Summer at Carroll

Author: Malcolm McDowell Woods

Published Date: 10/24/2018

Categories: Alumni F1RST Fall 2018 F1RST Magazine


The Summer Months are Hardly Quiet

Hot Times at Carroll

While most undergraduate students head home for the summer or otherwise disappear from classrooms at Carroll, it’s hardly a ghost town during the summer months. Indeed, for quite a few employees and departments, activity continues apace through May, June, July and August. 

The Center for Graduate Studies hums as new cohorts arrive to begin their graduate studies. Construction crews sweat and toil as they remake Rankin Hall. Administrative staff oversee admissions, institutional fundraising, long-term planning and personnel issues (does the school have the faculty needed for fall?). Physical plant employees tend to flower beds, lawns and playing fields and make needed repairs. Faculty plan new courses and programs and engage in research.

Here’s a quick look at summer through the eyes of four people: Mark Krzykowski '94, men’s football coach; Tom Pahnke, recently named permanent dean of the College of Health Sciences; Elizabeth Brzeski, director of student affairs; and Dr. Roberto Brenes, assistant professor of biology.

At Carroll University over Summer 2018:

Mark Krzykowski '94
Head Football Coach

Playing the Long Game

“We were with friends on the Fourth of July, and they asked what I did with myself during our slow summers.” Head football coach Mark Krzykowski  ’94 shrugs his shoulders at the thought. His summers are anything but slow. It is July 6, two days following the holiday. In less than a week, the first of a string of high school football camps will visit campus. For the next 12 days, Mark and many members of his coaching staff will be on campus from before nine in the morning until lights out in the camps after nine in the evening. 


The camps are typically two-day overnight sessions by high school football teams from southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. They will bring upwards of 350 student-athletes to Carroll. Krzykowski and his coaches will serve as liaisons between the schools and Carroll, making sure the teams have the proper equipment and access to the right facilities and that they adhere to a schedule. 

The camps are a great way for Krzykowski and his coaches to get a peek at 350 potential Pioneers. But they also help build Carroll’s reputation. “We basically end up being hosts when they’re here,” he said. “The better the experience they have here, the better relationship we can build with them and their schools. That helps us attract them to Carroll. It’s all about establishing Carroll’s reputation.”

And for Krzykowski, it’s all about recruiting.

Back in May, he oversaw a series of position camps, with upwards of 150 high school athletes attending for focused instruction. Again, those camps serve as an introduction to Carroll, giving Krzykowski’s coaching staff an opportunity to evaluate talent and create connections. It’s not uncommon for him to host a follow-up campus visit for a camp participant.

Finally, on the camp front, Carroll was the site of a mid-summer football camp hosted by Bemidji State University out of Minnesota. They’re a Division II school, so the camp attracted 150–200 athletes hoping to land scholarships, said Krzykowski, who noted that fewer than a dozen were likely to be offered scholarships and spots on Bemidji’s team. Bemidji benefited from access to student-athletes from the area; Carroll again burnished its reputation and the staff got to evaluate talent.

The fact that many of Krzykowski’s summer activities revolve around recruiting is not surprising. “I always say recruiting is a 16-month a year job,” he joked. Even game days during football season will see 40–50 high school students visit the campus. The season this year kicked off with a win on September 1, and already Krzykowski was hosting potential recruits with an eye to next year’s team.

Of course, Krzykowski’s main focus is always on Carroll’s football team. Over the summer, there is an upcoming season to plan, a coaching staff to build (he’ll hire six new coaches this off-season, with all the interviews and orientations that entails), a playbook to write and a slew of negotiations and deal-making and travel arranging. For example, lining up lodging, buses and dinner for a hundred or so staff and players in St. Louis, for example. 

And then, in mid-August, things really heated up. Players arrived August 10, several weeks before the rest of the student body. Then there were 130 or so student-athletes, 15 managers and an assistant coaching staff to oversee. They have just 23 days before the first game of the season. Twenty-three days to get settled into dorms, get physicals, deal with homesickness and get team photos taken and numbers chosen and plays taught. From August 10 on, Coach Krzykowski’s days start by 7 a.m. and run until 10 at night, planning practices, running practices, reviewing video and evaluating players. 

And those halcyon days of early summer will seem like a holiday.

Tom Pahnke
Dean of the College of Health Sciences

A New Dean

Tom Pahnke’s summer involves a new title, but he’s had a bit of a head start on getting acclimated. He was officially named dean of the College of Health Sciences, after almost a year as interim dean. “I keep thinking the slow time is going to come, but it never does,” he mused in his office in mid-summer.

The College of Health Sciences offers the lion’s share of graduate programs at Carroll, operating year-round. With 400 or so graduate students on campus, summer doesn’t seem much different from the rest of the year for Pahnke. 

There are regular biweekly administrative team meetings. Among items on the agenda, an attempt to create a common graduate schedule to help foster greater interdisciplinary learning opportunities. It’s an initiative that has come out of faculty meetings and give-and-takes with Carroll’s community partners. 

“We maintain strong relationships with our community health care partners,” said Pahnke. “We’re constantly seeking to discover not only what our students need in their education, but what the workforce is demanding. What do they need?”

Pahnke, who regularly meets with area health care providers, many of whom are partners of Carroll, said there is an urgent need for health care professionals more attuned to working as members of a caregiving team. The college is striving to offer more interdisciplinary training to students to meet that demand. 

Making that happen isn’t easy. There are teaching schedules and syllabi to coordinate, classes to configure and personnel needs to consider. And then there are the incoming students, both undergraduate and graduate. “We work with local school districts so we can better prepare students for the rigors of a health science education,” he noted. Those meetings run throughout the year, as does planning for ways to make a Carroll education more accessible.

“One of the things we spend time on is resource development, seeking funds so that we can create pre-college programming to better prepare high school students for college.” 

That also means more community outreach, coordinating with partners like the United Community Center in Milwaukee. “We’re always asking, what can we do to better serve them?”

It’s a question a good university asks often, of many constituencies—its community, its neighbors, its students. The answers may lead to new programs, new facilities and new faculty, each of which requires Pahnke’s attention. There is an expanded therapeutic abilities clinic being built in Carroll’s Sentry Drive Building, there’s the written proposal for a new program that runs to almost 1,000 pages and there are teaching candidates to interview and hire.

“We have to keep busy. We have to be responsive.” And that means 12 months a year.

Elizabeth Brezski
Senior Director of Student Affairs

Welcoming Committee

Orientation mentors

Remember the last party you threw? Try to imagine 700 guests showing up. That pretty much sums up Elizabeth Brzeski’s summer. As senior director of student affairs, she’s responsible for the friendly welcome new students get when they arrive on campus to start their college education.

Carroll’s orientation week is a tightly-scheduled series of activities designed to acclimate new students to college life. It provides them with essential information, offers numerous socializing activities and warmly welcomes several hundred new members to the Pioneer family.

It also kicks off a whirlwind six weeks to start the school year, loaded with additional activities to keep new students engaged and to minimize loneliness, alienation and home sickness. 

“The more involved a student becomes in those first six weeks, the more likely they’ll graduate,” Brzeski said. “So we’ll do focused activities on the weekends to help students find ways to stay more involved. We really try to get them socially integrated.” 

Fortunately, Brzeski has plenty of help. In particular, she oversees 40-some orientation mentors, a squad of hyper-friendly Energizer Bunnies who will work directly with the incoming students.

Of course, those orientation mentors will need their own orientation. They’ll need to be trained to handle all sorts of situations and to be fully aware of many university policies. They’ll need to be taught what to tell new students and shown what to do. Those mentors will hold up to five meetings with their set of new students within the first week. 

So, part of Brzeski’s summer is planning for the mentors who’ll arrive on campus ten days before incoming students show up. That includes determining what information they will need and plotting activities designed to forge a feeling of unity among the mentors so they are ready to pass on the good feelings.

Meanwhile, there are several Preview Days to deal with over the summer, when as many as 150 accepted students visit Carroll to sample a bit of campus life. And, of course, as you’d imagine for a department titled student affairs, there is a whole school year for which to plan—nine months of special events, training opportunities and extra-curricular, recreational, spiritual and social activities. 

“It’s just endless emails and meetings,” said Brzeski. And then it begins again.

Dr. Roberto Brenes
Assistant Professor of Biology

Of Mice and Men

Three days a week this summer, Dr. Roberto Brenes drove over to Prairie Springs Environmental Education Center in Genesee, pulled on his waterproof boots and headed into the woods with student Millar Minahan. They were in search of mice. 

Brenes, an assistant professor of biology, and Minahan, a junior at Carroll, are working on a Pioneer Scholars research project. Carroll selects upwards of ten proposals annually from students and faculty for summer-long projects. These projects give students the opportunity to engage in in-depth research across a variety of disciplines with a faculty member. The student receives a stipend to help cover living expenses and a priceless experience.

For Brenes, who joined Carroll in 2013 and has spent several summers since then engaged in research with Pio Scholars, the busy summers offer several benefits.

A lot of the students he sees in his biology classes are health science majors, pursuing careers in health care. Field biology, which is Brenes’ passion, probably isn’t on their radar. In his classes, he talks it up, tells students about the research he is doing and  encourages them to come up with ideas for Pio Scholars projects.

“I think this is the best way to interest a student in field biology,” he said. “It’s important work. We‘ll publish the results of our research. So it serves two purposes, it helps my data collection and it gets students interested in this sort of work.”

This summer, they are studying mice. The grounds at Prairie Springs and Greene Field Station have been overrun by European Buckthorn, an invasive species first brought to the country as a decorative shrub. It’s taken over what Brenes believes was once mostly prairie, creating a densely wooded low forest (plants can grow to 30+ feet tall). The plant is fast growing, leafs out earlier than most native plants in the spring and may release chemicals into the soil that are harmful to the roots of competing plants.

But it’s one chemical compound in particular that Brenes and Minahan are interested in. Buckthorn leaves contain emodin. In birds, emodin acts as a sort of laxative, helping ensure that birds that eat buckthorn seeds pass those seeds, helping the plant spread. In the past, Brenes has studied the impact of emodin on amphibian populations on the grounds. Earlier research at Prairie Springs has studied how it affects other aquatic lifeforms.

It’s beginning to appear that the buckthorn isn’t particularly friendly to many of the native species found there. Only one frog species remains, the others adversely affected by high emodin concentrations in the small ponds in which frogs breed and hatch.

As Brenes and Minahan walk the grounds, checking 28 live traps for mice, the silence of the forest is disturbing. “No birds, hardly any insects,” noted Brenes. The buckthorn seems to have impacted biodiversity.

“Now we’ll see how it affects the health of these mammals.” For now, on this steamy summer day, they’ll visually assess the robustness of the mice, weigh and measure them, and release them. This fall, once the toxic berries of the buckthorn cover the floor and provide a food bounty for the mice, they’ll check them again. They’ll collect samples, dissecting the mice, removing their livers and looking for signs of damage.

For Minahan, it’s a summer of discovery out in the fields and forest of Prairie Springs and new skills learned in the labs at the Michael and Mary Jaharis Science Laboratories. For Brenes, it’s more data, more opportunity to teach, and, perhaps, another student considering a career in field work. 

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