Annual Report Message from Provost Bethami Dobkin

Provost Beth Dobkin mingles with students in the dining hall.During the 2016-17 year, markers of academic excellence continued in what has become an inspiring characteristic of intellectual rigor at Saint Mary’s. Our professors were recognized for their exemplary scholarship; we rose in national rankings; and we received accolades for our distinctive curricula, collaborative faculty student interactions,  and educational environment that fosters academic, personal and professional success for our students. One of our extraordinary alumni, Mahershala Ali ’96, was celebrated for his creative talent in Moonlight. Indeed, it was an impressive year.

Among the essential requirements of academic distinction are acknowledgements of the scholarly achievements of a university’s talented faculty and institutional support for their work. This past year, abundant instances of Saint Mary’s faculty expertise and research were heralded externally as stellar scholarship and recognized and championed here on the College’s campus.

Nationally celebrated poet and Olivia Filippi Professor of Poetry Brenda Hillman received the high honor of elected membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Founded in 1780, the American Academy is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers.

After wrapping up his term as New York Times Poetry Editor, English Professor Matthew Zapruder was interviewed by the Poetry Society of America about his forthcoming, and now celebrated, book, Why Poetry. The interview was the first of many national media stories about his new work. Additionally, Zapruder celebrated the success of Tyehimba Jess, an author he worked closely with as editor of Wave Books, when the writer’s book Olio won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

SMC faculty members were also spotlighted by national and local media outlets in profiles of their scholarly research, and sought for insight on issues affecting the public. Reuters reported on Anthropology’s Anna Corwin research examining progressive health care techniques in eldercare facilities. The national magazine Science profiled research by Physics Professor Edward Boyda on the use of quantum computers for complex pattern analysis. Management Professor Barry Eckhouse was featured in BizEd magazine in articles showcasing SEBA's Digital Driver's License program. KSOE Counseling Professor Bedford Palmer spoke on the 30-minute news program KCBS In Depth, discussing rising concerns around race relations and law enforcement policies. Both ABC7 News and NBC Bay Area News reached out to Environmental and Earth Science Professor Alexandra Brunel LaGatta for commentary on the end of the drought in Northern California.

In addition to external recognition, the College continued its own traditions of acknowledging the scholarship and contributions of our faculty. At the annual Scholars’ Reception, we recognized four faculty members for their outstanding academic efforts. They included Politics Professor Patrizia Longo, who received the Teaching Excellence Award; History Professors Myrna Santiago and Aeleah Soine, who received the Outstanding Scholar Award and Early Career Award, respectively, and KSOE Counseling Professor Gloria Aquino Sosa, who was honored with the Faculty Service Award. Community members also gathered in enthusiastic appreciation for the work of Steven Cortright, professor of Philosophy and the Integral Program, as the College’s distinguished Professor of the Year.

We also proudly announced the appointment of Megan Mustain PhD as Saint Mary’s inaugural dean of our Core Curriculum. A respected educator and professor of philosophy, Mustain established an extensive and progressive record for more than 12 years as an academic leader and scholar at St. Mary's University, a Catholic Marianist institution of higher education based in San Antonio, Texas.  

The academic distinctiveness of the College continued to draw deserved praise. We were recognized through national rankings; for the third year in a row, U.S. News & World Report named SMC among the top 10 universities in the West, and the Princeton Review listed Saint Mary’s among the 381 most outstanding higher-ed institutions in the country. The College was also welcomed as a member in one of the nation’s most prestigious scholastic societies, The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, the nation’s oldest and most selective all-discipline collegiate honor society.

The year’s many highlights also included a $2.7 million U.S. Department of Education Hispanic-Serving Institutions STEM program award to SMC to enhance and expand the curriculum and resources for SMC’s Hispanic and low-income students. Additionally, KSOE received a $225,000 grant from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to develop INSTEP (Integrated Special Education Teacher Program)—a new special education teacher preparation program that assists students at Los Medanos Community College in transferring to SMC to earn both a bachelor of arts majoring in Justice, Community and Leadership and a teaching credential.

In a year full of extraordinary moments, alumnus and Academy Award–winner Mahershala Ali ’96 returned to SMC for an invitation-only, student-focused screening of the Oscar-winning film Moonlight; a conversation in the LeFevre Theater with his first drama teacher, Performing Arts Professor Rebecca Engle; and a low-profile reception—away from the media spotlight—recognizing students in the College’s High Potential program.

The notable achievements over the past year reflect a campus-wide commitment to ensuring academic excellence at Saint Mary’s. As many know, this has been my last year at the College. I’m grateful for the tremendous privilege of being among a community of extraordinarily talented faculty, staff and academic leaders, engaged students, and supportive alumni. This year, like so many others, has been one of accomplishment, collaboration and success, all elements that make Saint Mary’s a truly distinctive academic institution.

Beth Dobkin
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs