To Joan Peterson, winner of the 2003 O. DeSales Perez Award for Excellence in Collegiate Seminar, the heart of seminar is reading carefully and asking questions.
Teaching seminar classes, in Peterson's view, is both extremely rewarding and challenging. The texts are complex, and a good seminar class only occurs when the students have done close, careful reading of the materials and are eager to discuss them seriously. Students, she explained, often want to find easy answers. But, the seminar teacher's responsibility is to dispel that notion.
"We have to keep bringing up questions to complicate and make ambiguous what seems transparent," Peterson said. "Part of seminar is that there are no easy answers. That's an important lesson to leave college with."
Peterson received the Perez award at a reception in November. For the first time, a sum for $1,000 was included as part of the award, because of a provision in the will of Brother O. DeSales Perez, FSC, director of the Collegiate Seminar program from 1977 to 1995, who died in October 2003.
Teaching seminar is a change of pace from her work as a professor in the School of Education, said Peterson, and that's part of the appeal of the program. Seminar professors are drawn from all disciplines of the College. "I feel like I'm connected to my colleagues across the campus," Peterson said, "especially being from the graduate education program." But she still sees a connection between her education classes and her seminars. "My best graduate classes," she explained, "probably are the same as my best seminar classes because when a group comes together and thinks aloud in new creative ways, there isn't anything better in the world. â€¦ That's the best that can happen in teaching."
Peterson has taught Collegiate Seminar for eight years and has been a faculty member at Saint Mary's for fifteen years. She also taught high school, primarily English, for several years before coming to Saint Mary's.
The Perez award was established in 1996 in honor of Brother DeSales. Although being this year's recipient was a great honor, said Peterson, she felt mixed emotions about the occasion.
"I was absolutely delighted and surprised," said Peterson. "But it was very bittersweet to receive this award in the same year that De Sales passed away." He was a Brother with a "very big heart," she noted, and she especially admired his spirit, dedication, and hard work.
-- by Joseph Wakelee-Lynch
For information on the Saint Mary's College Collegiate Seminar program, please visit the Collegiate Seminar web site.