Lass Recognized for Excellence in Teaching

By Danielle Kerem '13

Anthropology professor Andrew Lass warns students in his Issues in Contemporary Anthropological Theory course they should be prepared to "always leave class with a headache." According to Shana Aoyama '08, the headache was a welcome side effect of a class that compelled her to think more "critically and sensitively" about her surroundings.

Students leave Lass's class feeling "empowered with agency to listen and to think in an uncertain world," a valuable progression in the eyes of three Mount Holyoke alumnae who recently pioneered a successful campaign to have Lass recognized with a 2010 American Anthropological Association (AAA)/Oxford University Press Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. Selected as a co-recipient of this esteemed prize, Lass will be presented with the award on November 18 at the AAA’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

Lass teaches a variety of courses on topics ranging from contemporary anthropological theory to organizational behavior. A specialist on the anthropology of Central Europe, he was awarded more than $2 million from the Andrew W. Mellon and Pew Charitable Trust Foundations in support of his continuing work with the Czech and Slovak Library Information Network (CASLIN)--a project that has helped modernize the networking capabilities and computer technology of libraries throughout the Czech and Slovak Republics in the aftermath of communist rule.

Established in 1997, the prestigious AAA award recognizes educators who have made important contributions to the progress and growth of the field of anthropology. The campaign to nominate Lass was spearheaded by former students Caroline Bauer ’09, Alina Naujokaitis ’09, and Megumi Yoshida ’09, who tackled the project last February just two weeks before nominations were due. Within two days of disseminating emails to students and alums seeking recommendations for Lass’s nomination, the three students received statements praising his scholarship and teaching from more than 15 people.

In his 28 years as a member of the Mount Holyoke anthropology department, Lass has proven to be a formative influence on the lives of his students. In their letters, alumnae from 1981--his first year teaching at Mount Holyoke--discussed how what they learned in his courses still resonates with them today, while current students wrote about the significance of his instruction and mentorship in their decisions to advance their study of anthropology.

Mary E. Woolley Professor of Anthropology Lynn Morgan commented on her colleague's qualities as an educator.

"Andy Lass is a phenomenally talented teacher in a department that prides itself on high-caliber teaching," she said. "His honesty and wit, combined with his gift for storytelling and knack for posing truly provocative questions, make him a sought-after teacher. He seems to get inside students' brains, and they love it!"

In addition to his accomplishments in the field of anthropology, Lass has authored several collections of poems and was named as one of the two honorable members of Czechoslovakia's Poetry Society in 1995. In 2005, he received the Mount Holyoke Faculty Award for Teaching, a testament to his continuing success as a mentor and professor.