Bioscience professor credits award to his department


Professor Wisendan helps John Reynolds (left), biology and pre-veterinary sciences sophomore, and Aielyn Larson (right), art freshman, during a science lab.

Professor Wisendan helps John Reynolds (left), biology and pre-veterinary sciences sophomore, and Aielyn Larson (right), art freshman, during a science lab.

For bioscience professor Brian Wisenden, receiving the 2013 Minnesota Professor of the Year, is more of a collective accomplishment than individual one.

Wisenden found out about the accomplishment after receiving a letter in the mail in late September. The tough task for him and his wife, bioscience professor Patricia Wisenden, was keeping the secret until the Nov. 14 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

All of the attention, including a random person who stopped and congratulated him in the courtyard and his face on a billboard in Fargo, is a struggle since Wisenden considers himself an introverted person.

Three faculty in the bioscience department have received Minnesota Professor of the Year in the last eight years.

“We’re nationally up there, and that’s not an accident,” Wisenden said. “We have this culture that exists on this campus, and this department especially, for excellence. So, we kind of keep each other going ‘cause we’re always pushing each other.”

A big part of being a bioscience professor is not only doing the day-to-day jobs of a professor, but also being a mentor to students. Wisenden helps students at the undergraduate level publish papers in peer reviewed journals  to help them in their application to professional schools, graduate schools or just launching their careers as biologists.

“Our collective attitude is that there’s nothing special about being a senior or a graduate student,” he said. “There’s no real reason for waiting. We have great facilities here, so it just takes time.”

Two full time jobs are what teaching and research mentoring add up to for bioscience department faculty. Wisenden said it’s a heavy investment, which is why many people don’t do it at institutions.

Superhumans are what come to mind when thinking of Wisenden and his colleagues, but it’s much simpler than that.

“We have strategies, and we use them to balance all that stuff,” Wisenden said. “I’m a family man. I don’t want to cheat myself out of those parent experiences just because I’m supposed to be doing two jobs at work.”

In the thick of MSUM’s buyouts, deficit and layoffs, MSUM’s faculty and education seems to get lost in the muck and mire. The bioscience department’s enrollment numbers have increased in the sea of decline.

“It’s a well-kept secret,” Wisenden said. “There’s a lot of really great things going on here at MSUM, in the biosciences in particular. We should be recognized.”

“I am proud of Brian and of every faculty member in our department for their dedication to providing an educational experience that competes with the best private colleges in the nation, while maintaining the access provided by a state university,” bioscience professor and past Minnesota Professor of the Year winner Mark Wallert said.

Wisenden continues to understand the bigger picture of a MSUM bioscience professor being awarded Professor of the Year out of 1.5 million eligible faculty in the nation.

“It’s really a feather in my cap personally, but I hope the larger narrative is about MSUM and biosciences in particular,” he said. “I didn’t do this in a vacuum. I’ve had really strong administrative support.”

The design of the science lab building is an example of funds made available by administration. The building was built explicitly to provide research facilities for the faculty-student mentored research.

“So it’s no accident, and not something I did by overcoming barriers,” Wisenden said. “I had this whole team of people here. That’s why there are three winners; we’ve got Ellen Brisch, Mark Wallert. I think that’s the larger story about this celebration. Here you’ve got one more.”

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