Excellence awards for outstanding professors

Dean of Faculty Jon Western with professors Jeremy King, Girma Kebbede, Bode Omojola and Amy Frary, and President Sonya Stephens

The Mount Holyoke College 2019 Faculty Awards, which celebrate excellence in teaching and scholarship, were awarded to four professors at a ceremony on February 27.

“The awards ceremony is a welcome moment for us to step back and reflect on the extraordinary scholarship of Mount Holyoke’s faculty and the impact of their teaching on our students,” said Jon Western, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty. “We are fortunate to have so many deserving faculty. And, while it makes selecting just four all the more difficult, it highlights the rigorous intellectual activity and transformative teaching that distinguishes a Mount Holyoke education.”

President Sonya Stephens presented the Meribeth E. Cameron Awards for Scholarship to Girma Kebbede, professor of geography, and Bode Omojola, Five College professor of music. The scholarship awards were endowed by former trustee Janet Hickey Tague ’66 in honor of Meribeth E. Cameron, a professor of history who also held several administrative positions.

The Mount Holyoke College Faculty Awards for Teaching, funded by an anonymous donor, were given to Amy Frary, professor of biological sciences, and Jeremy King, professor of history.

Read the full citations.

Faculty awards for teaching

Amy Frary, cochair of biochemistry and professor of biological sciences

Amy Frary traces her origins as a teacher to her time spent at Mount Holyoke as a student  30 years ago.

When a teaching position opened at Mount Holyoke, her only hesitation, she said, was her trepidation over being an inexperienced, shy teacher among the faculty she held in such high regard. But her reluctance was short-lived.

“Working alongside the faculty and staff of the biology department, and working with a new generation of Mount Holyoke students, I learned to love teaching,” Frary said. Her teaching fanned the fire of her intellectual curiosity and she grew to love her subject even more. 

In her introductory classes, her goal is to convey “a feeling of awe for plants and living organisms,” by looking into their life cycles and “the beautiful logic of their growth and development.” In her advanced classes, she works with students to encourage their independent projects and questions. 

“It is a privilege to teach the gospel of plants, to teach students about the green world, and in so doing change their conception of themselves and everything around them,” Frary said. “Thank you.”

Jeremy King, professor of history

Jeremy King is famous among students for his lengthy emails, but also for his passion, commitment and fierce intellect — all of which he also expects from his students.

At this point, King estimates that he’s taught about 2,000 students. They have earned his deep respect for their “capacity to throw themselves into intellectual adventures, to get caught up in the excitement of learning.” 

An expert of the history of Austria-Hungary and its successor states in Central and Eastern Europe, King thanked his colleagues in the history and international relations departments for seeing in him a nascent talent for teaching 

“What I really appreciate about my colleagues is history and international relations is that they gave me a lot of room. They let me teach what I wanted and how I wanted,” said King. “I have a shared understanding with them that scholarship and research go very well with each other, as well as with a lot of hard work." 

King also lauded the supportive community, the outstanding facilities, the “dedicated, highly competent” faculty and staff, the “beautiful campus” and more. “With these arrows in my quiver, I’d be in trouble if I wasn’t teaching well,” he said.

He relayed a story about his daughter, who in his early years of teaching named herself after one of his students, and insisted that she lived in “Dorm, Massachusetts.”

“Our students are nerds,” he said, of the dedication that Mount Holyoke students bring to their studies. “In the best possible way.”

Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Awards for Scholarship

Bode Omojola, Five College professor of music

When Bode Omojola missed a phone call from Sonya Stephens and received a follow-up text, his first response was to say to his wife, “I don’t know what I’ve done!”

But Stephens quickly informed him that he had won the Faculty Award for scholarship. Reflecting on his early childhood in Nigeria, where he was surrounded with traditional Yoruba music, dancing, singing and folktales, Omojola was in for a surprise when he started school.

There, he learned to play Western instruments and folk songs. “I was introduced to the piano, and I was made to sing about a bridge in London that was always falling down,” he said, to the laughter of his colleagues. 

He now sees that his early exposure to those two different musical traditions was, as he put it, “preparing me for my encounter with the field of ethnomusicology, which is grounded in the basic principle that music meanings are socially constructed and often culturally specific.”

At the center of Omojola’s scholarship is a single question: “In what ways does modern African music in its various manifestations speak to the social, cultural and political tensions that are linked to colonial domination?”

The author of six books and innumerable lectures, papers and articles, Omojola does not stop at academic exploration. He is a composer and performer of his own works that demonstrate the “elements and concepts of African music” encountered in the course of his field research.

In his most recent opera, “Ìrìn Àjò — Odyssey of a Dream,” Omojola melded Western symphony orchestra and African musical performance. He celebrated the “energizing and creative power of diversity,” in the program, and noted that the collaboration spoke to the “dedication of our students and their ability to work together and explore uncharted intellectual and cultural pathways.”

“Mount Holyoke College has proved to be a most stimulating environment for me and my work as a scholar and teacher,” he said. “I am grateful for the opportunity.”

Girma Kebbede, professor of geography

The central focus of Girma Kebbede’s scholarship is the exploration of the diverse impacts humans have had over time upon fauna and flora, soils, water, landforms and the atmosphere.

His students value his classes for making them rethink their own ideas about what they know about the African landscape, a landscape that had shaped even his life. As a boy in rural Ethiopia, he became a cattle herder at age 5. He walked barefoot until age 7, and would not have gone to school at all if not for the death of his grandmother, whom he had lived with, and the subsequent insistence of his mother that he move with her to the city and begin his formal education.

When he began teaching at Mount Holyoke in 1982, Kebbede taught the College’s first class on the physical environment, and redefined geography to include environmental studies. Students from all Five Colleges were drawn to his courses on the African landscape and how neglect, flawed policies, colonial legacies and Cold War rivalries led to ecological degradation, political conflicts, resource scarcity and population displacement.

Beyond Mount Holyoke, Kebbede is dedicated to educating the next generation of teachers, scholars, activists and policymakers. He taught at the Debre Berhan University in central Ethiopia as a Fulbright scholar in 2014-2015. There, in addition to offering courses on development and the environment and natural resources management, he gave lectures on pedagogies and scholarship and assisted in curriculum development.

He attributes his impressive scholarship — which includes four books and numerous articles — to his long career as a professor, and thanked the committee for selecting him among his many deserving colleagues.

“Allow me to consider this award for my longevity,” he said. "I hope that my work will inspire this generation of students to examine societies’ impacts on natural processes and systems, and to offer possible alternative strategies of human-environmental relations that could create a balance between human needs and environmental constraints."  

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