Mount Holyoke's Teacher-Scholars Honored

Posted: February 27, 2008

The innovative teaching and active scholarship of the Mount Holyoke College faculty was showcased on February 25 at the ninth annual Celebration of Faculty Accomplishments. The ceremony, which was presided over by Donal O'Shea, dean of faculty, honored Robin Blaetz, associate professor and chair of film studies, and Fred McGinness, professor of history and chair of complex organizations, who both received the Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching, as well as Wei Chen, associate professor of chemistry, and Daniel Czitrom, professor of history, the recipients of the Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship.

Faculty Awards

In her welcoming remarks, President Joanne V. Creighton cited the recent reaccreditation team's finding that "Mount Holyoke's faculty truly is exceptional in its distinction, in harmonizing the excellence of research and teaching … and its dedication to the College's students. Almost all the students we talked to told us that their relationship with professors is the very best part of their experience at the College."

In honoring Blaetz, O'Shea noted that the highest compliment she says she can receive as a professor of film studies is to be told by students that she's "ruined movies for them." Her exceptional ability to do just that by teaching them to identify previously transparent elements was in evidence as O'Shea quoted from a handful of the many students "who flock to her classes … to learn how to see what it is they are looking at." Upon accepting her award, Blaetz spoke about the growing importance for students to "gain mastery of the visual world that surrounds them" and praised the College for "officially engaging the field" by creating a department of film studies.

McGinness's gift for engaging students, O'Shea noted, was evidenced by their comments ranging from "his lectures were enchanted" to "I had as much fun as the Vikings on a good pillaging." His pivotal role in the complex organizations program for over 20 years also was recognized. Upon taking the podium, McGinness humorously recounted the "recurring nightmares of having nothing to say" that emerged during his first teaching assignment--an evening remedial summer school class for defiant boys--and then cited instances when even history's great orators were "caught short." Along with acknowledging his indebtedness to his own teachers, he spoke of the responsibility of historians to "not only remember the past but to do so without distorting it" and the challenge of "fostering in our students an intellectual rigor and critical toughness."

Chen, a polymer scientist who has garnered worldwide recognition, was honored for her groundbreaking work "designing and building new molecular architectures." She also was commended for her willingness to mentor students and actively involve them in her research. In her remarks, Chen saluted those student collaborators: "I love working with you in the lab every day." She also spoke about the "long journey" between growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution and teaching at Mount Holyoke, which she described as a "special place where people do not act privileged but work hard to improve the lives of others." As for her successes along the way, she said, "I have learned to follow my heart and not give up."

Czitrom, a leading authority on the history of New York City, was praised for the many forms his scholarship takes, from textbooks to plays to commentaries to critical works. His citation also acknowledged his role as a resource for junior faculty as they formulate projects. Czitrom presented slides from his latest book on the pioneering journalist/photographer and social reformer Jacob Riis, written in collaboration with Bonnie Yochelson, a former curator of prints and photographs at the Museum of the City of New York.

The teaching and scholarship awards were made possible by gifts from members of the MHC board of trustees. The teaching award was funded by an anonymous donor. The scholarship award was endowed by former trustee Janet Hickey Tague '66 in honor of Meribeth E. Cameron, a professor of history from 1948 to 1970 who also served as academic dean, dean of faculty, and, on a number of occasions, as acting president of the College. To date, 37 faculty members have been honored with the awards. This year's recipients were selected through a nomination and review process coordinated by Faculty Awards Committee members O'Shea; Christopher Benfey, Mellon Professor of English; Michael Robinson, professor of economics; and professor emeritus Diana Stein.

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