Scholars Reception Honors Faculty Excellence

Professor Ron Olowin with student Leland Moore at the Arecibo Observatory in January.The Committee on Teaching and Scholarship honored four faculty award recipients on Friday, February 28 at the 11th Annual Scholars Reception. The awards celebrate professors who have made positive contributions to their fields and to the Saint Mary’s community. They are based on four key principles: effectiveness, ethical engagement with the global community, creative and collaborative student-teacher dynamics, encouragement and application of social justice, and promotion of student success.

The Scholar Award

The Scholar Award not only recognizes and supports faculty accomplishment, but also celebrates collaborative inquiry with other faculty and students. This year’s recipient, Professor Ron Olowin, chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department, was recognized for his immense contribution to the scientific community at Saint Mary’s, for fostering the growth of his department and his undergraduate students by developing the Geissberger Observatory. Olowin has played a role in collecting more than $100,000 in grants for undergraduate research, and facilitating undergraduates’ hands-on experiences through international research trips.

"The students are the beneficiaries of this research, not us,” Olowin said. “We extend our resources and knowledge and bring it back to the students. It’s also an aspect of outreach—gathering grants and exposing students to opportunities outside the College’s capabilities, which teaches students to appreciate external resources.”

During Easter break, Olowin hopes to take students to the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico to observe “Winds” (cool hydrogen gas) in our home galaxy, the Milky Way, as well as in external galaxies millions of light years away from us. 

“This work is part of a long-term collaborative observing program called the 'ALFALFA' project, in which SMC is a partner," Olowin said.  Learn more about the ALFALFA project and the world's largest single-dish radio telescope at Arecibo.

“We stay at the Observatory itself with a typical day spent sleeping, eating and reducing the data from the night before, and then preparing for the night,” said student Blake Tormey ’15.  “It’s absolutely incredible! The telescope itself is such an impressive structure, let alone how you can just feel the big science all around you.”

Faculty Service Award

Other faculty honored at the Scholar’s Reception include Suzy Thomas, associate professor in the Graduate Counseling Program, who received the Service Award for her outstanding contribution and commitment to social justice through her development of programs to enhance the field of school counseling. Thomas fostered her students’ hands-on experience, training SMC graduate students to aid in her launch of the Action Research Network of the Americas conference.

"I can remember, early on in the years moving toward tenure, feeling worried about what type of service I might engage in, and hoping that the College would see my choices as worthy," Thomas said. "I grew up in a family that valued service, and so the concept was not new to me. Over time, I began to trust that meaningful service opportunities would naturally emerge for me through the work I was doing on campus and beyond—that has continued to be the case for me."

Thomas was particularly touched by the fact that her entire department, the Graduate Counseling Program, nominated her for the award. "Having the support of my closest colleagues, and being recognized by them in the service activities that have developed for me, is extremely significant to me." she said. "I am so honored to have received the Faculty Service Award."

Teaching Excellence Award

True to the title of his award, Chemistry Professor Ken Brown demonstrates a keen commitment to teaching. Acting as a research mentor for thirty independent studies since arriving at Saint Mary’s, Brown epitomizes the characteristics of the Teaching Excellence Award. Students’ comments from academic evaluations attest to the quality of Brown’s teaching, praising the professor for challenging his students to excel while serving as a passionate supporter, eager to help undergraduates achieve excellence.

"This award was a very nice surprise," Brown said. "We all devote a great deal of time and energy in working directly with our students in various ways, so it's gratifying to be recognized and supported by my colleagues who value this work as much as I do."

Early Career Award

Recipient of the Early Career Award, Monica Fitzgerald, professor in the History Department and a passionate scholar of gender and history, has captured the Saint Mary’s spirit by showing her fervent engagement in all aspects of the community since arriving on campus in 2009. Among her contributions to the community, Fitzgerald has collaborated with the Women’s Resource Center in the development of the Wo/Men’s Conference and served on the Community Engagement subcommittee of the Core Curriculum Committee.  Fitzgerald contributes to the success of Saint Mary’s students through her continued work with service-learning education that is essential to the Saint Mary’s mission.

“To be recognized by my peers, whom I consider the hardest working, most dedicated people I know, was a true honor,” said Fitzgerald. “In my five years at Saint Mary's, being in community and working collaboratively on shared mission has fulfilled me both personally and professionally. I sought out a career at Saint Mary's because I was so drawn to the Lasallian, Catholic and liberal arts traditions. I have found a place that not only allows me to live my principles, but provides me the resources and support to do so. I have been fortunate to have many mentors at Saint Mary's who have inspired me and kept me on track. I hope to pay that forward throughout my career.”

Each award includes a $5,000 stipend that will support the continuation of these professors’ programs and student learning. The Scholars Reception and these awards honor professors who exemplify the values of the Saint Mary’s Community, standing for social justice, commitment to students, and love for learning.