Updated Format Enriches Faculty Celebration

Pamela Worth | December 08, 2011
Updated Format Enriches Faculty Celebration

Attendees at the annual Distinguished Teaching Award faculty lecture on November 28 were treated to a new format: a faculty celebration that included each of the three winners of the 2011 Chancellor’s Awards.

At the event, Professor of English Vivian Zamel, Professor of Psychology and Graduate Program Director Alice Carter, and Professor of Biology Manickam Sugumaran each delivered a 15-minute talk to an audience of staff, administrators, and fellow faculty members.

The more inclusive format was Zamel’s idea: as the teaching award winner, when she was asked to present on her career, she wondered why her co-recipients couldn’t share their experiences as well.  No one, she says, had a good answer, and so the scholarship and service award winners – Carter and Sugumaran, respectively – were also invited to speak.

Zamel’s presentation was titled “Dancing with Professors,” a play on an essay that claims academic types were the ones no one wanted to dance with in high school.  As she expanded on the lessons she’s learned from her career as a teacher, she compared successful teaching to a kind of dance between instructor and student, in which both partners take turns learning from each other as the dance progresses.

As an ESL instructor, she said, she also sees the classroom as a culture of its own to be learned.  What is important to Zamel is “transculturation, versus trying to get students to acculturate.”  Making errors along the way, she said, is beneficial to students and teachers, as the processes of both learning and teaching are “messy, complicated, and irreducible.”

Carter, who presented next, agreed with Zamel’s extended metaphor of teaching as a dance, and presented a metaphor of her own: that successful research at UMass Boston “takes a university village.”  The pool of “multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-talented” undergraduate and graduate students at UMass Boston, as well as the help of her colleagues, she said, makes her research possible.

Speaking about her research career, Carter said that before she cocreated the ITSEA and BITSEA assessment tools to measure childhood psychopathology, there were no diagnostic tools for children so young.  Parents were told by pediatricians and psychologists that their children’s worrisome behavior was likely a phase.

Now, she said, even in children as young as 18 months, “we can see autism, aggression, anxiety.  We’ve documented that the problems aren’t just a stage.” 

Intervention science, she said, is the next logical step, and one that she would have found difficult to take if not for the supportive environment of UMass Boston.

Sugumaran, better known to the university community as "Sugu," completed the trifecta with his affectionate presentation “UMass Boston Is My Life.” 

Sugumaran, who won the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Scholarship in the 90’s, said that UMass Boston is special to him in many ways.

“I doubt I could have accomplished my research anywhere else,” he said.

But in addition to his career highlights – which include launching the biochemistry program at the College of Science and Mathematics – his personal life, he said, is also inextricably linked to the university.

Sugumaran was married on the 11th floor of Healey Library in 1980.  When his first child was born, he was working in his laboratory and had to rush to the hospital to be there on time.  He celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary and 60th birthday on campus, with colleagues.

Reminiscing on his over 30 years in the College of Science and Mathematics, Sugumaran emphasized his dedication to giving back to the university that he said has given him so much. 

“What I cherish most is service to UMass Boston,” he said.

The three presentations were followed by a question-and-answer session, facilitated by Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Winston Langley.

"The format for the event allowed for a an exploration of all of the key elements of the faculty role," said audience member Kristine Alster, associate provost. "The winners of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Award in each of those areas illustrated in their remarks, and in the discussion that followed, the close and reciprocal relationship among teaching, research and scholarship, and how faculty members can successfully integrate those elements in their work."

Tags: alice carter , distinguished faculty , manickam sugumaran , vivian zamel

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