Michigan wetlands project with Albion College. Welch serves on the board of the River Raisin Institute and would like to see more freshmen get involved in environmental issues.

In January, Marygrove will be sending its first cohort to Oakland University for the accelerated nursing program—a vital partnership that arose out of a collegial appreciation for how Marygrove addressed the underserved student in science and math.

The programs are gaining momentum as capacity for them grows.
"Our department's new Health Sciences major is rolling along quickly because of the local need for jobs," Welch says. "Plus, through the vision of Dr. Steve Scribner, Associate Professor of Chemistry, we have redesigned our Bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies program and a four-class certificate program which seems to be getting a lot of attention." Forensic Science at Marygrove is also relatively new, offering up exciting career options on a national scale, as in border patrol or white collar crime.

What it all boils down to, truly, is the organic chemistry of Andreoli and Welch, which has a magic power of its own. Their strong partnership sets the tone for the entire department, and eventually cascades throughout Marygrove's hallowed halls."You have to model good behaviors," Andreoli said. "We never wanted to approach this reform as telling anyone what to do—we just wanted to provide a way for all involved to do it better."