OUTSTANDING TEACHER AWARDS and researcher of the year (2013)
Each year we present four awards to individual faculty members for their excellent work. The first three of these awards are the Bruce and Adaline Bare Outstanding Teacher Awards.
Bruce and Adaline Bare were longtime trustees of the college, and they recognized that a Christian liberal arts college depends upon the quality of the faculty. So they established an award to honor an outstanding teacher from each of the three divisions of the college. Graduating seniors and faculty colleagues nominate candidates for these awards, with the final selection made by a panel of previous award recipients. To be eligible for the award, faculty must have achieved the rank of assistant professor and have served at Westmont for at least three years.
Michelle Hughes is an ambassador. When she joined the faculty of the Education Department, after nearly two decades of service in the Santa Barbara public schools, she accepted the challenge be an “ambassador for Westmont”—to be one of those individuals who strengthens our ties to the local community. A former junior high teacher and assistant principal, she now plans events for high school students, develops conferences for teachers and administrators, organizes prayer meetings for educators, serves on various boards and initiatives. Her presence in the community is distinguished by her warm, hospitable and joyful manner, and it has bolstered Westmont’s profile and reputation.
As a colleague notes, “one of Michelle’s greatest gifts is her ability to speak highly of the field of education.” Her students are also quick with their praise. They find her courses invigorating, whether they are talking about John Dewey or Curious George. As one of them observes, “Professor Hughes is gifted in the art of being professional and personal at the same time.” She teaches students “how to be professionals: how to conduct themselves in meetings, how to write thank you notes, how to relate to coworkers.” She has a gracious, empathetic and inspirational manner. “She models what she tells us,” a student observes, “she really cares about her students.” “Professor Hughes is so great about always coming back to how our faith and our personal beliefs affect what goes on in the classroom . . . in how we respond and act.” Many of our Education students will be responding with greater wisdom, dignity and compassion in their own classrooms because they had the good fortune of studying with this year's Outstanding Teacher for the Social Sciences, Professor Michelle Hughes.
What is so striking about the fact that Omedi Ochieng received numerous nominations this year is that for much of the year he has been in Kenya, on sabbatical. That just shows you that he may be gone from the office but not gone from students’ minds. One of his colleagues recently told me “I always see students lined up for Omedi’s office hours, and it always seems like they are having fun. I never have students in my office hours, and when I do, it is rarely fun for anyone.”
Students are quick to affirm why those office hours matter. As one of them writes, “when I went into Dr. O’s office he clearly made me his first priority.”
A few days ago Omedi stopped by my office for a brief visit, and we talked about his current research on the notion of “the good life” in East Africa. He spoke of how African writers and philosophers thought of the “good life” in terms of “good communities.” Omedi embodies that commitment to community in his work at Westmont, as a teacher, scholar, and committee member. “He is an exceptional thinker,” one colleague observes, “he is deep, ponderous, inquisitive.” “We more fully and richly represent the kingdom of God to our students because Omedi is among us . . . because he is so gifted in sharing with other what it means to learn and to love God together . . .”
Students routinely commend Omedi as “kind and compassionate, and a great source of encouragement,”and also for asking the “tougher questions that often get overlooked.” In addition to his teaching and research on rhetorical theory and public discourse, Omedi has coordinated our speech and debate tournament, served on the Diversity Committee, and supported the Emmaus Road programs. He is admired for his "ability to think vigorously, to communicate constructively, and to judge fairly." In one of his own essays, Omedi writes, “we need . . . to be stricken the sublimity of the Christian liberal arts education,” the way that it “outrages” or enlarges the imagination. For his own role in helping students and faculty articulate and pursue that ideal, we are pleased to present “Dr. O” the Outstanding Teacher Award for the Humanities.
As a chemistry prof, Steve Contakes has set a high bar for his students. And his students do extremely well on the standardized American Chemical Society exams—a significant national benchmark. That is due, in no small part, to his meticulous preparation and his own vibrant enthusiasm. One colleague writes, “It is a privilege to see Steve interact with his students. He excels in his one-on-one time with students,” and challenges them “on a par with a graduate level course.”
But in many ways he sets the bar even higher than that . . . he presses his chemistry students to probe the moral and theological dimensions of their work. This year he collaborated with one of his students on a scholarly presentation about the historical use of chemicals during warfare. Other colleagues comment on his “formidable biblical literacy,” and yet Steve is eager to seek greater understanding of the Scriptures and to write and think compellingly about issues of faith and science.
Steve enjoys not only the admiration of the many chemistry students who collaborate with him on research, but also the appreciation of the general education student who may be a little fearful of the lab. Students applaud his intelligence and his warm and unpretentious manner, his clarity and patience. Dr. Contakes “really cares about us,” one student notes. “He makes complex issues clear.” “He is a very intelligent man who shows a lot of compassion.”
That spirit of compassion comes with a strong sense of responsibility. In a recent essay, he acknowledges that “despite the prevalence of chemists in the development of contemporary technological society,” most chemists have been “content to leave the ethical issues associated with the results of their work to the end users.” He wants our students to reach higher. And for his commitment to help Westmont students demonstrate high competence and a vigorous conscience, I am pleased to present Dr. Steve Contakes the Outstanding Teacher Award for the Natural and Behavioral Sciences.
Our final faculty award goes to the Researcher of the Year. As I have come to know this professor, I have admired his interest in students’ hearts and minds—his desire to blend robust scholarship with genuine evangelical piety. So it should be no surprise that his book on one of the foremost evangelical writers and preachers of our time has won so much acclaim. Let me invite Alister Chapman from our History Department to come forward to join me on the platform.
In preparing his book on John Stott, Alister Chapman had unprecedented access to the personal papers of the famous Anglican minister. The book that resulted is entitled Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement, published by Oxford University Press. It has received laudatory reviews, largely for its ability to manage the difficult balance of appreciation and critique. One history journal praised it as “a model of engaged, sympathetic yet critical scholarship.” Timothy Keller calls the book “a judicious, fair-minded, and instructional look at one of the most remarkable Christian leaders of the past 100 years.” Christianity Today observes that we “learn more from [Chapman’s] critical evaluation of Stott’s unexpected triumphs and excruciating failures than from merely laudatory obituaries." In fact, in its annual book awards, Christianity Today recently cited Alister’s book as one of the two most significant contributions of the year in the category of history and biography.
Recently, Alister’s voice has been resonating more in the public square. He has written for the Huffington Post, and spoken at meetings of both historians and theologians. It is a voice that is prudent and bold, respectful and witty, inquiring yet gracious. In his scholarly inquiries, it is apparent that Alister is not simply looking to establish his own scholarly foothold, but endeavoring to raise and reflect on the questions that will serve the community of faith. For his superb work during this past year, I am pleased to present the Researcher of the Year to Dr. Alister Chapman.