John O'Meara delivers the Convocation Address on Friday, September 25.
During his Academic Convocation address September 25 in the McCarthy Arts Center, faculty astrophysicist and last year’s Scholarship Award winner John O’Meara spent some minutes efficiently and entertainingly solving the “Drake Equation” for determining active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy – until admitting that he alone could not fill in the final variable.
“We need scientists, historians, economists, political scientists, philosophers, artists and more. We also need a forum for them to discuss it – we need something like this!” the speaker said as he produced a PowerPoint Slide of the Saint Michael’s College logo.
In his talk titled “Liberal Learning, Astrophysics and the letter L,” O’Meara explained how “L” represents the average lifetime of a technologically competent civilization -- a “calculation” where suddenly “facts are cheap,” demonstrating how “the liberal arts in the 21st century cannot be about the delivery of facts … it is context that has true value and power now…”
“Choosing a path of shared exploration, being true teacher-scholars, I believe, is our best way forward in a time when the value of what we do is under increased scrutiny, and we operate under a potentially existential threat,” said O’Meara, who suggested that taking risks and creating new knowledge and experience together with colleagues and students, as at Saint Michael’s, might be our best chance “to make L a little bit longer.”
Evidence emerged throughout the ceremony, an annual tradition begun under former President Paul Reiss in 1986, that Saint Michael’s remains a vital and vigorous forum for such civilization-extending dialogue. It was an occasion to:
- Honor faculty with annual awards for teaching, scholarship and service.
- Recognize academic honor society students, who bore flags to lead a processional beginning the convocation; and hear a talk from Victoria Barnum ’16, secretary of academics, about the impact that a mentor-professor and exposure to diversity have had for her.
- Honor distinguished graduate Pam Carroll ’85 for her breakthrough cancer research, with induction in the College’s Academic Hall of Fame.
- Recognize faculty who in the past year have been granted tenure or achieved promotion to full professor or emeritus status.
- Affirm both the College’s spiritual roots and its inclusive culture via the thoughtful invocation and benediction – respectively, from a faculty member sharing wisdom from outside the Catholic tradition and from a Society of Saint Edmund leader drawing from that tradition.
Major Faculty Awards
Last year’s winners of the college’s three major faculty awards were the presenters to this year’s winners:
Great Pangborn of the computer science faculty presented the Norbert A. Kuntz Service Award, named for a longtime professor and chair of the History Department, to Nicholas Clary, professor of English. Pangborn said that in his 45 years at Saint Michael’s, Clary has “done it all – a renowned Shakespeare scholar and award-winning teacher, but also a service record that included many years as a department chair who is “hyper-organized, conscientious, always a stickler for detail”; assistant to the Academic Dean in the 1980s, coordinator of Freshman Studies, and recently Director of the Honors Program. With the award, Clary became on the second faculty member after the late Joanne Rathgeb to win all three major faculty awards.
John O’Meara of the physics faculty presented the Scholarship and Artistic Achievement Award to Donna Bozzone, professor of biology. Mentioning her two graduate degrees from Princeton and advanced post-doctoral training, the presenter noted how Bozzone has developed a research system using slime molds that presents opportunities to study diverse biological processes -- a system “uniquely compatible with the realities of a small liberal-arts college,” in that it is inexpensive, works well with undergraduates and can be set aside as needed for extended periods. She has published more than 30 articles and papers in her specialty area, designed and authored six kits of science-education materials, and written six textbooks, with a second edition of a recent book in the works. O’Meara cited her generosity of time with students and for mentoring faculty. “A true scholar is one who studies well, thinks deeply and determines how best to share the information with others,” all things Bozzone does, he said.
Nathaniel Lewis of the English faculty presented the Joanne Rathgeb Teaching Award, named for a skilled and beloved actor, director, teacher and breast cancer activist, to Mark Lubkowitz, professor of biology. Lewis said the honoree brings “high-octane, unbridled enthusiasm to every aspect of his teaching” and has a gift for delivering complex material in a palatable and entertaining way. Lubkowitz leads student groups through the woods, helps curate the Teaching Gardens and related projects, and is “an exemplar of what it means to be a teacher-scholar in the context of a liberal arts college,” Lewis said. He noted how Lubkowitz gets students off-campus to engage immigrants at a local goat collaborative, and a led group to Cuba to study coral reefs and organic farms, illustrating “the lengths to which he’ll go to enhance our student’s learning experience."
Students: Why we’re here
Bearing flags of the academic honor societies they represented and sitting in the front row for the ceremony were the following students, recognized individually by Master of Ceremonies Karen Talentino, vice president for academic affairs:
Nathan Hodges, Phi Beta Kappa; Kelsie Miller, Delta Epsilon Sigma (Catholic Honors Society); Molly Moore, Kappa Delta Pi (Education);Marianna Nowacki, Kappa Tau Alpha (journalism); Brianna Healy, Omicron Delta Epsilon (economics), Lucia Thomas, Phi Alpha theta (history); Mackenzie Edmondson, Pi Mu Epsilon (mathematics); Erin Irons, Pi Sigma Alpha (political science); Leena Richardson, Psi Chi (psychology); Abby Goudey, Sigma Beta Delta (business); Chris Ricciardi, Sigma Xi (science); Emma Kalamarides, Theta Alpha Kappa (religious studies); Nicole Traugh, Beta Beta Beta (biology); and Alexandra Brown, Sigma Pi Sigma (physics).
Speaking on behalf of students was Victoria Barnum ’16, secretary of academics for the Student Association and a religious studies/American studies double-major, who as an example of meaningful mentorship described her connection to Professor Sajida Jalalzai that started when the Islamic Studies specialist interviewed for her job two years ago and Barnum gave her a campus tour -- in two feet of snow. Barnum took several courses from Jalalzai once she was hired, “because I realized how important the discussion of Islam is in our world today.” Barnum said her career aspirations in higher education will be well-served by the diversity she has encountered in greater Burlington and through Saint Michael’s.
VPAA Talentino announced faculty granted tenure in the past year: Robert Brenneman, Sociology-Anthropology; Brian Collier, Fine Arts; Maura D’Amore, English; Kathryn Dungy, History; and Jennifer Purcell, History. Promoted to Full Professor were Declan McCabe of Biology and Carolyn Lukens-Olson of Modern Languages and Literature. Retiring, and therefore new Emeritus Professors, are Kathie Balutansky, English, Carolyn Duffy, Applied Linguistics, Ke-Wen Wang, History, and Tammi Mullarky, Business Administration. Due to travel demands only Duffy was at the ceremony. Applied Linguistics Chair Mahmoud Arani described some of her achievements over 41 years at the College, including establishing overseas English programs and traveling the world to establish relationships. “To a great extent, Saint Michael’s outstanding reputation around the world is a direct result of Carolyn’s early efforts in developing these programs,” he said.
Alumni Academic Hall of Fame
In introducing this year’s inductee into the College Alumni Academic Hal of Fame, Talentino said that Pamela Carroll is a biologist with an extensive background in oncology drug discovery and genomics/genetics – she earned a doctorate in cellular and development biology at Stony Brook University followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in genetics at Stanford. She has been a leader with major pharmaceutical companies and is currently senior vice president and founding Head of Research for Compass Therapeutics, a company launched in 2015 with the mission to discover drugs to activate a patient’s immune system to destroy cancer. Her induction was “for innovative contributions to the field of oncology drug discovery and a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of those with cancer.”
Carroll spoke conversationally and sometimes light-heartedly with the audience, noting her father was a 1959 Saint Michael’s graduate who died of cancer, but before that when she was a student, he used to tell her that he was her “investor,” and, “I think today he would have liked his return on his investment,” she said, noting, “He really loved this place.” Carroll told about student days when she accidentally let loose a batch of fruit flies in a lab – something professors of those times like still-active lab coordinator/instructor Denise Martin still remember. The honoree said that the Saint Michael’s cellular biology classes introducing topics about which she was most passionate set her on her professional path.
For the ceremony’s invocation, Jerry Swope, associate professor of media studies, journalism and digital media, tapped his experiences and spiritual insights from living among the Lakota people for years before coming to Saint Michael’s, using a word evoking God as a wise “Grandfather.” In his benediction, The Very Rev. Stephen Hornat, SSE’72, Edmundite Superior General, spoke of the College’s unique legacy from the French founders and “the gift of our mission founded on practice of reflection and deeper discernment,” adding, “let us stand in solidarity and kinship with all those who share our earthly journey, and move us to perform active service rooted in justice and love” … using gifts that “challenge us to move beyond our norm, broaden our imaginations, deepen our trust and establish your kingdom here on Earth.”
A reception in the Teaching Gardens followed the ceremony.