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February 2017 

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A Legacy of Excellence

Stephens College School of Performing Arts participates in arts advocacy day at Capitol

advocacy day

Pictured (L-to-R): Dr. Gail Humphries Mardirosian, dean of the School of Performing Arts, and Chelsea Andes ’17 M.F.A., administrative assistant in the School of Performing Arts.



The voices of Stephens College School of Performing Arts students, faculty and staff joined with other supporters of the arts at the Citizens for the Arts Day hosted by the Missouri Citizens for the Arts (MCA) at the Missouri State Capitol on Feb. 8. 

“Our students must learn to articulate the importance and value of the arts in our lives both practically and philosophically,” said Dr. Gail Humphries Mardirosian, dean of the School of Performing Arts. “It is my hope that we garner strength and courage from this experience to continue to be strong and clear advocates for the arts.”

The annual event featured advocacy training, legislative visits with state officials, performances and an arts awards ceremony.

“The day really reinforced for me the importance of speaking up about the need for funding for the arts,” said Sicily Mathenia ’18, a musical theatre student. “It was not easy and not every representative was happy to listen to us. As an art student, my life revolves around arts education and has since I was a small child. It was a wake-up call for me to realize that not everyone values arts education in the way that I do.”

Mathenia, as well as the other members of The Starbursts, the dean’s student arts advisory council, represented the school. The Starbursts also include Emma Frankie Costello ’17, a theatre student; Dana Leigh Degnan ’18, a vocal arts student; Brandon Mayville ’17, a professional conservatory student; and Delainey Phillips ’18, a musical theatre student.

Costello, who attended last year’s advocacy day as well, has found both experiences rewarding.

“It is wonderful to see a bunch of Missouri citizens come together and support the arts,” she said. “This year more than ever it is important to have all kinds of people speaking up for the arts and other things they believe in. The government is taking a serious shift after this election, and people must make their individual voices heard to make any difference.” 

Others who attended from Stephens were Chelsea Andes ’17 M.F.A., administrative assistant for the School of Performing Arts; Ruth Ann Schulze Burke ’86, school business manager and executive director of the Okoboji Summer Theatre, Stephens’ summer stock theatre in Iowa; and Jill Womack, executive artistic director of the TRYPS Institute at Stephens College. Several TRYPS students and a parent also attended.

“I feel as though we made an impact on Arts Advocacy Day, but there is so much more work to be done,” Mathenia said. 


Academic Innovation

Creative Ink students tackle poster design for 'Emma' production

creative ink posters

Each semester a team of students from Creative Ink, Stephens College’s student-run marketing firm, works with the School of Performing Arts to create promotional materials for at least two shows.

This fall, however, every student at Creative Ink worked on creating a poster for Stephens’ recent play “Emma.” 

Kate Gray, associate professor in the School of Design and Creative Ink adviser, said the poster project became a training opportunity for students to learn firsthand and from each other what it’s like to work with a professional client. 

“We had asked the students, ‘How would you make the training better?’” Gray said. “The students said they wanted a project that they all worked on. So, that’s what we did.”

emma posterThe process worked like most professional marketing jobs.

First, representatives from the School of Performing Arts talked with members of Creative Ink about the play and its storyline. Next, the firm’s 12 students were split into five teams and were asked to design three posters, each with completely different looks.

Finally, with everyone in the room, each team presented its posters to the client. Students also had the opportunity to hear each team’s feedback from the client.

Director Timuchin Aker, assistant professor of theatre at Stephens and director of “Emma,” was awestruck by the students’ creativity.

“We couldn’t have been happier with the results,” he said.

The winning poster, created by Claire DeSantis ’18 and Lyubov Sheremeta ’18, conveys a perfect pop-meets-period vibe, which is just what the client wanted for the 2010 adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s greatest novels.

Clean and simple, like a modern magazine cover, the poster features a tight shot of the play’s star, Morgan Walker ’17, under the heading “Emma” in big pink letters.

But the kicker for Aker was the words “Oh, snap!” printed in white below Walker’s picture. The exclamation—made popular in recent years by Tracy Morgan on “Saturday Night Live”—is a play on something Emma does on stage that gives the production a modern-day feel: She snaps her fingers to stop the action of the play and talks directly to the audience.

“It told me the students had really listened to what we had to say about the play,” Akers said. “ Also, someone who says ‘Oh, snap!’ today could very much be the same kind of person who Emma was in her time period. There is a direct correlation between the youth of today and Emma. It was brilliant on the part of Creative Ink.”


A Vibrant Campus

Stephens Student Success Center sees increase in visits by students

Student Success Center

Stephens students made more visits to the Margaret Campbell Student Success Center (SSC) than ever before during the center’s first semester in its new location inside the Hugh Stephens Library.

Sady Mayer Strand, director of the center, said providing students academic support and professional tutoring in a library setting makes sense.

“So far, it’s going very well,” she said.

According to records kept by the SSC, students made 1,354 visits to the center during the Fall 2016 semester. That compares to 1,176 visits during that same period in 2015. 

Strand said students who used the center this fall made an average of four or five visits during that time period. In general, between 40 and 50 percent of undergraduates use the success center each semester. 

Located on the first floor of the library, the success center is an enclave of desks and tables with computer access where students can meet with tutors individually or in small groups. The center, which is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, is available to any full-time undergraduate, graduate or online student.

At any one time, there is at least one professional tutor available to help students with assignments and writing papers. A peer tutor also is available to assist students with science. In addition to helping students with specific assignments, tutors work with students to develop study skills, time management and strategies for dealing with test-taking anxiety.

Occasionally, workshops are held at the success center around themes such as research, computer applications and APA citation. The success center is also responsible for making sure ADA/504 accommodations are being met. 

“We are teaching as much as we are tutoring,” Strand said.  “We want them to walk away with skills that they can apply later with other assignments and help themselves.”

Mariah Escarsega ’18 sought help at the success center shortly after her grades plummeted during her first semester at Stephens. She quickly realized that she didn’t know how to properly study or prepare for college-level tests.

It didn’t take long for her sessions with a tutor to begin paying off. 

“I learned study skills that I can apply to all my subjects,” said Escarsega, who studies often at the success center. “I like coming here to study because if I have a question, there is some who can answer it, and I’m not stuck. Plus, everyone who comes to the success center comes to study, and I like that.”


Student Success

Minuette Layer ’17 wins top honors for ‘Florence of Arabia’ 10-minute play

Minuette Layer“Florence of Arabia,” a 10-minute play written by Minuette Layer ’17, won top honors on Jan. 28 during the Region V Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) awards ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa.

The play was among two selected from a field of more than 100 plays submitted to the seven-state region, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. 

Layer’s play is one of two semi-finalists from each of the eight KCACRF regions that now goes on to be considered by a panel of judges for a concert reading in April during The Gary Garrison National Ten-Minute Play Award ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

A winner will be selected along with three additional national finalists whose plays will be presented with casts made up of professional actors from the Washington, D.C., area.  

This isn’t the first time Layer’s 10-minute play has garnered attention.

“It was staged last summer at the Just Off Broadway Theatre in Kansas City,” Layer said. “It’s always nice to see different incarnations of the show and to watch the script grow and change in new unexpected ways.”

The play is about a family of cosplayers who are performers who wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character. The word comes from the contraction of the words costume play. In “Florence of Arabia,” the family must convince their daughter Sarah to be “normal” after she embarrasses them at Comic-Con by trying to dress as Lawrence of Arabia instead of picking from a more mainstream fandom.

Layer said writing a 10-minute play isn’t easy because they must have a beginning, middle and an end.

“The main challenge is trying to tell a full play’s worth of information in just a few pages while still keeping the story engaging,” she said. 


Outstanding Faculty

Dr. Erin Sellner engages students with music in science courses

Erin Sellner

Dr. Erin Sellner knew teaching Immunology at 8 o’clock in the morning would be tough, for her and the students.

So she turned to her favorite pastime and family’s lifeblood: music.

But there was more than entertainment in the songs Sellner played for her blurry-eyed students. There was a lesson.

Pink’s “You Make Me Sick” signaled a lecture on infectious diseases and vaccines while The Isley Brothers’ “Contagious” kicked off a discussion about the Zika virus epidemic. And what better way to usher in a lesson about cell signaling than Blondie’s “Call Me?”

“I try to use different modalities in my teaching,” said Sellner, an assistant professor of biochemistry in the School of Health Sciences. “That’s the way I get to be a bit creative and artsy like the rest of my family while still pulling it all back to my love for science.”

Sellner later posts the song along with the lecture online in a discussion thread titled “Beats by Dr. E.” She encourages her students to listen to the music while they study, hoping the songs will help trigger information about the subjects. She also posts articles about current advancements or research in science, showing students that what they are learning is tied to the world they live in.  

“I just find these subjects so fascinating that anything I can find to help pass it along is very much worth it to me,” Sellner said. “One of the things I really love about teaching is that moment when a student finally really, really gets it. I live for that moment.”

Sellner grew up in New Ulm, Minn., a town of about 13,200 people located 90 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Her father was a classically trained pianist and her mother, who had a master’s degree in music education, taught choir, band and general music at the local public schools. 

When she was in high school, Sellner and her family moved to Jefferson City.

It appeared early on that Sellner would follow in her parents’ musical footsteps. She started on piano, later expanding her repertoire to include the oboe, alto-saxophone and tenor saxophone. Alhough she enjoyed music, Sellner wasn’t convinced it was her calling.  

Always a good student, Sellner challenged herself academically, taking as many Advanced Placement courses, including an advanced science course in ninth grade, as she could.

And that’s where it happened.

“I fell head over heels in love with genetics,” Sellner said. “It was just so amazing how it explained inheritance and how you could predict inheritance.”

When she got home that night, Sellner couldn’t stop talking about genetics, and she hasn’t stopped since.

“It’s my lasting love,” she says. “It’s a case of once you find something that makes you that excited, you don’t waste your time on anything else.”

Sellner received a B.S. in Animal Science with minors in rural sociology and English from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She immediately went on to earn a Ph.D. in Animal Science from MU, with an emphasis in reproductive physiology and molecular genetics and a doctoral minor in college teaching.  

Before accepting a full-time position at Stephens last year, Sellner was teaching as an adjunct professor at Moberly Area Community College, William Woods University, Westminster College as well as at Stephens. This spring, she is teaching cell biology, immunology and biochemistry at Stephens and oversees the seniors’ capstone projects.

Sellner is grateful for the opportunity to put down roots at an all-women’s college.

“I really had no idea how amazing it would be in this kind of atmosphere,” she said. “It’s wonderful because there are young women in the hallways talking about science, and they come in and seek me out to have conversations about science!”

One thing Sellner noticed in the co-ed courses she taught before joining Stephens was male students often dominated the science labs while the women stood back, taking notes and watching.

“In our labs, everyone is touching everything,” Sellner said. “It’s amazing to see young women with their hands on pipettes, reading microbial plates and digging in. No one is complaining about the smell or anything else because there is no one to posture for. I feel so good about sending women out into the world who know what they know and aren’t afraid to share it.”

And the students find Sellner’s love for science, well, contagious.

“Dr. Sellner has a tremendous amount of passion for science and education, and it shows in her classroom,” said Dana Heggeman ’16, now a graduate student in Stephens’ Master of Physician Assistant Studies program. “She is constantly pushing students further into their studies, making them look past just memorizing the fact and into applying what they’ve learned to the real world.”

Hannah Fountain ’17 looks forward to Sellner’s lectures and labs because she knows she will leave the class enthused about a new topic in science.

“Dr. Sellner will draw dozens of diagrams and bring countless props to help make abstract concepts tangible,” Fountain said. “Dr. Sellner’s commitment to the success of her students shows us how to believe in ourselves. Dr. Sellner is everything that is truly great about Stephens College.”

While Sellner is devoted to her college students, she also knows the secret to increasing the number of women in science is to inspire them while they’re young. That’s why Sellner has worked hard to win grants to bring middle school girls to campus for Saturday Science at Stephens. She also advises Tri-Beta, the national biological honor society on campus, whose members take an active role teaching and mentoring the middle school girls.

Dr. Susan Muller, dean of the School of Health Sciences, is impressed with Sellner’s dedication to her students and the field of science.

“Dr. Sellner is an outstanding faculty member who is passionate about teaching and helping young women become interested in science,” she said.

Sellner embraces the notion that she isn’t the stereotypical science teacher and hopes her example inspires students to be themselves and follow their own paths. 

“What I really love about Stephens is our students are engaged with their courses, and they are engaged with their professors,” Sellner said. “I am happy my students feel comfortable walking into my office to talk with me about coursework and other things. I’m here for them.”

organ concert 

Concert to help restore chapel organ

Join Stephens College on March 8 for “Make a Joyful Noise,” a concert in the Firestone Baars Chapel to benefit our organ restoration project. Performers include Haig Mardirosian, organist; Trent Rash, tenor, and Darrell Jordan, baritone; the Prairie Strings Quartet and the Stephens College Concert Choir. A reception will immediately follow the concert.

Reserve your tickets ($20 per person) now. If you can’t attend, we’ll be live streaming the event.

Read more about the concert and the restoration project

reunion registration

Register for
Alumnae Reunion 

This spring, you’re invited to come home to Stephens and help us celebrate the legacy, leadership, friendships and traditions that have made Stephens College a place like no other. Classes ending in 2 and 7 will receive special recognition!

Check out the schedule of events and register on our Reunion 2017 website or contact the Office of Institutional Advancement and Initiatives for more information at (573) 876-7110 or [email protected].

Zandra Rhoades

Save the Date:
Dame Zandra Rhodes to speak April 4 

The Stephens College School of Design will host a free lecture on April 4 by one of the most iconic names in fashion: Dame Zandra Rhodes, the pink-haired pioneering British designer who has dressed, among others, Princess Diana, Freddie Mercury, Helen Mirren, Sarah Jessica Parker and Lauren Bacall.

Rhodes is the second speaker sponsored by The Jeannene Booher Fashion Lecture Series, which launched in November 2016 with a $1 million gift from Jeannene Thompson Booher ’56.

Read more

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