Professors talk programs

November 8, 2016

Three professors granted tenure reflect on their programs


Karen Clementich, Amy Phillips, and Robert Brueggeman might teach different topics at different campuses, but these three professors have a few similarities.

To start, they’re all working in career fields in which they’ve held long-time interest, so much so that they can all easily be considered experts in their respective fields. They all possess extensive academic credentials and industry knowledge. They’ve all recently entered the ranks of tenured professors in the North Dakota University System. And, they’re all doing what they love: passing along the knowledge they’ve gathered through work and study to a new generation of students.

Each year, the NDUS reviews tenure recommendations from throughout its 11 public colleges and universities. Earlier this year, 81 such recommendations came before the State Board of Higher Education after passing rigorous review by their respective campuses. The following information is from a Q & A conducted by NDUS with Clementich, Phillips and Brueggeman, whose recommendations were among those granted.

[Editor’s note: Q & A has been edited for clarity.]


karen2Karen Clementich, M.S., Assistant Professor of Career and Technical Education-Practical Nursing Program, Career and Technical Education-Associate Degree Nursing Program, Lake Region State College. Clementich has been with the Dakota Nursing Program at LRSC since 2007, and has served as the LRSC Nursing Program Director since 2011.

Clementich’s start in academia began nearly a decade ago with an entry into teaching of health assessment, nutrition, and clinical lab skills in the DNP. She also facilitated clinical experiences for practical nursing students in the long-term and acute care settings. She began overseeing leading the LRSC nursing program five years ago at LRSC and Mayville State University. Under her leadership, LRSC’s program expanded to Grand Forks with a practical nursing program offering. Clementich’s role within the program has inarguably added to its statewide success. Her role is a combination of administrative, leadership, management and teaching responsibilities.

Her academic background consists of a Master of Science – Nursing Education, from University of North Dakota, Career and Technical Credential from Valley City State University, Bachelor of Science – Nursing, from Minot State University, Associate of Arts from LRSC, and a Nursing Diploma from Grace Hospital School of Nursing Winnipeg, Manitoba.

North Dakota University System: Why did you first go into nursing?

Clementich: Since I was a child I knew that I wanted to be a NURSE! After I entered the profession as a registered nurse, I recognized that the career opportunities were endless. It was then that I chose to pursue my passions through schooling more education and experience in Geriatrics and Nursing Education.

NDUS: When did you make the shift from nursing to nursing education?

Clementich: My career in academia began in 2007. At that time, I decided to make a career change from the bedside to education. I began to pursue my goal in becoming a nurse educator and I started working at LRSC as an instructor in the Practical Nursing Program.

Upon my hiring at LRSC, I enrolled in the Nurse Faculty Intern Program (NFIP) through the North Dakota Board of Nursing. The NFIP was a mentorship program that helped ease the transition for new instructors that were working toward a qualifying degree, a Master of Science in Nursing. In accordance, I enrolled in the Master of Science in Nursing – Nurse Educator track at the University of North Dakota.

NDUS: Do you only teach at LRSC, or do your duties include teaching elsewhere at those sites or through mediums like IVN?

Clementich: LRSC is part of the Dakota Nursing Program Consortium. The Consortium includes three additional partners: Bismarck State College, Dakota College at Bottineau and Williston State College. Each of the four campuses also has distant sites. Collaboratively, the four colleges deliver classes via interactive video networking (IVN).

My specialty content areas include Foundations of Nursing and Medical Surgical Nursing. I deliver instruction to approximately 160 practical nursing students across North Dakota through IVN.

NDUS: How important is the DNP for the state, and the regional health care industry?

Clementich: The philosophy of the DNP is designed to meet the needs of communities by enhancing professional advancement, utilizing technology, and integrating quality and safety competencies. Students are recognized as diverse and unique individuals who are encouraged to achieve their optimal potential. Faculty are committed to excellence in maintaining expertise and ensuring holistic patient-centered care through evidence-based quality nursing education.


The DNP’s successful nursing program is positively impacting workforce needs for nursing across the state, as the vast majority of the graduates find jobs in North Dakota, often in rural communities.
NDUS: Has nursing education changed over time, and if so, how (ex. new medical practices, expanded simulation opportunities, etc)?

Clementich: I have seen lots of change in nursing education since I began my career. One area that is most remarkable to me is the integtration of high-fidelity simulation in nursing education. In the past 10 years, the DNP has embraced this change and has embedded simulation throughout the curriculum.

The students get a realistic, hands-on experience during simulation and they are able to transfer what they are learning in the classroom into the simulated clinical environment. The goal of simulation is for the students to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms that the client is having, intervene appropriately, and evaluate their actions. It also provides the students an opportunity to work in teams and teaches them to collaborate within their respective roles. The hands-on experience allows the students to develop sound clinical judgement skills that will make them safe practitioners as they enter the workforce.

NDUS: Are there any moments in time that really stick out to you as an educator?

Clementich: My first year of teaching was extremely overwhelming, which is very typical for any instructor transitioning from industry to education. I had received my Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in 2006; however, my new position required that I was pursuing a master’s degree concurrently. Not only did I transition into a teaching role and start graduate studies, I was also juggling a set of three-year-old twins and a six-year-old going through chemotherapy treatment for Leukemia at home.

I spent many late nights and early mornings at my kitchen table studying and preparing for lab and lectures the next day. That year my family and friends sponsored a Relay for Life team in honor of my son, he was the ambassador of hope. When our team started to walk the introductory lap, my students showed up unannounced wearing t-shirts that stated, “you have been there for us and now we are here for you.”

The compassionate actions of these students created a moment I will never forget. It is the moments like these that make all of the late night and early morning preparations worth it!


phillipsAmy Phillips, M.S.S.W., Ph.D., Professor of Social Work, Minot State University. Phillips has been with MiSU’s Social Work Program on the NDSU campus since 2013.

Phillips’ academic background is extensive. She holds a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning from UND, a Master of Science in Social Work from Columbia University, a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary (NYC), a Master of Arts in Latin American Studies from Vanderbilt, and a Bachelor of Arts from DePauw University.

After receiving her MSSW from Columbia, Phillips worked in a private, non-profit family services agency based in Camden New Jersey. Starting as a family therapist in a home-based crisis intervention program, she then moved to supervisory and administrative oversite of seven home- and office-based programs designed to prevent or respond to child abuse and neglect and to assist with family reunification.  While at the agency, she began teaching as an adjunct social work instructor at Rutgers University. She later moved to Fargo and joined the social work department at Minnesota State University Moorhead where she was tenured and promoted to Associate Professor. A little more than a decade later, she moved to the social work department at UND where she taught undergraduate and graduate social work courses. Shortly after receiving tenure and promotion at UND, she accepted the position of Site Coordinator for the Minot State University social work program in the dual degree Social Work and Human Development and Family Science (HDFS) program at North Dakota State University. While a majority of her time is spent teaching, Phillips also has administrative, research, and service responsibilities.  Ove her academic career, her publications and presentations have focused on rural social work, the role of the post office in rural communities, anti-oppressive organizational practices, and social work instructional strategies

NDUS: What do your regular duties consist of?

Phillips: As the Site Coordinator of the Minot State Social Work program at NDSU, I teach undergraduate social work courses and coordinate the program. Administrative duties include providing information about the program to interested students, registering students for social work courses and supporting them through the program, recruiting and helping train adjunct instructors, and facilitating all other aspects of collaboration between NDSU and Minot State. As a tenured full professor I also engage in service and scholarly activities.

NDUS: Can you tell us what started you on a path toward social work, and then what took you down the path toward teaching future social work students?

Phillips: I can only guess that both paths had something to do with coming from a line of people who were concerned for the common good and chose professions accordingly.

NDUNS: How important is the social work program for the state, and the region?

Phillips: The people of North Dakota, like elsewhere around the country, often turn to a social worker if they need assistance with parenting skills, addiction treatment, resources for an elderly relative, social skill development, housing, mental health counseling, case management, advocacy, hospital discharge planning, or any of a long list of other needs and resources. In addition, social workers work as a group and in collaboration with others to promote systemic change through improving and creating services and dismantling forms of oppression. In other words, social workers work tirelessly to improve the lives of North Dakotans and their communities.  Social work education programs have the responsibility to ensure that when an individual, family, or group needs a social worker, that worker is non-judgmental, self-aware, confident, skilled, and committed.  It’s a tall order, but one that social work programs take very seriously, especially given the shortage of services in many fields of practice and geographic areas in North Dakota.

NDUS: Has social work education changed over time, and if so, how?

Phillips: In the time I’ve been teaching, the biggest change in social work education has been in the expansion of educational delivery methods.  Students may now take online and blended, as well as face-to-face courses.  The particular content of courses routinely changes since it is based on current research and practices, but the larger curricular framework maintains a firm grounding in the knowledge, values, and skills needed for professional social work with a variety of populations and in multiple fields of practice.

NDUS: Are there any moments in time that really stick out to you as an educator?

Phillips: The most significant moments for me are when I hear from current or former students who take the time to write, call, or email to say that they appreciated or used something they learned in one of my courses. It’s always a pleasure to hear how students have applied what they learned in their classes to their current social work practice.


brueggemanRobert Brueggeman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology, Department of Plant Pathology, North Dakota State University.

Brueggeman’s academic experience includes time as a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant at Washington State University, a Ph.D. and Master of Science in Crop Sciences from WSU, and a Bachelor of Science in Genetics and Cell Biology (minors in Microbiology and Molecular Cell Biology), also from WSU. He is currently the barley pathologist/geneticist in the Department of Plant Pathology at NDSU, which he joined in 2010.

NDUS: What do your regular duties consist of?

Brueggeman: My appointment in the department is 90 percent research and 10 percent teaching, and carries the responsibility to engage in applied and basic research focused on understanding and managing diseases affecting barley production in North Dakota and the world.

The cutting-edge instrumentation that I have acquired has expanded my research into fungal and bacterial genetics/genomics, a necessary leap to round my expertise and interest in host-parasite interactions. Having North Dakota’s first next generation sequencing instrument (which I acquired through a National Science Foundation CAREER award) in my lab allows for the real time and innovative development of methodologies for both host and pathogen genetic characterization, one of which was recently published in the journal Molecular Plant Pathology. The basic research discoveries coming from these technologies are being applied to the field through marker assisted and genomic selection strategies in close collaboration with the NDSU barley breeder and breeders from other public institutions and private companies. Thus, these molecular tools are aiding the NDSU barley-breeding program to utilize the most cutting edge technology in the pursuit of genetic resistance to a range of diseases and malting quality. As Harold Flor, North Dakota’s most famous plant pathologist determined with the gene-for-gene theory, it is imperative to understand the genetics governing these interactions from both the host and pathogen to affectively deploy genetic resistance in the field.

I share my enthusiasm for scientific discovery with students as reflected in my host-parasite genetics course. The material and teaching style emphasizes understanding the scientific process and development of critical thinking skills beyond the classroom.

I currently have six Ph.D. students in my lab, and I meet with them on an almost-daily basis. Thus, research is a constant teaching and learning process. I am constantly trying to teach my students critical thinking skills while still giving them the freedom to think outside the box which I think is important for nurturing their innate scientific curiosity. Through this mentoring process my students develop into my peers and I begin to learn as much from them as I can teach.

NDUS: What got you into agri-research in the first place?

Brueggeman: I began my career with the intent of working in human genetics and cancer research. However, I realized that to maintain my close connection with rural life and agriculture, medical research was not the best fit as it would point me towards the big city. It was then that I began working in the lab of my mentor, Dr. Andris Kleinhof, at Washington State University. I realized that crop and plant molecular genetics are fascinating and what we discover in plants can also cross disciplines. It was in his lab that the shortening of tolemeres over time was being characterized in barley, which is considered one of the main mechanisms of aging and slowing this process was considered by popular press as the fountain of youth for humans. As an undergrad, Andy gave me the freedom to do cutting-edge research and I cloned the first stem rust resistance gene in barley and was the first author on this manuscript published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

NDUS: Is your current role something you had always pursued, or did you find your interest in it somewhere on your academic path?

Brueggeman: Through working with Andy I realized that I wanted to have the freedom to conduct research that I found interesting so I could follow my basic research interests but also conduct research that could be translated to the field and be important to crop production. Thus, I became interested in joining academia as a university faculty/research principal investigator through my exposure to research as an undergraduate and graduate student.

NDUS: How important is ag research for the state and for the ag industry?

Brueggeman: Ag research is of the upmost importance in ND thus it is very important that we maintain our close connection to the field through applied research but also conduct cutting edge basic research that can be translated to the field through more efficient breeding practices focused on important issues like tolerance to biotic stresses (pathogens) and abiotic stresses (drought tolerance as well as water use efficiency).

NDUS: Are you researching anything now that you could tell us about?

Brueggeman: I received an NSF CAREER grant and with the funding we identified and characterized the only barley stem rust resistance gene that is effective against Ug99 a virulent race of wheat stem rust that is considered a threat to global food security.

Interestingly, the predicted function of this gene has allowed us to hypothesize that the rust pathogens have genes that encode effector proteins, which they inject into the plant stomates to trick the plant into opening the stomates during the night, when the pathogen infects the plants. They basically trick the barley plants into thinking it’s day time, by acting on proteins that trigger the stomatal aperture opening, then they infect the leaves through these natural openings without being detected by the plants immune system.

However, in this molecular arms race, plants evolved to attach the targeted gene to an immunity receptor gene. Thus, when the pathogen tries to deceive the plant by targeting these proteins to enter the plants at night the host immunity system uses the target protein as “bait” to trap the pathogen eliciting its defense responses and killing the pathogen. This new paradigm in plant immunity coined the “integrated decoy model” has recently been discovered and my lab has cloned and identified one of the genes that has given rise to this new paradigm in plant genetic resistance.

NDUS: Are there any moments in time that really stick out to you as an educator?

Brueggeman: I was very proud of the point when I realized that my student, Jon Richards, who started with me as an undergrad with no experience in plant molecular genetics, had far surpassed my bioinformatics ability. Bioinformatics is an important process of taking genome sequencing data and extracting biologically relevant data form these big data sets. Now he has the skills needed to move on and perform cutting edge research as a PI in his own lab as he aspires to be a professor as well.


[Note: A previous story on tenured professors ran last year and can be found here.]