The foundations of science education at Newman University were established by three influential and determined women.
Aquinas Stieferman, ASC founded the Biological Science Department at the new college in 1933. She taught the first botany classes when the college opened, as well as many of the biology courses that followed between 1933 and her retirement in 1968. She taught science at the college a total of 27 years.
Stieferman was known for her strong determination, and was much loved by students for her caring, happy and wholesome outlook on life. In 1933, she was awarded the first master’s degree in botany granted by what is now Wichita State University. Stieferman used her knowledge of plants to teach students, but also to help landscape the college grounds in its early years.
“Her interest and knowledge of botany was astounding,” said Dorothy (Vossen) Adams, who attended Sacred Heart Junior College from 1935 to 1937, and earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Sacred Heart College in 1961. “On a tour of the West Coast to visit alumni during the summer of 1965, we might have been driving uphill on an S-curve of a two-lane mountain highway when Sister Aquinas would spot a blooming plant she just had to examine close up. So, the driver at the moment would try to find a pull-off along the road. A time or two we also dug up samples of cacti to bring back to Wichita. In fact, I still have descendants of those cacti growing in my house and garden.”
After her retirement, Stieferman lived at the provincial house in Wichita, where she painted more than 300 pictures. She died in 1975 at the age of 79, having spent almost 61 years as a professed Adorer.
Claudine Axman, ASC began working at the junior college as instructor of biology in 1937. Axman earned a Ph.D. in biology from Catholic University of America in 1947. She was the first Adorer in the Wichita Province to earn a doctorate.
Axman taught biology a total of 17 years between 1937 and 1959, and taught and served as department head at Sacred Heart College and Kansas Newman College from 1961 to 1976. She was named Professor Emerita in Biology at her retirement from education in 1976. After leaving Newman, Axman served as a hospital chaplain until 1992. She died in 2000.
“Sister Claudine was an excellent teacher who made her expectations for both lectures and labs very clear,” said Betty Adams, ASC, a 1966 Sacred Heart College graduate who was later head of the Music Department at Newman. “She presented new and challenging concepts in a clear and interesting way, making the material comprehensible even to us non-science majors in the biology-for-science-majors class.
Gertrude Bauman, ASC worked with Axman in the Science Building west of Sacred Heart Hall, and in the Heimerman Science Center when it was built in 1966. She served as instructor of chemistry at Sacred Heart College from 1951 to 1959 and at Sacred Heart College and Kansas Newman College from 1961 to 1976.
Bauman was an avid rock and mineral collector, and amassed an impressive collection that is on display in the Heimerman Science Center.
“The dominant memory I have of Sister Gertrude is her shy or mischievous grins, and she chuckled a lot,” said Vicki (Vestring) Weldon, also a 1966 Sacred Heart graduate who had classes under Bauman. “There was always a twinkle in her eye, which made one wonder what she was thinking or planning for us.”
“She was a very good teacher,” added Margaret Knoeber, ASC, who worked with Bauman in the Chemistry Department. “She cared about the students – that was the most important thing to her. She was very dedicated.”
Bauman died in 2007. She was 97 years old and was a professed Adorer for 79 years.