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Alumna welcomes new students in MPAS program at St. Kate’s

A student in the MPAS program at St. Kate's accepts a "swine flu" plush toy from alumna Debby Gray '66 on Thursday.
A student in the MPAS program at St. Kate's accepts a "swine flu" plush toy from alumna Debby Gray '66 on Thursday.
Photo by Melissa Kaelin.

With excitement rebounding off the newly remodeled classroom walls, the first cohort of students in the new Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) program at St. Catherine University received a warm welcome on Thursday.

Alumna Debby Gray ’66, who followed her passion to become a Physician’s Assistant (PA), visited the students during their first week of class to share her experiences as a working PA and a graduate of what was then called the College of St. Catherine.

“I’m thrilled that St. Kate’s has, after much deliberation and planning and hard work, inaugurated this program,” said Gray, during her visit.

Gray's stories about her first days on the St. Paul campus revealed a window to the history and the rich Catholic heritage of St. Kate's. She described her earliest experience of women’s leadership at the Clearwater Camp for Girls in Wisconsin, and what led her to attend St. Kate’s and to eventually pursue a career as a Physician’s Assistant.

Gray stood in front of students in the new program almost 50 years to the day that she first set foot on campus. In those days, the only phones on campus were the pay phones located at the end of the hall, each residence hall was supervised by prefects — usually one of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet — and students wore convocation gowns to Mass every Sunday.

Gray said the CSJs were everywhere on campus during the 1960’s, and their spirit on campus was ubiquitous as well. In everything they did, the Sisters inspired students to lead and influence. 

“There is no one class or one instance. It was just all around us — how you were inspired to the service of others,” said Gray.  “I wanted to be as much a part of it as possible. I wanted to be His presence to those in need.”

Gray majored in English and Biology and minored in Theology and Philosophy. She graduated with 149 credits, because, as she puts it, “There were just so many interesting classes to take.” Gray went on to obtain master’s degrees from Smith College and Marquette University, before deciding to pursue a PA.

After obtaining a physician assistant degree from the College of Allied Health (now the College of Health Sciences) at the University of Kentucky, Gray followed her heart to the Appalachian region of the country, where she built a career as a Physician’s Assistant bringing health care to an underserved rural population.

“All the experience that I had from Clearwater Camp and the College of St. Catherine proved to be invaluable in the years ahead,” Gray told the students.

During her talk, Gray invited the students in the new MPAS program at St. Kate’s to share their own path to becoming a Physician’s Assistant. Students worked in pairs to put their words into a short poem in the tradition of the Clearwater Camp for Girls, and then shared a broad range of experiences with their peers.

While some students said they had endured a difficult loss or cared for an elderly family member, leading them to pursue a PA, others shared sheer excitement at their acceptance into the newest program at St. Kate’s. Students were also given the opportunity to share their goals for professional development through the program — whether they were to become a strong communicator or to become an innovative practitioner. 

The class ended on an educational high note, as Gray passed out giant plush "microbes" to the students who volunteered to share their responses with the class. The colorful toys ranged from a bright blue penicillin toy and large gray brain cells, to Mad Cow Disease, Swine Flu and Strep — all modeled to carry the actual shape of their bacterial counterparts.

Students left the class with newly formed connections to their peers and excitement for the studies that lie ahead — not to mention their unique momentos.

Sep. 13, 2012 by Melissa Kaelin

See also: Alumnae/i, Catholic Identity, Healthcare