Where Mercy Girls Become Women of Mercy

Faculty Helped to Model Her Teaching Career

Kathy Roccaforte Denning ’03 is trying to model the enthusiasm and passion for teaching she saw in Mercy’s faculty in her current job as a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. After earning her advanced degree, she plans to pursue a career in teaching and research, preferably at a small, liberal arts college.

Her current job consists of conducting research and teaching undergraduates. Her dissertation project focuses on pollinator conservation.

“ I am trying to assess whether habitat restoration practices (i.e. when we take former cropland and reintroduce native prairie grasses and wildflowers) can help to reinstate pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and beetles. Pollinators are so incredibly important to both our agricultural endeavors and our natural ecosystems, but many pollinator populations are at risk of decline due to a variety of human activities,” she added.

She credits the influential lessons she learned at Mercy, especially the importance of using one’s talents to serve others, as factors in her career choices.

“This mindset really influenced me to choose a conservation-oriented Ph.D. project, as I wanted my work to be able to make a scientific contribution, but also to help conserve the natural world. I also try to apply these values in the classroom as an instructor,” she said.

While she was at Mercy she was involved in many activities including soccer and science club.

“ Ms. Newville and Mrs. Coate were both very influential in fostering my love of science, and my enjoyment of their classes is one of the reasons I chose to become a biologist,” Kathy said. .

After graduating from Mercy, she attended Creighton University where she earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology and a minor in Environmental Sciences in 2007. From 2007 to 2009 she worked as a research technician at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo in the plant conservation lab assisting with the conservation of endangered orchids from Madagascar.

“ The experience at the zoo motivated me to go to graduate school to pursue a career as a biologist. I attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and graduated with a Masters of Science in Biological Sciences in 2012,” she noted.

Her family has a long history of being Mercy Girls. Her grandmother graduated from St. John’s high school. Her mother and several aunts and cousins are all Mercy alumnae.

“Attending Mercy made a huge impact on my life, and choosing to attend Mercy was one of the best decisions I have made. Going to Mercy gave me confidence and leadership skills that I have used throughout my subsequent education and career,” she reiterated.

Kathy Roccaforte (smaller hat), doctoral student; Anna Tatarko (straw hat, undergraduate assistant. Kathy's doctoral research on prairie pollinators. Taken as part of an effort in summer 2013 to greatly increase our holdings of research photos. (Kirsten Bosnak, communications coordinator.)