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Monmouth hosts first Alumni Science Symposium

Barry McNamara
04/10/2018
Keynote speakers Jeff Draves '85 and Patricia Draves
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Those who study science at Monmouth College know the importance of energy – it’s part of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. And there was plenty of energy to be found at the College’s first Alumni Science Symposium, held April 6-7.

“This first symposium provided us with an excellent model for connecting alumni, students and professors on campus,” said Associate Director of Alumni Relations Katie Shipp. “The energy and excitement about the research going on at Monmouth, as well as the success of our alumni, definitely showcases what a wonderful foundation the liberal arts are for the sciences.”

One of those successful alumni who returned for the event was Karen Phinney ’84, who presented a talk titled “Unraveling the Mysteries of Vitamin D.”

“I’m really enjoying talking to the students,” said Phinney, who is a group leader in the Biomolecular Measurement Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “I meet students at the conferences I attend, but it’s wonderful to have a personal Monmouth connection with this group of students and to hear about the serious research they’re doing and how excited they are about it.”

Other Monmouth alumni who returned to make presentations included: Franklin Johnson ’76, senior director of clinical pharmacology and pharmacokinetics at Amicus Therapeutics in Cranbury, N.J.; Ion Moraru ’99, an attorney with the nationwide law firm Quarles & Brady LLP, who works as a patent scientist; and Ryne Sherman ’06, who recently joined Tulsa, Okla.-based Hogan Assessments as chief science officer.

Also back was Dean Peterson ’64, retired senior staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

“This symposium shows me that there are outstanding students at Monmouth doing exciting work,” he said. “The tremendous facilities and the marvelous equipment available offer a lot of potential for the future. I also think there are exciting opportunities for collaboration with some of the national laboratories.”

The two-day symposium marked the first time Curt DeCaro ’05 had been inside the Center for Science and Business, which opened in 2013.

“The lab space is just fantastic. I worked in H-T (Haldeman-Thiessen Science Center), and the difference is night and day,” said DeCaro, who teaches physics at Harper College in Palatine, Ill. “I didn’t expect the facilities to be this nice.”

By reconnecting with his physics professor, Chris Fasano, DeCaro said that Harper might wind up with some of the lightning detectors that are part of Fasano’s research through the National Science Foundation.

“This could be the beginning of a collaboration,” said DeCaro. “We’d like to help Professor Fasano conduct research in the northern part of the state.”

Another returning alumnus was Jeff Draves ’85, who later taught chemistry at Monmouth, as did his wife, Patricia Draves. Today, the Draveses are at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, where Patricia is completing her first year as president, and Jeff is a chemistry professor.

Together, the Draveses delivered the symposium’s keynote speech, “E(A)ffecting Change: How Science, Liberal Arts, Leadership and Education Together Change the World.”

Patricia said an important lesson from “the scientific method” is that the right answer usually doesn’t come on the first attempt.

“A lot of times as scientists, we get it wrong,” she said. “But we develop methods for a richer level of understanding. I’m very used to how scientists think about change, and I did not fully appreciate that approach until I started working with non-scientists” as a college administrator.

Jeff talked about the propensity of scientists to become “enthralled” with an idea or hypothesis, and how it’s important to be able to change that enthrallment if that’s what the data suggests.

While conducting research on particulate matter that could help create a better understanding of respiratory problems, Jeff said he and his group of students became enthralled with the transferable intermolecular potentials, known as TIPS potentials, for ion-water interactions.

“I really liked those TIPS potentials, but I had to change,” he said. “We sat down, and we figured out where we were in trouble.”

Patricia took a similar approach when she became Graceland’s president.

“As scientists, we seek to understand and define change,” she said. “When I first got into administration, I didn’t know a lot about leadership change models … OK, I knew no leadership change models.”

But the more she’s studied, the more she’s come to appreciate Kotter’s change model, “which has lots of corollaries with science,” she said, such as removing obstacles and creating short-term wins.

Patricia told Monmouth’s science students that they’re on a good track.

“Less than one-fourth of the U.S. population has a bachelor’s degree, and those with degrees in science and problem-solving are an even smaller number,” she said. “You have a responsibility for effecting change and, as educators, we have a responsibility to provide citizens who can do that beyond our lifetime.”

And Patricia reminded the audience that a science degree from a liberal arts college is more than an entry into the job market.

“At liberal arts colleges, we’re not training students for their first job. We’re training them to be the leaders of the company,” she said.