Dr. Mary Spratt retires after 20 years at WWU

Mary-Spratt-298x417The “tick lady” at William Woods University is retiring. After 20 years at WWU, Dr. Mary Spratt, Cox Distinguished Professor in Science, has decided to stop teaching. She is 76, but has never let her age slow her down.Spratt is well known locally, regionally and nationally for her contributions to tick research (Ehrlichia chaffeensis Studies in Missouri Ticks). She also is credited with the reestablishment of the biological sciences program at William Woods.

“When I came to William Woods in 1992, it was an all-women’s college where the sciences and mathematics had been closed out in the ’80s. If women wanted a career in human or animal health care, environmental science or any other biological field, they had to go off campus to another college for all of their science classes,” Spratt said.

Her impact on WWU has been tremendous, and she has been awarded numerous times for her efforts.

In 1995, she was selected for the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 1996, she was elected Faculty Marshal, making Spratt responsible for all matters related to academic protocol.

She was appointed WWU’s Cox Distinguished Professor in Science in 2008 and the same year was recognized as the Missouri Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In 2011, she was named one of nine Icons of Education in Missouri and Kansas by Ingram’s business magazine.

A graduate of St. Olaf College, with a bachelor’s degree in biology and English, Spratt earned a master’s degree in biology at St. Mary’s College and a master’s and doctorate degree in physiology and cell biology at the University of Kansas.

Spratt has taught both general education biology courses and biology major program courses, and has been the lead faculty member who coordinated the science majors and led the program in curriculum design and development.

During her career at William Woods, Spratt has designed a complete program for science majors, sponsored science-based organizations and promoted student involvement. Because of her success in applying for grants, the science department of WWU has state-of-the-art instruments, equipment and materials that would otherwise not be available to students on a small, independent college campus.

“It has been my passion and joy to bring back an excellent biology program at this now coed college, where students can plan their schedules in advance, get to know their faculty and peers in a supportive environment, and become prepared for and accepted into a variety of professional and graduate programs,” she said.Spratt-Mary-and-man

Spratt’s first priority and primary focus has been demonstrated in her teaching philosophy and style. Her dedication to undergraduate education has provided exceptional academic opportunities for students pursuing graduate schools or entering the workforce. Driven by her goal to spark interests of all students, Spratt was successful in utilizing methods of inquiry and scientific research for students to use in their everyday lives.

“My philosophy has been to build courses around laboratory experiences to better enable students to experience the methodology, as well as the content of science, and to prepare students for working in the laboratory or field in their future workplace. In small classes and laboratories of five-20 students, everyone gets hands-on experience,” Spratt said.

An advocate of student involvement, Spratt participated as a mentor and faculty academic coordinator for the Mentor-Mentee Program, a partnership of individual faculty members and undergraduate students working together on a research project.

She empowered student interest and involvement by serving as faculty mentor to many student mentees on research projects for 12 consecutive academic years and took several of her student mentees to national science conferences, where they presented their research.

“Each year I chose students to work with me in a Mentor/Mentee relationship on a research project. These students have given oral and poster presentations and won awards at branch and general meetings of the American Society for Microbiology and the Missouri Academy of Science,” Spratt said.

In 2001-02, Spratt spent a sabbatical year at the Navy Medical Research Center, Department of Rickettsial Diseases, on an ASEE Graduate Fellowship and as a contractor with the Department of the United States Navy.

Spratt frequently used her research with Missouri tick species and their viruses to enhance her classroom instruction. A number of her student mentees have won awards directly resulting from their partnership on this research. They’ve also co-authored technical publications.

In addition to teaching, she advised approximately 15 students each year and sponsored the Beta Beta Beta biology honor society. She offered several LEAD (Leading, Educating, Achieving and Developing) events each semester for students to learn about the sciences outside the classroom.

Spratt’s love for student interaction and involvement was frequently demonstrated by her leadership and involvement in the Annual Reis Field Study Biology Retreats. In cooperation with Washington University in St. Louis, faculty and biology majors from William Woods spent several days each fall at this retreat, where they heard lectures and engaged in field activities and discussions with other students on current biology issues.

“Students believe our biology courses are among the most challenging at our institution. I constantly struggled with the tension of walking the fine line between support and encouragement on the one hand, and challenging them to be the best they can be with solid preparation on the other,” Spratt said.

“I knew that just coming from a small college with supportive faculty would not be sufficient to be chosen for positions in professional and graduate schools without also having an excellent academic background.”

Because of her enthusiasm and passion, Dr. Spratt has impacted the lives of numerous students, who have gone on to become pharmacists, veterinarians, physicians, physician assistants, teachers and scientists.

In 2008, Spratt and WWU were accepted into the Genomics Education Partnership based at Washington University and the Genome Center in St. Louis. The project gives undergraduate students the opportunity to study genetic codes and genes in living organisms and to make substantive contributions to the published data in genomics.

Spratt’s interests in genome research and DNA bio-technology are also areas she utilized in her courses to engage students in research activities.

“Dr. Spratt has impacted the curriculum and faculty of WWU in so many positive ways,” Dr. Jahnae H. Barnett, WWU president, said. “She came to develop a science program where one did not exist and build the program from the ground up. Within the program, she has worked hard to set high expectations with a challenging program.”

In addition to institutional contributions, Spratt has been an active participant in community and national issues involving biomedical ethics, political issues related to science, and medical research.