Mead funds presented to 10 professors
Mead Endowment awards intended to fund professors’ ‘dream’ classes
At Saturday night’s seventh-annual Mead Endowment awards dinner, 10 University faculty members received funding for “dream” proposals to develop classes they would like to teach. The endowment also received a $777,777.77 grant from the Seven Society to continue funding such proposals in the future.
Ernest “Boots” Mead, a retired professor Emeritus of Music, attended the event surrounded by former students who established the endowment to continue his legacy of student-faculty interaction.
“It came about that Mead is beloved by decades of former students,” Endowment Chair Tom Darbyshire said. “A group of us had been talking for some time about doing something in his honor; endowing a chair, contributing to the wing of a building or putting up a plaque didn’t seem to be the right fit for what he meant to us.”
Darbyshire said there is a growing worry that meaningful relations between students and faculty are fading because of larger class sizes and pressure on faculty to publish, conduct research and win grants.
Darbyshire added that the goal of the endowment is to “help pass the torch from legendary faculty members like Mr. Mead to inspire the younger faculty.”
In the past, Darbyshire said, the Mead Endowment was only able to fund some of the “dream proposals” but this year, with increased funding, the endowment offered funding to all 10 of Saturday’s Mead honored faculty. Also, in honor of this year’s seventh Mead awards dinner, the Seven Society sent a letter announcing a gift of $777,777.77 to the endowment.
This year’s honored faculty were Asst. Chemistry Prof. Linda Columbus, Assoc. Psychology Prof. and Cognitive Science Program Director Alev Erisir, Assoc. Philosophy Prof. Mitchell Green, Assoc. Environmental Sciences Prof. Deborah Lawrence, Asst. Business Administration Prof. Mary Margaret Frank, Asst. French language and literatures Prof. Deborah McGrady, Margarita Nafpaktitis assistant professor of Slavic languages and literatures, Assoc. Biology Prof. Ignacio Provencio, Assoc. Sound Design Prof. Michael Rasbury and Chad Wellmon, assistant professor of Germanic languages and literatures.
Rasbury, one of the Endowment’s honored faculty, said he was “completely honored” to be given the award. Rasbury said his dream idea was inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s quote that “Architecture is ‘frozen music’” and said he hopes to explore the way sound relates to various artistic disciplines.
“My dream idea is to lead a multidisciplinary team of students through the process of developing a purely aesthetic and subjective method for converting an object into sound or music,” Rasbury wrote in his proposal. “What would a building sound like if the architect had been a composer using vibrations as the medium of expression instead of lines and shapes?”
Rasbury said he hopes students in his dream class will come to understand the similarities in the creation of all forms of artistic media.
One of last year’s honorees, Assoc. Religious Studies Prof. Heather Warren said the fulfillment of her dream class allowed her and her students to “get to know each other in ways we could never have dreamed.”
Through the endowment, Warren taught a class last spring about the history of pilgrimage, and she and her students completed a pilgrimage through the Appalachian Mountains to Katahdin, its northern peak, Warren said.
Mead said when he was a professor at the University, several rising fourth-year students approached him and asked him if he would be willing to get together in a small group to discuss issues and matters important to the students. Mead said he agreed, not thinking the students would follow through, but they did and he has been teaching the class ever since the early 1970s.
“Even when I formally retired as a professor in ‘96, students came to me that fall and said ‘When is the seminar?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m retired now,’” Mead said. “The students had no patience with that at all — they went to the dean, set up the seminar and I’ve been giving it continuously.”
Mead said he still offers the course during the spring semester and values the interaction with the students.
“What is terribly interesting about it is the independence students will show if you give them the opportunity,” Mead said.