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College of Continuing Education News


Classroom work is career relevant for Master of Biological Science student Stephanie Fettig-Scholl.


Naturally inquisitive and driven to ask "why?", Stephanie Fettig-Scholl always knew that a degree in the sciences would be the perfect fit for her.

"Science intrigues me; it keeps me interested. There's always a new avenue, something different to explore every day. It's never the same," says Fettig-Scholl, a current student in the College of Continuing Education's Master of Biological Science (MBS) degree program.

As an undergraduate at Denison University in Ohio, Fettig-Scholl studied biology and neuroscience, two fields which prepared her for a career in one of the fastest-growing industries in today's economy: medical device technology.

Following graduation, Fettig-Scholl moved back to her native Minnesota to accept a job with Synovis, a Twin Cities-based company specializing in tissue technology and innovative surgical tools. A research and design specialist, she plays a key role in the development of the company's line of biological repair patches. "My work focuses on treating bovine pericardium [a particular type of heart tissue] to make implantable biomaterial devices--surgeons then use the patches in a variety of situations including hernia and vascular repair."

Crafting experiments, studies, and trials in such a rapidly developing field inspired Fettig-Scholl to return to school to get her master's degree in 2008.While she knew she wanted to continue her education, she wasn't exactly sure what path she would take.

"I definitely wanted to go on for more schooling...but I wasn't entirely sure how to structure my studies. The advisers and faculty and staff in MBS have been great in helping me figure out my path."

Fettig-Scholl has designed a master's degree focusing on bioethics and pharmacy--both key pieces of her work at Synovis. "I had a very inspiring professor in one of my bioethics courses, and she helped narrow my focus. Plus, working in a research field, on products that will be used in humans, and, of course, using animal tissue for our devices...ethics is a big concern."

Her pharmacy studies "directly apply to my work here. Our products are prescribed by doctors, and we have to work with insurance regulations, prescription regulations, etc. Understanding where doctors, pharmacists, and other companies we work with are coming from is key."

She continues, "my work at Synovis is supporting the work I'm doing in the classroom--and my classroom work, and working with my peers, that's supporting my career at Synovis. It's very collaborative."

In addition to the ability to tailor her course of study to match her career path and interests, Fettig-Scholl also saw the flexibility of the MBS program as one of the deciding factors. "I was working full-time. I'm married. I have other hobbies and interests. I needed something where I could go part-time, have evening and weekend course options, and to be able to take some of my classes online, as well."

As a working adult, Fettig-Scholl understands the fears some people might have about returning to school after being out in "the real world." And, as her undergraduate degree is from a small (2,100 students) liberal arts college in central Ohio, she also knows the trepidation that one might be overwhelmed at a school the size of the University of Minnesota.

Both of those fears, however, were quickly assuaged after she began the program. "I was worried about becoming 'just a number,' fitting my exams and things around my work...but it was very manageable. Most of my class sizes were quite small, and we had a good chance to work collaboratively. The professors were accommodating and willing to help.

"And students themselves were a great mix--I had younger, traditional-aged grad students in my classes, but also plenty of working adults. I had classes with law students, people working in business and the insurance industry, physicians. Everyone brought something different to class. We were all able to learn from each other, which was cool."

Even though she doesn't graduate until December 2010, Fettig-Scholl has seen that her MBS studies have an immediate impact on her career. "For one, I've made some great professional contacts. I've met several people in the medical device and research industries that I can keep in touch with, network with."

She continues, "graduate school has opened up my thought process so much. I'm learning an immense amount about the biopharm industry in general. I'm learning to think outside of the box, to bring new and creative perspectives to my work. My writing has improved--which is a really important skill to have when your work balances being in the lab, and then writing clear, effective reports and articles."

Fettig-Scholl encourages anyone who is on the fence about returning to school, especially for a professional master's degree, to take that next step. "Don't be paralyzed by indecision. I hear a lot of people say 'oh, I wouldn't know what to do.' The people in this program will help you find your path. Make it a priority to get going. It's been hard work, but very inspiring. And definitely worth it, I'm so excited to see where it leads."

For more information about the Master of Biological Science program Stephanie used to advance her career, click here.

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