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The Significance of Science:
Profiles in Lives of Service

Talk with Professor of Chemistry Liland Horten C’65, and it doesn’t take long to discover that he has a deep love for both science and music—dual passions that come through in his teaching. Even as he explains the increase in sensitivity of instrumentation in his field, he can’t help but draw comparisons to the faint piccolo line, in the first movement of Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3, that only the more sensitive stereos can produce without static.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Horten describes himself as an advocate of the liberal arts. “I minored in German, and the music appreciation course I took changed my life,” he recalls, “but I would suggest that taking a two-hour course in the sciences could change someone’s life, too.”

James Mastaler C’2004 would agree. Mastaler came to North Park with a strong desire to serve the common good. Faculty took note and encouraged and nurtured this desire. Inspired by the science department faculty members’ passion for their field and dedication to his success, Mastaler soon chose the sciences as his vehicle for service. “I felt as though my professors really wanted me to succeed,” he says. “Their commitment to me became my commitment to the sciences.”

Mastaler constructed an environmental science degree before it became an official major at the university, weaving science and service together through every stitch of his custom-tailored education. From studying aquatic biology aboard the Shedd Aquarium’s research vessel in the Bahamas to crisscrossing southern India to learn ecological principals, Mastaler learned to think of himself as a global citizen.

On these trips Mastaler saw the world’s greatest ecosystems up close and realized he wanted to spend the rest of his life trying to protect them. He also saw some of the world’s poorest and most marginalized people struggling to make a living from these natural resources. Mastaler recognized a relationship between protecting ecological integrity and promoting human flourishing; North Park faculty taught him that it is nearly impossible to separate one from the other.

“My education equipped me with a foundational understanding of how the world works: a scientific lens and a sense of compassion that continues to filter my research to this day.” Mastaler is now a doctoral student at Loyola University Chicago, where he also serves as a graduate assistant for the University’s Center for Urban Environmental Research & Policy.

Mastaler’s story would make any professor proud. It is what happens when science is integrated into the liberal arts with an emphasis on service and compassion.

Scientific advancements at North Park

Scientific technologies are advancing, forcing scientists to encounter an increasing number of serious ethical questions in their field. North Park’s science program is well poised to equip students to respond to these challenges. When a dedicated and experienced faculty meets bright and eager students, you can expect significance. The human resources are already in place. North Park’s science program is expanding its other resources as well.

When Liland Horten arrived on North Park’s campus as a college freshman in 1961, Wickholm Laboratories did not even exist. Neither did Carlson Tower. When Dr. Horten returned to campus to begin his teaching career in 1970, these science labs were barely a few years old. Now, over 40 years later, as Dr. Horten prepares to complete his final semester of teaching, the labs are likewise ready for retirement.

As he sits in his office, tucked away in the basement of Carlson Tower with the Chicago River flowing directly outside his window, Horten remarks, “I’ve spent my life in this building.”

But Horten is ready to see students move into new facilities that can serve them as they deserve. “I’m excited for what’s going to happen,” he says of the university’s commitment to equipping the science department with more advanced tools and facilities. With state-of-the-art laboratories, Horten hopes the sciences will be even more attractive to students than they already are.

“It should draw more students, and it should draw top students,” he says: students passionate about science and committed to service. Students a lot like Mastaler.

Simulate now, save a life later

Upstairs on Carlson Tower’s fifth floor, Director of Undergraduate Nursing Dr. Linda Duncan C’69’s cell phone rings. “Excuse me a moment, it’s Dr. Duncan.”

There's a glow of maternal pride in her face as she says this. As it turns out, she could be referring to either of her two children, Mark C’2000, now a psychiatrist doing a second residency at the University of Washington, or Darlene C’2001, a Pulmonary Critical Care Fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. This is a family with a rich North Park legacy: a deep, lasting commitment to the significance of science in lives of service.

Professor Duncan was a member of the second class to graduate from the School of Nursing in 1969, the same year that the three-year program at nearby Swedish Covenant Hospital closed. “The Evangelical Covenant Church had been in nursing education since the 1800s,” Duncan explains, “so they shifted their emphasis and moved from a hospital-based program to an academic-based program.” The denomination understood that nursing education needed to be in a school of higher learning—a cutting-edge decision at the time, according to Duncan. But North Park’s nursing program has never ceased to be forward thinking.

Since her return to North Park in 1973, Duncan has witnessed and played a key role in the growth of the nursing program. In the last five years enrollment has grown significantly. With a move to double admissions—admitting students both in the fall and spring semesters—and a recent increase in cohort group numbers, the program now admits 80 new students to the major each year.

Health care education is moving in a new direction, Duncan observes, and North Park will not be left behind. “The old adage in all the health care environments was, ‘see one, do one, teach one.’ That is no longer appropriate because of the level and type of care we’re giving in acute-care facilities today.” With the ever-evolving demands in the field, health care education has now adopted an aeronautics model for training students: simulated environments provide a safe context for practicing skills until they become almost second nature to students before they move into the acute-care environment.

North Park got on board and began its own simulation program. Through grant funding, new equipment purchased over the past three years will launch the program. Faculty and students quickly embraced these new opportunities, but the program faced significant space constraints. Those limitations were lifted when a 3,000 square-foot, ground level space on Foster Avenue became available.

Professor Duncan now reaches to her bookcase and pulls the architect’s renderings of the new nursing simulation lab. Along with vice president Carl Balsam and the project architect, Duncan had the opportunity to tour a state-of-the-art facility at the Mayo Clinic. “They really laid out the red carpet for us and gave us tremendous ideas. We’re benchmarking our facility off of Mayo’s.” Currently under construction with plans for student use in the Fall 2011 semester, this new simulation lab is going to “move the school forward on all levels. It’s an exciting venture for us.” Duncan is beaming.

The new facility will include four simulation rooms and a debriefing room. The debriefing process is crucial to simulation learning. As students interview simulated patients, faculty will be observing and videotaping from a control room. Video playback allows for careful review of the training scenario, so that students can see the strengths and weaknesses of their performance and highlight areas for improvement. Students interact with and can take blood pressure readings from high-fidelity dummies that can breathe and talk. Baby dummies kick and move their arms and legs.

Simulation is a powerful learning tool: high-risk scenarios can be simulated in a safe, low-risk environment. Take, for example, the following situation: a woman delivers a baby and develops a postpartum hemorrhage. Any registered nurse working in obstetrics must have competency in responding quickly to this critical situation. In simulation, one of the high-fidelity dummies gives birth and develops a postpartum hemorrhage. Students can then respond with the ability to safely learn, and make mistakes, in a controlled environment. The opportunity to walk through a wide spectrum of situations will prepare students for what they will experience later in clinical work and in their field of practice over time.

“You can kill the dummy, and you can resurrect the dummy,” Duncan quips. “I hope that none of my students ever sees a post-partum hemorrhage in life, but if they do, and they’ve gone through a simulation, they have some idea of what to do first. And that’s important.”

Simulated learning is ultimately about enriching the students’ experience to best prepare students for work in the field. That fieldwork is also about caring and compassion, about coming alongside patients and families at times of great need.

Duncan notes, “It’s the nurse that’s at the bedside 24/7, it’s the nurse that’s there when the patients are in pain experiencing suffering, or joy when things go well.” In other words, nurses model lives of service. And that’s something that can’t be simulated.

Our legacy in science

Although their experiences differ, Horton, Mastaler, and Duncan share the same passion for the sciences and are committed to serving students. North Park has also made a commitment to the sciences through the upcoming launch of Campaign North Park. As future students consider North Park, this campaign will help ensure that science and service continue to be a part of the legacy in our students’ lives.

Andrew Freeman C'2005 S'2009 lives in Chicago

Next Steps

Return to the Spring 2011 North Parker online

Learn more about Campaign North Park and the new Science and Community Life building

Significance of Science at North Park University