USM Alumni Are Shaping Education at Their Alma Mater
On a bitterly cold November morning, Sister Rosie Kolich huddled in quiet reflection with a small group of students.
She had intended to meet around the fountain on the University of Saint Mary campus, but snowy weather and a thin sheet of ice called for a change of plans. Instead, the English professor recruited a few students who were scattered around Saint Joseph Dining Hall to stand with her and pause.
As they gathered, Kolich checked the time, making sure it was 10:01 a.m. – the moment designated to celebrate the 161st anniversary of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth landing. The time came, the bells rang in commemoration of Founders’ Day, and Kolich began to read.
“It is wisdom to pause,” she began, quoting SCL Foundress Mother Xavier Ross, “to look back and see by what straight or twisting paths we have arrived at the place we find ourselves.”
Kolich reflects on the passage often, especially as she considers the path that led her back to Saint Mary.
She is one of several alumni who have returned to serve their alma mater. While these professors span different disciplines and decades, they share a few common goals: inspiring, influencing, and impacting other Spires.
While the turns in Kolich’s path have surprised her, she predicted parts of her career during childhood.
“I can remember telling my kindergarten teacher that I was going to be a sister,” Kolich said. “By the time I turned 24, I was still thinking about it. But to be at Saint Mary teaching as a sister – that never crossed my mind. It’s funny how life happens. That’s why I love the quote from Mother Xavier.”
Kolich’s passion for teaching was inspired by many Sisters of Charity who taught her over the years. She attended two SCL-sponsored schools and took classes from several sisters while at Saint Mary.
“I was blessed and fortunate to have wonderful teachers throughout my educational career, including at Saint Mary,” said Kolich, who joined the faculty in 1997. “In many ways, I was shaped into the person I am by the influence of the professors I had here.”
As a student at Saint Mary, Kolich was challenged to think critically and creatively. The English professors made literature come alive and taught her that all good writing connects to life. She aims to have a similar influence on her students today.
Her efforts were rewarded in 2010 when she earned the Sullivan Award for Teaching Excellence. Each year, a full-time faculty member receives the honor for making a distinct difference in the university’s teaching climate.
“My students keep me excited about teaching,” Kolich said. “They keep me hopeful for the future. I hope they leave the classroom knowing they are valued, that they have potential, that they have minds and voices and the ability to use them.”
Kolich specializes in 19th century British literature with an emphasis on the female writers and characters of the Victorian period. She also leads the Saint Mary Mission Council.
“I’ve always felt like there is a great spirit at Saint Mary,” she said. “The students make it so worthwhile. I hope I’m impacting and touching their lives like the professors did when I was a student here.”
At the beginning of each semester, Jackie Asherman makes a point to walk through the aisles in her classroom.
The exercise keeps her students engaged, but the stroll has a deeper purpose. Along Asherman’s walk, she pauses to look at each student’s face. It’s her way to connect with and begin to understand her students.
“I truly feel like the face of God is in every person,” she said. “When you’re standing at the front of a classroom, it’s really an honor. I feel blessed by my students every single day that I get to teach.”
Asherman’s teaching style is also influenced by her time at Saint Mary. She had several trusted mentors during her undergraduate years, particularly Kathy Ducey, C’90, who served as the RN-BSN program director before retiring in 2017. Ducey offered comfort during difficult moments, humor during the good times, and inspired excellence among her students.
“Kathy was a strong leader for all of us,” Asherman said. “She taught me that the best way to learn was to make a safe mistake.
She was unflappable. She was engaging in addition to having high expectations. That was such a good model for me. I try to be like that – balancing being kind and approachable without shaming students for making mistakes.”
Following her graduation from Saint Mary, Asherman began working in labor and delivery for the Saint Luke’s Health System. She went on to earn a Master of Science in Nursing degree and an Advanced Forensic Nursing Certification.
Asherman joined the Saint Mary faculty in 2013, and she teaches courses in behavioral health, wellness and leadership, and pediatrics. During her tenure, she was selected to write for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Licensure Examination and helped pass a state law that made strangulation a felony in domestic relationships. Asherman also received USM’s coveted Sullivan Award for Teaching Excellence in 2017.
“Saint Mary feels like home to me,” she said. “I love being part of a community that has a mission I believe in. I truly believe in the potential of each of our students. It’s exciting to be a small part of helping them reach their next steps.”
When Bruce McFarland began the Saint Mary Master of Business Administration program, he did his best to avoid one particular concentration area – finance. He was slightly intimidated by both the subject matter and the professor.
He had already earned a Master’s in Hospital Administration, so he was confident in the other academic areas. But he was concerned that finance would be his greatest obstacle and decided to push those courses toward the end of his program. However, he was pleasantly surprised after the first lecture.
“Once I took a finance class with this particular professor, I couldn’t get enough,” McFarland said. “He was terrific, and I went on to take a few more classes from him. He became a good mentor.”
McFarland grew to enjoy finance enough that it was one of the first courses he taught when he returned as an adjunct professor. Over the past decade, he’s consistently taught in USM’s MBA program and covered a variety of subjects.
He’s recently focused on the health care management concentration and enjoys sharing his professional experiences with students.
“What I like about Saint Mary is the fact that we teach working adults,” he said. “You get to share ideas and experiences with folks who you probably otherwise wouldn’t meet. Adult students want to talk about how to apply theories in the real world. I enjoy getting to share that information with folks.”
McFarland works full time as a safety officer for Children’s Mercy, specializing in environmental care and emergency preparedness. As an adjunct, he’s taught many other health care professionals and is excited by the energy and expertise they bring to his classes.
“Each and every student has something that you can learn from,” McFarland said. “As long as I can keep contributing and sharing with folks, I’ll continue teaching. I remember how professors set the tone for me at Saint Mary, and I want to set that for others so that they can also have good experiences.”