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More Than A Job

The history of Saint Louis University is best told through the eyes of the people who have dedicated their lives to helping SLU achieve its commitment to excellence — the longtime faculty and staff who have watched the University grow from a disconnected urban campus to a cohesive urban oasis with innovative spaces for learning and collaboration.

The 10 faculty and staff featured here have a combined 406 years of service to SLU, from the professor who has educated nearly 90 percent of all living medical school alumni, to the maintenance worker who has repaired something in nearly every one of the University’s more than 125 buildings.

To know them is to know how SLU became one of the nation’s most prestigious Catholic universities.

Dr. Ethel Frese

Professor of physical therapy and athletic training

41 years of service, hired in 1977

Ethel Frese
Dr. Ethel Frese

From her office window in the Allied Health Professions Building, Frese can see students riding bikes past fountains and sculptures, playing Frisbee and heading toward the nearby track to run between classes. This is a far cry from when she arrived in 1977.

“The area was covered with asphalt parking lots, run-down buildings and abandoned homes,” she recalled. “The medical school and the hospitals were there, but not much else.”

Frese’s first SLU office was in a five-story building that had been built in 1912 at Park Avenue and Grand Boulevard.

“The building was old even then. We had few amenities and tight quarters, but it was home to all of the allied health professions, and we made it work,” she said.

Frese said things began coming together at the Medical Center in the 1990s with the construction of the Caroline Mall, one of the beautification projects initiated by former SLU President Lawrence Biondi, S.J. In 1998, the physical therapy program and other allied health programs moved into a new building.

Before entering academia, Frese was the chief of physical therapy at Saint Louis University Hospital. She was asked to teach a PT cardio-pulmonary course in 1979 and has been teaching ever since. The PT program had an average of 60 students then — today’s average class size is 80.

“It’s not easy to get into our program, so the students we get are goal-oriented and hardworking,” she said. But she also believes students are more stressed than those in the 1970s and ’80s.

“Students are pressured to achieve,” she said. “They have to deal with the distractions of social media and cellphones. We had stress but not like today.”

Frese said physical therapy has changed dramatically during the last 40 years. Traditionally, PTs treated patients based on physician referrals. Today, PTs are at the front lines of treatment. They provide care for patients of all ages with a variety of diagnoses, some of whom have undergone surgeries that didn’t exist when Frese began practicing. An increasing number of states are moving toward direct-care access, allowing PTs to practice without physician referral. All of this, plus a growing focus on research/outcome-based treatments, requires more rigorous training.

“Since I joined SLU, the profession has gone through three degree changes,” she said. “Initially, the PT program was a Bachelor of Science degree. Then it became a master’s degree, and now you need a doctoral degree to practice.”

SLU was one of the first universities in the metro area to offer a Doctor of Physical Therapy.

Frese said she’s stayed at SLU so long because she loves teaching, she believes in the Jesuit mission, and she respects her colleagues, who go out of their way to help students succeed and grow, “not just as physical therapists but as human beings.”

Dr. Kathleen (Nickrent) Gillespie (A&S ’79)

Associate professor of health management and policy

34 years of service, hired 1984

Kathleen Gillespie
Dr. Kathleen (Nickrent) Gillespie (A&S '79)

Health economics was a relatively young field when Gillespie began teaching in 1984. Today, due to the escalating cost of medical care, health economics and data analytics are among the most robust fields of study in public health.

“Cost-benefit analysis in health care has gone beyond return on investment,” Gillespie said. “Take vaccines. We know the cost of vaccines — we know how many cases of disease they prevent and what it costs to treat disease if someone is infected — but we’ve broadened our scope to look at the social benefits of disease prevention.”

This is one of many changes Gillespie has witnessed during the past three decades at SLU. Initially, public health was a unit within the medical school. About six faculty members taught a small cohort of students seeking a master’s degree in health management or a Ph.D. in public health administration. As the focus on public health grew in the 1980s, so did the academic options.

In 1991, SLU established the School of Public Health. It was Missouri’s first such school and the only accredited school of public health at a Jesuit university. In 2013, the school merged with the School of Social Work and the criminology and criminal justice program to become the College for Public Health and Social Justice.

“We’ve gone from a cozy little shop offering a couple of degrees to a large college with a diverse number of programs and more than 65 faculty members,” she said. “Just down from my office there are people researching behavioral sciences, urban planning and epidemiology. While I’ve had the same job in one way, it’s evolved into a very different job in other ways. It keeps me fresh.”

Gillespie’s expertise is health services utilization. She said while investigative steps haven’t changed, the tools to carry out those steps certainly have. When she wanted to analyze data in the 1980s, Gillespie took large spools of magnetic tape containing data to the John Cochran Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where she had an office. She submitted a requisition, and a technician loaded the spools onto a mainframe computer that took up an entire room. She waited hours, sometimes days for the data to print.

“When we finally did get desktop computers, you’d start running your data before you left the office at night and hoped it would be done when you came back in the morning,” she said. “Now, you can’t even get a cup of coffee before your computer finishes analyzing the data.”

Although changes in public health have been dramatic, Gillespie said SLU’s Jesuit mission never has wavered.

“The mission is the core of what we do, especially in regard to public health and social justice,” she said. “Our students want to save the world, and I love teaching them.”

Keith N. Griffin

Maintenance worker in facilities management

42 years of service, hired in 1976

Keith Griffin
Keith N. Griffin

During the last four decades, Griffin has repaired something in nearly every building at SLU. He began at the age of 22 by keeping boilers running and refrigeration units humming on the north campus. It may seem like a big job, but Griffin said the University had only six or seven buildings in full use at the time — compared to nearly 130 today.

Griffin said the University has grown so much that “you can walk yourself to death” going between jobs. One of his most enjoyable tasks is working on the many fountains on campus. He took especially good care of the one that former SLU President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., could see from his office.

“It was a small fountain, but I knew he would see it every day, so I made sure it was running smoothly,” he said.

Griffin’s most frustrating, yet fulfilling job was taking care of the residence halls. He recalled fixing the overhang leading to the Griesedieck Complex because students filled trash bags with water and dropped them on the entryway to startle people. He recalled repairing many, many doors because students who forgot their keys would force doors open.

“The students could be silly, but I understood that some of them were away from home for the first time and would go a little crazy,” Griffin said.

Griffin did more than take care of their residence halls; he took care of them. If he saw students struggling, if he could tell they were homesick, he befriended them. He helped them hook up stereos, repair damage they did to walls and put together furniture. Griffin was stopped for a minor traffic violation a few years ago, and the officer was a SLU alumnus.

“He recognized me and said, ‘You helped me out of jam when I was in Griesedieck,’ and he let me go,” Griffin laughed. “It’s a great feeling to know you helped someone when they needed it.”

Griffin, who has been assigned to SLU’s Medical Center for the last 10 years, still uses most of the same tools he did 40 years ago, but the building he worked out of back then was demolished to make way for the Laclede Parking Garage. And gone are paper work orders. He now carries his to-do list on an electronic tablet.

Griffin said the sense of family has kept him at the University all these years. Two of his children graduated from SLU, and another is attending.

“It’s always been about family at SLU,” he said. “Not just mine but the entire University. Everyone makes you feel like family, like you’re a part of something besides yourself.”

Griffin retires this year, allowing him more time to volunteer at his church and other organizations, and to sing in his church choir.

Dr. Ik-Whan Kwon (Grad PH ’90)

Professor of operations and IT management

50 years of service, hired in 1968

Ik-Whan Kwon
Dr. Ik-Whan Kwan (Grad PH '90)

When he was hired in 1968 as an assistant professor of decision sciences in the business school, 31-year-old Kwon was on the “bottom of the food chain” academically. That meant teaching summer school on the third floor of Davis-Shaughnessy Hall.

“We had no air conditioning at the time, and opening the windows only made it worse,” said Kwon, who, like all faculty, was required to wear a coat and tie while teaching. “I was sweating, the students were sweating. It might seem terrible, but it was a part of our lifestyle then. We endured, nevertheless, and I enjoyed teaching so much I didn’t notice such hardship half the time.”

In the early days, his students were all male except for several nuns in his statistics class who sat in the front row.

“No one would sit behind them because their habits were so large students couldn’t see the blackboard,” he said.

Because he shared an office with two faculty members, both heavy smokers (SLU didn’t become a 100 percent smoke-free campus until 2015), Kwon said he held meetings with students in hallways, empty classrooms and even on parking lots.

“We didn’t have the beautiful common areas or private offices like we do now,” he said.

Kwon came to the United States from South Korea to study at the University of Georgia. After graduating, he searched for a medium-sized college in the Midwest to call home and was offered a job at SLU.

“The campus was not as impressive as it is today,” he said. “It was a typical campus of the ’60s and ’70s with a lot of asphalt. There was no green space, and the area around campus was not as attractive as it is now. I remember walking into the Fox Theatre, which is very famous now but was degenerating then. There was garbage everywhere. It was awful.”

Kwon said his favorite place on campus has become the area around the clock tower where students and faculty congregate.

He said one of the greatest changes he’s seen over the past 50 years has been in his students.

“When I began teaching, students were passive,” he said. “I lectured, they wrote and there was no interactive discussion. There were no computers of course, so they wrote like crazy. Today, students are more engaged. They are smarter, not necessarily because of the knowledge their professors are imparting but because they have so much access to external information through the Internet. They also are more participatory and engaged. They challenge me, in a positive way.

“SLU has been my home for 50 years,” he said. “I never considered teaching here as a job. It is my hobby. It is my privilege to come in the morning and transmit my knowledge to young students and adults and to interact with them.”

Stephen Magoc (Parks ’87, Grad CSB ’93)

Professor and chair of aviation science

41 years of service, hired in 1977

Stephen Magoc
Stephen Magoc (Parks '87, Grad CSB '93)

Magoc was a 21-year-old aviation mechanic in Springfield, Illinois, when he heard about an opening for an aircraft mechanic at Parks College in Cahokia, Illinois. He shaved his beard and drove south for the interview. When asked whether he could work on Cessna aircraft, Magoc laid out his multiple factory training certifications on the table, including the FAA airframe and power plant (engine that propels an aircraft) certificate he earned at Parks in 1976. He was hired on the spot.

Magoc’s windowless office was in Hangar No. 2 at the Bi-State Parks Airport (now St. Louis Downtown Airport). About a mile down the road was Parks College, a collection of ivy-covered buildings, residence halls, a student center and a dining hall. The campus also had a gym, which was a converted blimp hangar.

“We operated like an outpost,” he said. “Faculty members from the College of Arts and Sciences, math and so forth, were assigned to Parks and would come to Cahokia to teach. Students had no need to go to St. Louis. We were like family.”

Magoc maintained aircraft and oversaw students who spent six hours a week working on active aircraft. Students walked, rode bikes or drove from campus to the airport, which was divided by railroad tracks. Rail traffic often played havoc with students trying to get to class on time. This was rectified in the late 1980s when an overpass was built over the tracks.

A few years after he was hired, Magoc was asked to cover flight line maintenance classes for a couple of weeks. He was offered an extra 25 cents an hour.

Magoc said while aircraft structure has changed over the years, maintenance remains constant.

“Communication, navigation, radios and sensors certainly have improved, but the power plant hasn’t changed much at all,” he said. “What worked then, pretty much works today.”

Magoc’s favorite event at Parks’ Cahokia campus was the annual open house. Classrooms and labs were open to the public, and alumni flew their aircraft to campus, landing on a cinder-covered runway. The event also included an airshow with aerobatic demonstrations and parachutists.

“At one airshow, John Holbrook, a fellow employee, and I held a ribbon suspended between 20-foot fiberglass poles while an aircraft flew inverted and cut the ribbon,” he said. “Our hearts were pounding during that stunt.”

In 1997, 20 years after he joined SLU and 70 years after Parks was founded, the college moved into McDonnell Douglas Hall on the St. Louis campus. It later was renamed Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology.

“I know the move was hard for some, and I miss the old campus,” he said, “but we’re still a team. No matter what department, we’re still working to maintain Parks’ excellent reputation in the community. I’ll be here as long as SLU will have me.”

Dr. Norma Metheny (Grad Ed ’79)

Dorothy A. Votsmier Endowed Chair in Nursing, professor and associate dean of nursing research

39 years of service, hired in 1979

Norma Metheny
Dr. Norma Metheny (Grad Ed '79)

The rooms at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital were so small in the 1970s that when a patient coded, staff sometimes had to move out one of the beds to make way for the crash cart, said Metheny, who began as a clinical instructor in SLU’s Master of Science in Nursing program.

“Eventually, they built an addition onto the hospital, and care became much easier to deliver,” Metheny said.

Metheny said students continue to receive clinical exposure, but it’s increasingly challenging due to a shortage of practice sites and a change in the culture of learning. Students today expect more assistance — study guides, recorded lectures and learning materials — than in the past. To help them learn to think critically, however, she emphasizes case studies in her courses.

“I remind students that they’re not going to have someone constantly feeding them information when they’re in a clinical situation,” she said. “You have to figure it out on your own, and they do. That’s why SLU nursing graduates are so highly regarded. Many have told me they appreciated being taught how to function independently. That’s one of the joys I get from teaching.”

Metheny has observed many changes in her field since she began teaching at SLU — nursing shortages, nursing gluts, shortages again, expanded roles that allow them to make decisions once reserved for physicians, increased student diversity, accelerated programs, increased specialization, the introduction of nurse practitioner programs to compensate for the shortfall in primary care physicians, the growth of online education (the nursing school was the first at SLU to offer online courses/distance learning).

One of the greatest changes, Metheny said, is the growth of research, as nurses harness the knowledge they acquire during clinical work to inform evidence-based practices.

“Nurses have much more influence on patient care than in the past,” said Metheny, an expert on feeding tube placement. “I’m writing guidelines that help set standards of care in this country, as well as in the United Kingdom. That never would have happened years ago. When I was a young nurse, physicians tended to dominate patient care; but now, thanks to advanced specialty programs in nursing, we are on more of a level playing field with physicians.”

Metheny, whose research was funded by the National Institutes of Health for 25 of her 39 years at SLU, said the University allowed her to push the envelope with her studies. She encourages the next generation to do the same.

“I love teaching and would do it even if I didn’t get paid,” Metheny said. “I’m especially appreciative of the opportunity to work with expert colleagues in a wide variety of disciplines at Saint Louis University who value scholarship and research as much as I do. It’s one of the reasons I stay.”

Dr. Michael Ross

Professor of psychology

34 years of service, hired in 1984

Michael Ross
Dr. Michael Ross

Ross was a 33-year-old post-doctoral fellow when he moved into his first office at SLU — a construction trailer behind the David P. Wohl Mental Health Institute at the Medical Center. (The building at Grand Boulevard and Rutger Street was razed in 2011, and the new SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital is being built on the land.)

When his fellowship ended, the psychology department offered Ross a position as an academic clinical psychologist. He moved into Shannon Hall, which the department shared with other academic programs until psychology outgrew the second floor and took over the entire building. Ross said the distinct smell of mimeograph ink wafted down the halls as copies of tests were printed. Secretaries and work study students delivered mail, answered phones and transcribed faculty dictations.

“We had a large support staff, but advances in technology allow us to do these things ourselves now,” he said. “Things are more under our control and in the palm of our hands. My office phone and department mailbox are two of the loneliest places to be. There’s never any action there.”

Faculty and staff parked their cars on a gravel lot near the old baseball fields (now Hermann Stadium) where cars were in danger of getting hit by fly balls.

“The area was a bit of a dump,” he recalled. “There was no greenspace to speak of, and the Laclede Town housing development nearby was getting run-down. From my office window I watched the campus transform. I saw the trees planted and the dolphin pond being built. Our footprint in the community grew.”

In 2014, the psychology department moved into Morrissey Hall, former home to the law school. The larger building allowed faculty members to have their own research labs, including Ross’ Billiken Sports Psychological Services and Consultation Lab, where he uses biofeedback to help athletes and other performers achieve to their highest potential.

“We’re finding answers to old questions in new ways,” he said.

Ross said the curiosity, capability and caliber of students has improved over the years.

“The quality of students we’re able to attract, especially to our doctoral program, is much higher than it once was,” he said. “Because we continually build on our national reputation as one of the top clinical psychology programs in the nation, we’re getting the cream of the crop.”

Ross said he’s stayed with SLU for more than 30 years because he enjoys the company of his colleagues, the interdisciplinary nature of his work and students.

“Students keep you young,” he said. “I also feel a connection to the Jesuit ideals at SLU. I think we’ve done a much better job in recent years of articulating those ideals and making them meaningful to faculty and students alike.”

Dr. Cynthia Stollhans (Grad A&S ’81)

Professor of art history

33 years of service, hired in 1985

Cynthia Stollhans
Dr. Cynthia Stollhans (Grad A&S '81)

Stollhans was 30 years old and finishing her dissertation in Rome when SLU offered her a job teaching Italian Renaissance and ancient art history.

“My office was in Cupples House,” she recalled. “What could be better than that? Every day was like going into a wonderful museum with true works of art on the walls. Absolutely inspiring.”

A year later, the art history, music, studio art and theater departments merged to become the Department of Visual and Performing Arts.

“We moved into Xavier Hall, which was a good building, but it needed immediate renovations,” she said. “The rest of campus left a lot to be desired. When you drove down the streets you weren’t sure which buildings were part of the campus and which weren’t. There was no definition, no pedestrian mall. We have a much greater profile now.”

Today when she walks the mall, Stollhans appreciates the greenspace and her memories. She remembers when the Center for Global Citizenship was the Bauman-Eberhart Athletic Center, where she would swim in the pool on the ground floor or watch the Billikens practice basketball. She remembers passing Griesedieck Hall and having pity on the students who lived there without the comfort of air conditioning. She recalls having lunch at Caleco’s or Humphrey’s, among the few restaurants near campus at the time.

She also remembers working in the departmental slide library where more than 100,000 slides of paintings, photographs and sculptures were stored.

“You’d spend hours searching through slides in drawer after drawer, pulling them, inserting them into a slide carousel and hauling the carousel to classes,” she said. “Now you can put together a PowerPoint presentation in a fraction of the time.”

Thirty-three years ago, Stollhans was SLU’s only full-time art historian. Now there are six full-time faculty, including an expert in African art.

“I love being a part of the SLU family,” she said. “I made connections when I was a student, so when I came back as faculty, my transition to adulthood with a real job was quite smooth. I also joined the University at a time when art and art history were expanding under Fr. McNamee (Maurice B. McNamee, S.J.). It was great to take part in creating new courses and seeing our curriculum grow.”

Stollhans also said she has had several memorable moments on campus including gaining tenure, becoming a full professor, being named 2013 Woman of the Year and publishing two books.

“This community supports me and values me, not only for what I teach but for who I am,” said Stollhans, a native St. Louisan. “I love having the balance of family and SLU career. It’s why I stay.”

Alan M. Weinberger, J.D.

Professor of law

31 years of service, hired 1987

Alan Weinberger
Alan M. Weinberger, J.D.

Thirty-one years ago, SLU’s law school relaunched one of the first evening programs in the area. It recruited faculty with significant practice experience to teach the nontraditional students the program would attract.

“Back then, most of those who went into teaching had very little, if any, practice experience,” said Weinberger, who was a 37-year-old lawyer in transactional real estate in Washington, D.C., at the time. “They hired four of us to start, and the program took off.”

He was hired to teach corporate and securities law. “I had no experience in the area, but the dean told me, ‘The best way to learn a subject is to teach it,’ so I did,” said Weinberger, selected four times by the Student Bar Association as Faculty Member of the Year.

He recalled spending hours during exam week deciphering handwriting in the little blue books of student essays. The quality of SLU law students hasn’t changed, he said, but he finds today’s students more intentional.

“Back in the day, if you majored in liberal arts, you might go to law school by default,” he said. “You needed something practical to do with your education or, as in my case, your parents encouraged you to go to law school. It was a path, not necessarily a passion.

“You also knew you had a job waiting for you when you graduated,” he said. “Today there are more lawyers than jobs, so the students enrolling do so because it is their passion. No one is urging them to do it. Their encouragement comes from within.”

Weinberger said law schools are placing more emphasis on experiential learning. Externships, such as the one he established for students interested in corporate law, are common, and the Saint Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics, where students gain client experience, tripled in size during the past three decades.

Over the years, Weinberger has witnessed the peaks and valleys of law school enrollment.

“Like law schools throughout the country, we’ve had a couple of down cycles,” Weinberger said. “I’ve always appreciated the school’s refusal to compromise on quality during those periods. In fact, SLU continued to invest in our students.”

An example of which, said Weinberger, was SLU’s “visionary” decision in 2013 to move the law school to Scott Hall, 2.5 miles from campus in downtown St. Louis — and next door to the civil courts building, a block away from the criminal courts and three blocks from City Hall and the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse.

“Our students are in the heart of St. Louis’ legal community,” Weinberger said. “They’re steps away from a wealth of experience and exposure.”

Weinberger said he has remained at SLU because he appreciates the “biorhythm” of the academic calendar and the interaction with his colleagues.

“From the day I arrived, my opinions were no less valued than those of a more senior colleague,” he said. “That environment still exists today.”

Dr. Paul A. Young (A&S ’47, Grad ’53)

Professor of anatomy and chairman emeritus

61 years of service, hired 1957

Paul Young
Dr. Paul A. Young (A&S '47, Grad '53)

When he started teaching, Young spent five hours setting up exams. He laid out 40 to 50 brain specimens on lab tables or slides with microscopes. The students rotated through and identified the structures that were tagged. His lectures included legendary “chalk talks,” during which he would draw parts of the brain using both hands.

Now, specimens and images of the brain are projected onto a screen via PowerPoint. Students must be given PowerPoint presentations a day before lectures, so some don’t bother coming to class.

“In the early days my lecture hall was full,” Young recalled. “Today, it’s sometimes only half full. A lot of hands-on teaching has been replaced by images on a screen. It gets the job done, but it’s not quite the same.”

Young’s history at SLU predates his faculty appointment. He was an undergraduate in the mid-1940s. As a freshman, he played on the 1944-45 SLU basketball team because older players were called to war.

After graduation, he worked as a brewing chemist at the Falstaff Brewery before returning to SLU for a master’s in anatomy, followed by a Ph.D. from the University of Buffalo. Young planned to remain in Buffalo, until he received a call from the chairman of SLU’s anatomy department.

“Most of the anatomy faculty left after a dispute with the dean,” Young said. “That left only three faculty to handle all the medical, dental and physical therapy courses. I can still hear the panic in Kermit’s (Dr. Kermit Christensen’s) voice. He said, ‘Paul, would you like to come home? We need you. Now.’”

Young packed up his wife and five children and moved back to St. Louis. His office was in Schwitalla Hall on the north side of the third floor — where it’s been for the past 61 years.

“The teaching schedule was intense,” he said. “I’d lecture one hour and have three hours of lab every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from the third week of September until June, which is a schedule unheard of today.”

Young said if he had half a dozen women in his class in 1957 that was a lot. Today, about half the class is women.

“While the human body has not changed,” Young said, “the ways of exploring it have. Our knowledge of the minute details of the body have expanded due to the advent of electron microscopy in the 1960s. Magnifications of 100,000 times or more allow the ultrastructural features of cells to be viewed. The advances in that field have been monumental.”

Though Young hasn’t retired officially, he did pack up his office this spring. He started to throw away his teaching materials, but his son and former student, Dr. Paul H. Young (A&S ’71, Med ’75), kept his dad’s papers.

Young’s son said the family has no plans to throw a retirement party for his father because he has retired three times before, each time changing his mind within a couple of months and returning to the classroom.