The Collegian
Thursday, July 09, 2020

Seven professors presented with Distinguished Educator Awards

Seven faculty members received the Distinguished Educator Award on Aug. 22 at Colloquy, an annual celebratory event during which faculty and staff gather to mark the official beginning of the academic year, said Steve Allred, provost and vice president for academic affairs.

The professors who received the awards were Bertram Ashe, English and American studies; Henry Chambers Jr., law; Dean Croushore, economics; Jennifer Erkulwater, political science, Lidia Radi, Italian and French, Patricia Strait, human resource management and Thad Williamson, leadership studies.

After President Ayers delivered an address, Allred presented the awards to each recipient, along with a few comments that had been prepared by a faculty selection committee, Allred said.

Each year, the committee members are responsible for choosing recipients to be honored at the succeeding year's ceremony. Professors can be nominated by any member of the university community, including students, colleagues and administrators, according to the selection guidelines. Catherine Bagwell, a psychology professor who has since relocated to Colgate University, was the chairwoman for the committee that selected the seven awardees announced in August, Allred said.

"This is a faculty-controlled process," Allred said. "It is faculty nominating their peers to the administration, not the administration deciding whom the Distinguished Educator Award should go to. The committee writes up the award summaries, and I just read them."

The faculty-driven process is what gives the award credibility, Allred said.

Erkulwater's work in developing a community-based learning course called Poverty and Political Voice, was specifically acknowledged by Allred, she said. Throughout the semester, students volunteer with community partners in Highland Park to become "experts" for their specific service sites, Erkulwater said. Those experiences help them form their own opinions on public policy issues, based on their own experiences, she said.

"One of my goals as an educator is to try and help students see that what we study in class isn't just in the textbooks," she said.

Erkulwater said that, while it was nice to get the award, it wouldn't alter anything about her experimental-learning approach or her determination to encourage students to examine the effects of public policy decision-making within the community.

Williamson was also recognized for his work teaching a community-based learning course called Justice and Civil Society, he said. Students in his class are sent out to the community to learn about these theories and issues, such as justice, inequality and race that are concurrently studied in class, Williamson said.

"I was pleased to get the award, but I'm glad the university is honoring community-based learning," he said. "It connotes the message that community education is a vital part of education.

"You can't get much better than that."

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Croushore's 14 years at the Federal Reserve have brought him an extensive knowledge on monetary policy that he can pass on to his students, he said.

Croushore said that Allred had quoted a comment made by a student in the course evaluations at colloquy: "Learning from Dr. Croushore is like learning basketball from Michael Jordan."

Ashe first received a nomination letter, he said, and was later notified that he had been selected as a winner. He said he had tried to create an environment where teachers could collaborate with student efforts to produce the best results.

"I work hard in the classroom to give students the best relationship as possible with the subject matter," Ashe said.

An emphasis on collaboration was also a theme for Strait, who said the university wanted to focus more on student-professor research.

Recently, Strait paired with a student to study the female Hispanic immigrants in the local community, she said. The study examined how the group had assimilated and had been absorbed into the job market, Straitsaid.

"When students and faculty come together, it makes the experience more meaningful for both of them -- richer for the student and richer for the faculty member," Strait said.

The tradition of the Distinguished Educator Award started in 1975 when the Cabell Foundation made a grant to the university in order to attract and retain outstanding faculty, according to the university's website. The award's purpose is to honor full-time faculty members who consistently make "outstanding contributions to excellence in education," according to the selection guidelines.

In recognition of their accomplishment, each of the seven distinguished educators was given a plaque and a $3,000 stipend. The award money is to be used "to make themselves even better educators," Allred said.

While all of the recipients interviewed said they would use the money toward conferences or professional travel expenses, Williamson also said that he might "sit on it" or buy himself an iPad.

Neither Chambers nor Radi could be reached to comment.

Contact reporter Mara Lugo at mara.lugorudner@richmond.edu

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