In memoriam: Alumna Julia E. (Rossini) Saunders, Ph.D.

Alumna Julia E. (Rossini) Saunders has passed away from cancer. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Hamline University in 2004, and her doctorate in chemistry from the University of Minnesota in 2011, working with Professor Wayne Gladfelter. As an undergraduate, she conducted collaborative research in organic chemistry with Professor John Matachek. Working with Professor Gladfelter in materials chemistry, she investigated early events in dye sensitized solar cells.

As a teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota, she became known for her extraordinary teaching prowess and was nominated for Teaching Assistant of the Year. She wrote about her interest and passion for teaching on LinkedIn: "While attending graduate school, I was granted a position as a teaching assistant and found myself increasingly drawn to the idea of being a chemistry instructor. I enjoyed the engagement and autonomy of my graduate studies and began looking for a career that would foster that kind of independent thinking while offering the opportunity to help others. . . . I relish working with a variety of people while solving problems using a combination of analytical thought, innovative ideas, and patience. I enjoy distilling information from complicated sources to summarize for others and present results in a way that will lead my audience to straight-forward conclusions. It is important that what I do provides me with a sense of purpose and allows me to contribute to my surroundings, whether that is directly working with students or participating in the school’s overarching mission."

Julia’s dedication and sense of purpose to chemistry and education was apparent and she was recruited to teach introductory chemistry courses at both Augsburg and St. Catherine’s University in 2012. In 2014, she joined the faculty at Hamline teaching general chemistry laboratories, and was hired full time as visiting lecturer in 2016. Julia taught Chemistry and Society, a course for non-science majors, General Chemistry I and II, Advanced General Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, and was the lab coordinator for the general chemistry series.

Her colleague Marcela Kostihova writes: "She was a sought-after and beloved educator, who took time to meet with every student after each exam to discuss the results and suggest strategies for success. In this capacity, she quickly demonstrated an aptitude for making chemistry accessible to all students. Even as she developed the Advanced General Chemistry curriculum for well-academically prepared students, she led faculty development sessions with her colleagues on pedagogy in the sciences. Her goal was to develop a one-year sequence (general, organic and biochemistry) to equip students with a solid background for the health sciences and public health."  

When she wasn’t mentoring students in class and labs, Julia cheered them on the field. Having excelled as a softball player during her undergraduate career, she served as the faculty liaison for and dedicated champion of the Hamline women’s softball team.

She is survived by her husband Ben Saunders (Hamline ‘04), daughters Rosemary (4) and Lucy (2), her sisters, parents, and extended family. Her family is planning a memorial service at a future date, once the pandemic subsides. In the meantime, cards can be sent to Ben Saunders c/o Eric Saunders, PO Box 576, Wyoming, MN 55092. Colleagues who knew her well are encouraged to contribute stories about Julia to a memorial book her sister is compiling for her daughters’ future reference. In lieu of flowers, a scholarship fund has been set up for the girls.