New university combines science and spirituality

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Dr Frank Papatheofanis

Dr Frank Papatheofanis

Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune

Frank Papatheofanis founded Saint Katherine College in San Marcos

By Nina Garin

Saint Katherine College is a new liberal arts school that was founded in 2010 by physician and scientist, Frank Papatheofanis.

The San Marcos-based school is a four-year, nonprofit Christian college with a curriculum that blends arts and science. For example, students learn about 19th century British literature at the same time they’re being taught about European monetary policy.

Papatheofanis, 55, was raised in Chicago and moved to San Diego in 1995 after accepting a faculty position at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine. He’s worked in everything from radiology to public health, and is currently Saint Katherine’s president.

The Rancho Santa Fe resident tells us why he started his own university.

Q: What inspired you to Saint Katherine College?

A: I have been fortunate to learn and teach at acclaimed research universities like UCSD, Johns Hopkins and the University of Illinois. Inquiry and research were critical to what I did at those institutions. However, one comes to a point where inquiry without meaning is hollow. As a Christian, I knew that the mind was important to my identity. I started the college around the motto: “Inquiry Seeking Wisdom.” Wisdom is defined here as Christ. Our desire is to create a community of learners and teachers who passionately pursue their studies, but do so to grow in their love and pursuit of the Lord.

Q: Why does San Diego need a school like Saint Katherine?

A: The education landscape in San Diego is dominated by giant public universities and for-profits. Education cannot be served up cold. In other words, faculty and administrators are not merely interchangeable talking heads. It should matter to you what your professor thinks. Are they a person of integrity? What are their values? Are they community-focused? Do they serve the poor and disadvantaged, or merely talk about it in class? We want to create a place where the big questions of life matter and continue to be worked out. This college offers San Diegans and others a place where the option to learn and teach Christianly matters.

Q: Is this school only open to Orthodox Christian students?

A: It is open to anyone. Like other faith-based colleges, we anticipate our Orthodox Christian student body will include approximately 20 to 25 percent of our students. So far, students who come from the Roman Catholic tradition and traditional Protestant denominations seem to be drawn to the college.

Q: Please tell us what a typical day for students looks like at Saint Katherine.

A: Students who are athletes generally have practices in the mornings most days. Others can start their day at 9 a.m. with morning prayers; we also have chapel services twice a week where the entire community gathers to worship together. Classes run all day and end by about 6 p.m. We don’t hold classes on weekends, so most students take advantage of everything San Diego offers, or are participating in intercollegiate athletics.

Q: You’ve worked as a scientist and radiologist. How did you first become interested in science and medicine?

A: This happened when I was very young — 8 or 9 years old. I was very inquisitive and loved to explore the natural world. I had a microscope when I was 10 and was staining my own specimens. What influenced me most was the discovery of new things. I read about new medicines, new stars, new machines and devices, and became intrigued by how all of them were discovered and utilized. My passion for medicine developed as an application of that curiosity; I was particularly intrigued by the technology and science of medical imaging and chose it as my medical specialty. The notion of using science to identify and treat disease, and the ability to help someone heal or even live, emerged at a very young age.

Q: What’s the most challenging part about running a school?

A: As a new institution, finances are always a challenge. Most people do not think about Christian higher education; we are not on their radar. We have to teach people about its importance. Graduates of Christian colleges donate to their local communities three times more of their time and financial resources than those who attended secular institutions. That is a big difference, and why supporting Christian higher education is vital to communities across the country.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: My first language is not English. My grandparents and parents were Greek immigrants, so I learned to communicate in Greek before attending kindergarten and learning English. I sympathize with nonnative speakers and their language challenges.

Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: Enjoying a sunny day at home with my wife and children. We only have our daughter at home now and I cherish the time we have together. I’m especially happiest when our sons come in for a weekend together. Midwesterners tend to be pretty low key.

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