Sister Mary Ann Polasek is Interim Dean of Arts and Sciences

Monday, October 8, 2012 1:25:00 AM

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 do.”

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 cooking.