Something Happened on the Way to the Rotunda: One Professor’s Vision

By Mike Killeen
CSB/SJU assistant director of media relations

Ten years ago, Marcus Webster saw an opportunity to promote his vision of undergraduate research.

The result of his vision is "Private College Scholars at the Capitol," an annual event at the Minnesota Capitol Rotunda in St. Paul.

But backtrack just a bit to 2000, when Webster was attending a meeting of the Council of Undergraduate Research in Connecticut.

"I was listening to a talk about the Council on Undergraduate Research's Posters on the Hill event in Washington, D.C.," recalled Webster, professor of biology and director of undergraduate research at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University.

"Posters on the Hill has been wildly successful at publicizing student/faculty collaborative work at small colleges - and it's had an influence on perceptions of student research at the national level," he said.

The talk was being presented by John Mateja, now a physicist at Murray State University in Kentucky who originated the idea of Posters on the Hill.

"John asked his audience if there were any state capitol poster sessions, and a woman from the College of St. Scholastica piped up, 'We've done one in Minnesota for the last three years,' " Webster said. "This was news to me, so afterwards I approached Kathleen (Cargill, director of the McNair Scholars Program at St. Scholastica) and learned she had been taking a group from St. Scholastica down to St. Paul to show off posters since 1998.

"Right there and then, we hatched a plan to start a statewide 'Posters in St. Paul' and to involve as many colleges as we could get to take our best and brightest research students down to show off for the Minnesota Legislature," Webster said. "It's been growing ever since, and though our name didn't stick after we were 'adopted' by the Minnesota Private College Council, we're quite proud that most of the state's private colleges send a student group each spring."

The event has attracted notice from the state's highest office-holders. Gov. Tim Pawlenty attended the 2006 poster session, and Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau visited in 2009.

Four poster presentations from five CSB and SJU students were displayed in February at the 2010 event. They include:

  • "A Personality Profile of Dick Cheney," by SJU senior Patrick Barlow and CSB senior Jaclynn Beier;
  • "Does the Augmented Solow Model Still Largely Explain Variations in Income Per Capita?" by SJU senior Michael Schwieters;
  • "Scientific Methodologies Applied to the Creation of a Saint Benedict Handmade Paper," by CSB junior Ellory Eggermont;
  • "The Politics Putins Make: Leadership in Russia from Mikhail Romanov to Dmitri Medvedev," by CSB senior Nicole Hochsprung.

"Our aim isn't to lobby the legislature for funds, but instead to celebrate the students' work and to try to put forward the idea that students and faculty at small colleges - not just the big state universities - are engaged in serious, community-minded, significant scholarship that benefits the state in important ways," Webster said.

While at the Capitol, he encourages the students to make an appointment with their state senator or representative to "impress upon them the value of independent research to their education and their career plans," Webster said.

That's a vision Webster will whole-heartedly endorse.

(Posted Feb. 9, 2010)