By Sara Woelfel
Being the true scientist she is, Sister Mary Ann Polasek, OSF, Ph.D.,
knows that change is not only important and good, but it’s necessary.
And it’s that belief that allowed her to embrace perhaps the biggest
change of her career when she accepted her recent three-year appointment
as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Change is not easy, but it’s exciting,” she said. “To do something
that’s different is challenging. (This position) is very different from
what I’ve done.”
Officially assuming her new role on Aug. 1, Sister Mary Ann succeeds
Dr. Dickson Smith, who served as dean for five years prior to retiring
this summer. Sister Mary Ann has served both as an intermittent
department chair and as a member of the science faculty for 35 years.
She has a Ph.D. in genetics, master’s degrees in both genetics and
biology, and, from Stritch, a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Even before stepping foot in her new office, Sister Mary Ann knew
that her most important function as dean would be to serve the faculty
and assist department chairs in meeting their goals.
“I was very gratified that my colleagues thought that I could be of
some service to them,” Sister Mary Ann said. “I see this position as
service to them, and if I can help them in any way, that’s what I’ll
Early in her term, Sister Mary Ann intends to hold informal meetings
with faculty to learn more about them and their departments and to
create open lines of communication from the start.
“I’d like to have listening sessions,” she said. “We can grow
together. I think cohesiveness is one of the things we need to work on.
That’s because we are such disparate disciplines, and we sometimes fail
to see that we are part of a cohesive unit. And that’s what I would hope
to bring about. That, I think, is paramount.”
Also within her purview during the next three years will be
preparation for a University self-study this year and a major
accreditation visit by the North Central Association in 2004, and
ongoing review of the college’s strategic plan.
Sister Mary Ann admits it’s difficult to leave behind her teaching
position in the Natural Sciences Department, even if she won’t miss the
tedium of grading papers. However, she will retain her duties as a
coordinator of the Title III grant, a five-year, $1.75 million award
Stritch got in 2000 for science equipment, the development of new
programs, laboratory renovations and other updates.
While she will miss her faculty role, Sister Mary Ann feels it’s
natural that she, as a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi,
is serving in a leadership role on campus.
“I think it’s important that there is someone in leadership like
Sister Mary Lea Schneider (Stritch president), for example, who really
exemplifies the kinds of values that we espouse and talk about all the
time,” Sister Mary Ann said. “That’s why I’m really hoping I can make a
difference as dean and show these values. One of the things that St.
Francis said was, ‘Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if
necessary.’ And that is something we all need to do.”
While the study of science has taught Sister Mary Ann the importance
of change, it also has instilled in her a strong desire to continue
learning and keep informed. Even though much of her time and energy will
be focused on her new duties, Sister Mary Ann has several academic
passions she would like to continue to pursue, including her personal
study of genetics and her volunteer work at the Milwaukee Public Museum,
where she shares her expertise in botany research projects. Her other
interests include world travel, needlework, Chinese brush painting, and