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O'Loughlin heading to Gustavus

MORRIS, Minn. - Up until just a few years ago, University of Minnesota, Morris professor of political science Paula O'Loughlin thought that she would begin and end her academic career at UMM.

But the opportunity to grow personally and professionally and explore a career in academic administration at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. changed O'Loughlin's plans.

"I love working with students one-on-one, but I can do more for more students in an administrative position," said O'Loughlin. "I think there's a time where you need to move to grow.

"Morris is never going to leave me, and I'm never going to leave Morris. I feel like 15 years I've had a chance to embrace the town and the college and they have become intertwined to my DNA."

O'Loughlin began her tenure in Morris in 1996 after receiving her Ph.D. in political science at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. While she was a doctoral candidate, O'Loughlin taught courses at small liberal arts colleges in the Twin Cities, which helped solidify her decision to teach at a small liberal arts college.

She interviewed at Morris "not actually knowing where Morris was," but fell in love with the campus and community while walking around the night before her interview.

"I just loved it immediately - the sense of the student engagement, the faculty excellence and the community connections," said O'Loughlin.

In her 15 years at UMM, O'Loughlin has received nearly all of the teaching and advising awards available to UMM faculty, including the Horace T. Morse University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education (2007), the University of Minnesota, Morris Alumni Association Teaching Award (2001) and the all-University John Tate Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising (2001). This year, O'Loughlin was one of two UMM faculty members to receive the University of Minnesota President's Outstanding Service Award.

Despite these honors, O'Loughlin said she is most proud of getting students involved in politics in a pragmatic way, without being hostile and by engaging in discussion, citing the Morris rental codes in the city as an example.

In 2007, O'Loughlin also helped form the Academic Center for Enrichment, a space where UMM students can get information about opportunities to expand their educational experience outside the classroom. UMM's ACE office is one of just a few in the country, and provides guidance for students competing for fellowships and awards, participating in the Honors Program, National Student Exchange, research opportunities, and study abroad.

O'Loughlin said she is also proud of the time she spent on faculty search committees, helping to hire many strong candidates who are now reaching tenure and help carry on the legacy of the late Tom McRoberts.

"I've helped hire a very strong generation," she said.

Up until just a few years ago, O'Loughlin said she expected to finish her academic career at Morris.

"I never lived anywhere smaller than 500,000 people before, but I like the opportunities of Morris. I never saw [the job] as a stepping stone. I really didn't. That's why it's sad to be leaving after 15 years," she said.

O'Loughlin said she didn't apply for any other jobs before accepting the position of Associate Provost and Dean of Arts and Humanities at Gustavus - she was planning to spend the 2012 - 2013 academic year doing an administrative fellowship in the Twin Cities looking at best practices in undergraduate liberal education.

When the position at Gustavus opened, O'Loughlin saw it as a way to grow personally and professionally, to be closer to her significant other and to explore opportunities in academic administration.

Although the details of her job responsibilities at Gustavus are still being negotiated, O'Loughlin said she will be responsible for overseeing about 85 faculty members and administering a number of academic programs.

However, O'Loughlin emphasized that Morris will always be an important place for her.

"One of the things that I've always loved about Morris and makes me proudest about Morris is that it's not a town-gown relationship in the traditional way," said O'Loughin. "The college and the town are so closely linked, and have been since the beginning of the college as a University of Minnesota public liberal arts college. The town fathers' role in bringing the college here. I think the university and the town as generations disappear need to keep those connections. That's part of what makes Morris Morris - the publicness of our origins."