This year’s Distinguished Faculty Award winners gathered Tuesday with friends, colleagues, staff, students, and administrators for this year’s faculty lecture, a culmination of UMass Boston’s 50th anniversary celebration, and a look forward of its centennial celebration 50 years from now.
Award winners Jean Rhodes (Distinguished Scholarship), Erik Blaser (Distinguished Teaching), and William E. Robinson (Distinguished Service) were each lauded by Chancellor J. Keith Motley for embodying “all the best of what the University of Massachusetts Boston has to offer.”
Provost Winston Langley said the lecturers represent the university’s ongoing tradition of research, its teaching soul, and its heart of service.
Jean Rhodes, the Frank L. Boyden Professor of Psychology and director of UMass Boston’s Center for Evidence-based Mentoring, talked about the importance of inclusive mentorship at UMass Boston and its responsibility to make sure that youth with less social capital have the same access to quality mentors as their peers with more connected parents.
“We have social justice issues here,” Rhodes said. “Mentoring really does make a difference in educational outcomes, in all sort of things, but most of it is going to young people who already have a lot of support. Those with the least support, many of which represent our undergraduates here, have a harder time getting that kind of support that they need.”
Erik Blaser, an associate professor of psychology who has taught at UMass Boston for 13 years, cited his own mentor—his father. Blaser grew up in his dad’s own studio art classroom and was the role model for Blaser’s unique teaching style, which relies less on technology and more on engagement.
“Just by their nature, because he was teaching a studio art class, these classes were always interactive, to some degree they must be spontaneous, and almost always literally hands on,” Blaser said. “In my class, we don’t have clay to manipulate, but we have ideas, and when that class can be relatively untethered, when we don’t have a very rigid structure, it gives space for students to speak up.”
William E. Robinson, who joined the university in 1992, recalled collective efforts to establish the university as the UMass system campus for environmental, coastal, and ocean sciences, despite several setbacks over the years. After years of collaboration between a cross-section of faculty disciplines, the university established the Intercampus Marine Science graduate program, the Department of Environmental, Earth, and Ocean Sciences, and ultimately the School for the Environment in 2014.
“I brought up this history … really as an example of how long-term concerted service can sometimes lead to really spectacular results,” Robinson said. “I don’t claim that I played any critical roles in this process or even major roles, but I was part of it, and from my narrow viewpoint, I’d certainly say that it’s been extremely rewarding to say my service over the last 20-some-odd years has really culminated in some major changes.”
The three Distinguished Faculty winners were presented with their awards at last spring’s commencement.