UMass Boston News

Four Extraordinary Faculty Earn Chancellor’s Awards

Pamela Worth | June 06, 2012

A sociology professor who forges strong ties between her classroom and the community. An accomplished scholar of Renaissance literature. A widely read author and analyst of American pop culture. An administrator and professor who created the most competitive doctoral program on campus. Four exceptional UMass Boston faculty members were honored at commencement June 1 with the annual Chancellor’s Awards for Distinguished Teaching, Scholarship, and Service.

Professor Stephanie Hartwell, director of the master of applied sociology graduate program, earned the award for Distinguished Teaching. She said she was surprised to receive the honor.

“I know people noticed my research, but I always thought that sort of overshadowed what I tried to do in the classroom,” said Hartwell, who joined the UMass Boston faculty in 1997. “But I bring a lot of what I do in my research into the classroom, and try to be creative with it.”

Last year, Hartwell’s master’s students conducted a yearlong evaluation of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, a Boston nonprofit that helps survivors of homicide victims cope with their grief and navigate the legal system. Her students received hands-on experience with a respected organization, and they praised Hartwell’s mentoring throughout the sensitive process.

“Through Dr. Hartwell’s guidance and enthusiasm, we were able to provide the institute with real tools in order to organize their work and really make a difference,” student Camille Mejia said. “She was there every step of the way.”

Professor John Tobin, who teaches English at UMass Boston, takes pride in serving as a commencement marshal and mace-bearer each year, leading the procession of distinguished guests to the stage. This year, Tobin set down his mace in order to receive the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Scholarship.

Tobin is an oft-cited authority on Renaissance literature, including the works of Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, and George Herbert. He devoted his early career to uncovering previously unknown influences in the Bard’s work: His monograph Shakespeare’s Favorite Novel is a study of the North African classical writer Apuleius and his influence on Shakespeare and other well-known Renaissance writers. Tobin’s volume explored a new, exciting source for Shakespeare’s work that had not been seriously considered but is now widely accepted.

Over the past 20 years, Tobin’s contributions to Shakespearean scholarship have been wide-ranging. He has edited The Complete English Poems of George Herbert, the second and third editions of the Riverside Shakespeare, the nine-volume Evans Shakespeare Editions, an edition of Hamlet for the Evans series, and a forthcoming edition of King John for Britain’s prestigious Arden Shakespeare.

Associate Professor Scott Maisano, an English department colleague, praises Tobin for his accessibility. “Just as Professor Tobin begins his overview of Shakespeare’s life by telling us that ‘Shakespeare was a genius, but he was no unreachable ivory-tower poet,’ I have often reassured my undergraduate and graduate students that ‘Tobin is a genius, but he is no unreachable, ivory-tower academic,’” Maisano said.

Professor Rachel Rubin studies culture as it is centuries after the Renaissance. She was also honored with the Distinguished Scholarship Award for her study of the connections among differing threads of popular culture.

Rubin, who directs the American studies graduate program, has written, edited, or coedited seven volumes and dozens of journal articles, all of which consider seemingly disparate themes in pop culture and reveal how they are interconnected.

Her research topics range from Jewish gangsters to Renaissance fair attendees. “I’m very interested in the way people use culture to make sense of their lives,” Rubin said. While her students today might not discuss the changing nature of masculinity over drinks at a bar, Rubin explains, they might watch a movie about the mob that addresses the same themes.

“Taken together, I believe that Professor Rachel Rubin's sophisticated studies of popular music and working people's identities represent a major scholarly breakthrough in our effort to understand [how] social class works in American life,” says history Professor James Green.

Professor Joan Liem, who received the Distinguished Service award, has worked for UMass Boston for 40 years as a faculty member, head of the clinical psychology doctoral program that she helped found, and dean of graduate studies. Of all her contributions, she said, “I feel the most passionate about and feel the proudest of” the doctoral program. This course of study is UMass Boston’s most competitive, drawing hundreds of applications each year for just eight to 10 spots.

“I wrote the proposal and took [it] through governance and implemented the program and then admitted the first students. That was 22 years ago. We’ve now produced over 100 PhDs who are out in the world doing wonderful work,” Liem said. 

The program trains students to serve and study socioeconomically and culturally diverse populations. Many graduates continue Liem’s model of service by working with these underserved groups.

As dean of graduate studies, Liem presided over a period of growth for UMass Boston’s graduate offerings. She worked with faculty across campus to develop their own master’s and PhD programs, facilitating the progress of four new programs that will admit students this fall, three now under review by the UMass Board of Trustees, and six more in development.

“We can thank Dean Liem for her attention to the maintenance of high standards for graduate education at a time of rapid graduate program expansion,” said Pamela Annas, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

The honored faculty members teach and study diverse topics, but they share a commitment to and appreciation for UMass Boston’s students. 

“I love the diversity and the challenge of the students,” Hartwell said. “They’re all so smart in their own way. To harness what their gift is, what their strength is, and then try to move forward with them in their learning process, and open up their minds in the process, is fantastic.”

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