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SU faculty to be honored as Meredith Professors
SU faculty to be honored as Meredith ProfessorsApril 26, 2004Matthew R. Snydermrsnyder@syr.edu
During an April 30 gala reception celebrating one of the University’s highest teaching honors, Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw will name Douglas V. Armstrong, associate professor of anthropology in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and The College of Arts and Sciences; and Micere Githae Mugo, professor of African American studies in The College of Arts and Sciences, as Syracuse University’s 2004 Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professors for Teaching Excellence. Shaw will also recognize Gary M. Radke, professor of fine arts in The College of Arts and Sciences, as one of the two Meredith Professors who will begin their terms in 2005. The teaching honor is one of the highest bestowed by the University.
The Meredith Professorships were created in 1995 with a substantial bequest from the Meredith estate. The program seeks to recognize and reward outstanding teaching, and fosters research and dialogue on teaching excellence. Two Meredith Professors are named each year to engage in investigations of teaching and learning. They are enrolled for life in the Meredith Symposium as a signal of honor and to provide an ongoing forum for the discussion of teaching excellence.
Each recipient of the honor is designated a Meredith Professor for a period of three years. For each of the three years, they receive a supplementary salary award, a fund to support their research, and additional money to be used in developing their academic unit. The reception honoring Armstrong, Mugo and Radke will be held at 2 p.m. in Hendricks Chapel’s Noble Room.
Douglas V. ArmstrongDouglas V. Armstrong likes to use a hands-on approach to teaching anthropology. Luckily, his area of specialization is in archaeology, in which fieldwork is a major component. He regularly leads his students on digs and aids them in completing projects that are not just academic exercises, but active additions to the world’s knowledge.
“I happen to be in a field in which the concept of ‘student-centered research’ really fits,” he says. “In anthropology, you can get students involved in research really early.”
His major Meredith project will get students even further involved in original research. He plans to use the resources that come with the award to launch the Caribbean Heritage Preservation Policy Project (CHPPP), which will involve his students in a systematic analysis of historic preservation laws throughout the Caribbean.
“My interest in this project has been stimulated by a series of Caribbean students who have done critiques of their home countries’ laws and the problems that they have faced in trying to implement heritage preservation programs,” Armstrong says. “In a rapidly changing world, one must proactively generate legal systems and public education programming that ensure protection of significant sites, which cannot be replaced once they have been destroyed.”
Armstrong plans to ask delegates from throughout the Caribbean to send him copies of all heritage preservation policies. He will spend the Fall 2004 semester gathering more information on such laws.
In the Spring 2005 semester, Armstrong will incorporate the project into his class in public policy and archaeology. Each student will be assigned a Caribbean country or group of islands, for which they will review all historic preservation laws and write a summary critique of the laws and their effectiveness. The eventual goal is to compile a resource guide to historic preservation legislation in the Circum-Caribbean region. After that, students in a seminar course will compile a “best practice” guide that can be used by cultural affairs officials and others. In the summer of 2005, Armstrong hopes to lead a delegation, including SU students, to present the project’s findings at the International Congress of Caribbean Archaeology’s meeting in Trinidad.
“As part of this effort, I hope to encourage SU students to take an active role in heritage preservation in the Caribbean,” Armstrong says.
According to Laurie A. Wilkie ’88, now an associate professor of anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley, “Unlike faculty who use students as drones, students are an integral part of Doug’s research as partners and colleagues, or perhaps they would be best described as master apprentices, whose unique contributions, perspectives and expertise are valued and respected.”
Armstrong says that a second, ongoing project will also use some of his Meredith resources. While he plans to concentrate his major efforts on the CHPPP, he will continue involving students in efforts to “enhance public interpretation of archaeological resources” at the Harriet Tubman National Historic Landmark in Auburn. His goals include evaluation of specific archaeological sites on the Tubman property, educational programming targeting middle schools and high schools and the creation of on-site educational displays using information from the archaeological digs.
Since arriving on campus in 1986, Armstrong has been instrumental in building Maxwell’s historical archaeology program into one of the best in the nation and the world. “Although it meant that he was teaching one or two new classes each semester for his first several years at SU, Doug was determined to see that the courses necessary for students to have a grasp on archaeology, and even pursue graduate degrees, were offered,” Wilkie says.
“Given the success of this program, and its national visibility, it is no surprise that our very best graduate applicants over the past five years have almost always been in the field of historical archaeology,” says Susan Wadley, Ford Maxwell Professor of South Asian Studies in the Maxwell School and associate dean of The College of Arts and Sciences.
Micere Githae MugoMicere Githae Mugo asks her students to call her Mwalimu, the Kiswahili word for teacher; Her students gladly comply though, as one puts it, “she is so much more than just a teacher.”
Mugo credits the Department of African American Studies and its students with the collective creation of the type of space that has inspired her to be “more than a teacher.” She says that since her arrival at SU, the department and its students have not just embraced her as a scholar and educator, but provided what she calls “a place to feel at home” academically.
Mugo’s impact as a teacher, however, has been felt beyond her home department. This is confirmed by Ryan Anson, a former student to whom she became a friend and mentor even though he had never taken a class from her. Anson started the Fall 1997 semester having just returned from Kenya and desperately longed to share his experiences with someone. Prof. Janis Mayes introduced him to Mugo.
“From the first time I stepped into her office to say hello, I knew that Mwalimu Mugo – would become a lifelong mentor and friend,” Anson says. “She became my personal and academic advisor even though I had never taken a course with her, nor was I an African American studies major.”
Mugo’s definition of a teacher as someone who does much more than fill young heads with facts arises from her own childhood in colonial Kenya. She remembers one teacher who spent her class time telling her young students how “useless and brainless” Africans were. Another teacher was loving and kind, but spent her time trying to turn students into little Englishmen.
“The moment I woke up to the realization of the damage caused by even the most benign of Africa’s colonial classrooms, I actively pursued the dream of becoming a teacher,” Mugo says. “As I embarked on my path toward becoming a teacher, I passionately believed in a mission to prove that teaching could be humane. I also fervently believed that no serious learning was possible without the opening up of democratic space for students to raise questions.” For her, the real challenge for education is the extent to which it facilitates the growth and consciousness that result in transformation.
In this regard, helping students and others find their voices is so important to Mugo that for her Meredith project she plans to create a course in which students will research and debate the important issues that “continue to keep the various interest groups [at the University] apart even as they continue to share common space.” In Interventionist Debating, she hopes to break down the “negative silences” that develop when people are afraid to name themselves and express their viewpoints. She quotes a saying of the Gikuyu people in Kenya: “To hold dialog is to love.” However, for Mugo, arrival at this stage can only occur if critical issues are uncompromisingly addressed.
Though she is known at SU mainly as a professor, Mugo is a renowned poet and intellectual. “Her work has generated important scholarship and consideration in a variety of different arenas,” says her colleague Mayes. “For nearly 30 years, Micere Githae Mugo has sustained an international reputation as one of the most influential creative intellectuals of the African world.”
On campus, Mugo is known for her signature course, “African Orature,” in which she teaches about the spoken artistic tradition that incorporates poetry, stories, drama, myths, legends and historical narratives. “The principles of the course material were brought to life in the classroom,” comments Christiana Kaiser, an undergraduate student in international relations. “A community was created as we learned about African orature through literature, film, discussion and participation in the presentation of orature ourselves.”
Mugo has also given her time to raising the profile of her department and of Africa itself around campus. Her colleagues describe her as the moving force behind the effort to create a master’s degree program in Pan-African Studies, which is awaiting approval by the Board of Trustees. She also chairs the Africa Initiative, an effort to bring together scholars who have an interest in Africa. “These projects take huge chunks of time away from research and writing, but it’s worth it to increase the understanding of Global Africa and enhance Black Studies,” Mugo says.
Gary M. RadkeGary M. Radke sees teaching not only as an opportunity for his students to learn, but also as a way to learn new things himself.
As a professor of fine arts, Radke empowers his students to shape the learning experience in each of the classes he teaches. A strong proponent of experiential learning, Radke brings his students outside the classroom for a range of activities and travel opportunities, and he believes that the interdisciplinary learning and collaborations he has fostered with colleagues have created one-of-a-kind experiences for his students.
“My primary goal is to create communities of learners who can appreciate the complexity and interrelatedness of the world in which we live,” Radke says.
Rather than relying strictly on textbooks, Radke gives his students ownership of their lessons. For example, in his Early Renaissance Art course, students write essays in which they respond to the textbook – co-authored by Radke – to discuss the works that fascinate or bother them. Radke then tailors his lectures around the students’ responses. “I prefer the challenge of having to reconsider the material every time I teach it,” Radke says.
Radke’s encouragement of experiential learning is reflected in many of his courses. A voracious traveler who has spent many semesters and summers teaching in Italy, he knows how travel and the opportunity to experience art and architecture enrich the student learning experience. He has also seen, though, that many students have not been taking advantage of the opportunity to study abroad. Out of that observation was born “Michaelangelo’s Italy,” a course taught on the SU campus during the academic year that includes a nine-day study trip to Florence and Rome during spring break. Radke says the trip enables students to make new observations on the material they have studied, while helping them become a learning community.
From that successful experience, Radke has collaborated with Meredith Professor Samuel Clemence, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science. Their “Leonardo Da Vinci: Artist and Engineer” course, first taught in 2001, brings together engineering and fine arts students to study Leonardo’s art and engineering achievements through a semester of study and a spring break trip to Italy and France.
“The combined effort of the class and trip allowed me to take away a greater amount of knowledge than I have from any other class,” says Ashley Ouderkirk, a senior majoring in fine arts. “The class even inspired me to study abroad and now hopefully continue my graduate studies abroad.”
Says Clemence, “Gary Radke is one of the truly outstanding teachers on this campus. He has not just limited his activities to his own profession, but has reached out to students and faculty across campus.”
This semester, Radke is collaborating with Martin J. Whitman School of Management Prof. Elet Callahan on a course-including a study trip to Savannah, Ga.– that explores the tensions between economic development and preservation of the natural and built environment.
For his Meredith project, Radke plans to create an annual cross-University faculty seminar to mentor 12 colleagues in developing courses that consider cross-disciplinary perspectives and incorporate travel as a key tool for expanding student and teacher knowledge and interaction. Seminar participants will select a site within 500 miles of Syracuse to visit together in the spring. “I trust that we will be able to see the site from as many different perspectives as possible, modeling activities and experiences that we might provide for our students,” Radke says.
Beyond the opportunity to learn new things from different disciplinary perspectives, Radke wants the seminar to bring its diverse participants together as people-“Sometimes the best time spent together is on the bus- it’s where you can be human,” he says.
In addition to his teaching activities, Radke is a consultant for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, preparing international loan exhibitions. His recent exhibit focusing on the restoration of Andrea del Verrocchio’s bronze “David,” from the National Museum of the Bargello in Florence, ended a celebrated exhibition tour at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in March.
“For me, this is a very special moment in my career,” he says. “My teaching, research and museum work have all come together in a perfectly reinforcing scheme.”