By Sara Patterson
As the pandemic winds down, the Division of the Humanities at UChicago conducted its Convocation on Friday, June 11, at Amos Alonzo Stagg Field in Chicago. Ninety-four students participated in the live ceremony, while 162 were celebrated virtually on mega-screens for those watching the in-person and livestreamed event.
Reflecting the times, seating on the stage and in the arena was socially distant in the outdoor setting. Those participating in the Convocation wore masks except when presenting awards and diplomas. In contrast to a traditional Convocation in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, graduates gulped spring water in UChicago aluminum cans and used manual fans to beat back the heat and full sun.
In addition to celebrating the achievements of 256 graduating students with master’s and doctoral degrees, seven presenters in the Division of the Humanities, including Dean Anne Walters Robertson and Dean of Students Shea Wolfe, honored students and faculty members for their achievements—Zsofia Valyi-Nagy, Rebeca Velasquez, Samuel Lasman, Christine Wilkie Bohlman, Veronica Vegna, Persis Berlekamp, Daniel Morgan, and Kaneesha Parsard.
Dean’s Awards For Graduate Student Teaching Excellence
Zsofia Valyi-Nagy, a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History, and Rebeca Velasquez, a PhD candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature, received the Dean’s Awards for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence.
In addition to her diligence and dedication, Valyi-Nagy brings genuine intellectual passion, historical intuition, analytically precise insight, and art historical judgment to her teaching and research. Art History Professor Christine Mehring says Valyi-Nagy is developing original arguments and perspectives on postwar art that is informed by her distinctive background in linguistics, English, and visual art practice.
One of her students noted that Valyi-Nagy contributed to students’ learning through fostering a growth mindset and improvements that were tailored for each student.
Velasquez has the ability formulate new thoughts from other people’s ideas and share those ideas imaginatively from multiple angles, which is one of the most important pedagogical skills to develop in the humanities classroom. In addition, as a teacher she is intensely focused and intellectually generous, as well as well prepared and attentive.
During the pandemic, Velasquez created the ambitious course "Empire and the Novel," which tackled the conspicuous absence of a sustained discourse of British imperialism within the novel. Her reading selections reflected her unusual perspective, ranging from classics like Jane Eyre and Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism to pairings such as Barack Obama’s 2011 Speech to the British Parliament and Prince Albert’s 1850 “Speech at Madison House.” Her students have been widely enthusiastic about her teaching and the course contents.
Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award
Samuel Lasman, who earned his doctoral degree in the Department of Comparative Literature in the spring term of 2020, received the Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation award for his superb dissertation “Dragons, Fairies, and Time: Supernatural Encounters in Medieval Welsh, Persian, and French Narratives.”
Lasman has thrived on the interdisciplinary culture and ability to study languages in depth such as Persian, Arabic, French, and Welsh while dabbling in Latin, Irish, and Old English at the University of Chicago. His three Dissertation Committee advisers come from three different disciplines: religion; romance languages and literatures; and Near Eastern languages and civilizations.
In addition to his knowledge of many languages, Lasman has delved deeply into the genre, time, and geography of the medieval cultures he studies. During the next three years, he will further pursue medieval literature and languages at Corpus Christi College, the University of Cambridge, through the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Research Fellowship.
Janel M. Mueller Awards for Excellence In Pedagogy
Two faculty members were recognized with the Janel M. Mueller Award for Excellence in Pedagogy, named in honor of former dean and professor emerita Janel Mueller, lauding the contributions of lecturers and senior lecturers within the Division of the Humanities.
Christine Wilkie Bohlman, a lecturer in the Humanities Collegiate Division, has made a crucial impact on students through communicating the beauty and depth of music in ways make music accessible and relatable to beginning and more advanced pianists.
Through the lens of compositional intricacy and historical context, Bohlman cultivates understanding of and appreciation for musical expression to communicate the complexity of the human experience.
One PhD student attributes gaining her degree as an ethnomusicologist at the University of Chicago to Bohlman’s brilliance and exceptional patience in helping her build a strong foundation in music theory and analysis that turned her knowledge into practical skills. Several students regard her work as a rigorous influence for generations of scholars.
The second Janel M. Mueller Award winner also is impressively talented and devoted to our students. Through her passionate teaching, Veronica Vegna, a Senior Instructional Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, has made an indelible impression on students’ love for the Italian language and culture. For multiple students, Vegna stands out as a beloved teacher who creates a welcoming environment, combining rigorous learning with joy and encouragement.
Vegna has enriched many students’ college and graduate school experiences. Many of them cherish her enthusiasm, genuine kindness, dedication, and warmth.
Faculty Awards For Excellence In Graduate Teaching And Mentoring
Two faculty members received University-wide teaching awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring.
Persis Berlekamp’s teaching has had a crucial impact on the lives of her students, nurturing, consoling, promoting, and challenging them to become their best intellectual selves. She has effectively turned bright students into true scholars, constructing an inclusive environment for them to thrive.
Her method has less to do with policy goals and much more to do with integrating diversity into the way one thinks about research, about teaching, and about what it means to be an Islamic art historian at this moment in academia and in the world. A student defined her “scholarly courage” as the ability not just to make students understand how ideas matter, but that making ideas matter should be the basis for their academic consciousness.
Berlekamp’s commitment as a teacher and mentor to success at every state of students’ development into independent art history scholars leads them to achieve high intellectual standards and strengthens the future of the discipline.
Daniel Morgan’s work as a teacher and a mentor in the graduate program of the Department of Cinema and Media Studies has been superb in every aspect and at every stage of his students’ progress toward the PhD. In the classroom, he balances a great capacity to listen to his students’ views with a talent for teaching state-of-the-art approaches to criticism and theory in the field.
As a dissertation director, his developed sensitivity to individual student interests is matched both by his commitment to the highest intellectual standards and by his ready ability to help his students meet them. Morgan has been inspirational in helping students conceive of their research projects and conscientious in seeing them to successful conclusions.
As both a classroom instructor and a director of dissertations, Morgan has combined pedagogical sensitivity and intellectual rigor to bring out the best in his graduate students and guide them toward the achievement of ever more ambitious academic goals.
Bobbi Josephine Hernandez-Sze A.M. 1933 And Morgan Chia-Wen Sze M.B.A. 1993 Teaching Award
The Bobbi Josephine Hernandez-Sze A.M. 1993 and Morgan Chia-Wen Sze M.B.A.1993 Teaching Award honors faculty members who guide the intellectual development of undergraduate students through exceptional teaching and mentoring. This year’s exemplary recipient is Kaneesha Parsard, Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature.
Her pathbreaking courses on the literature and culture of the Caribbean capture her students’ imagination. Parsard makes a powerful impact as a creative teacher who responds their needs and nurtures their nascent intellectual and research aspirations.
Her scholarship focuses on the legacies of slavery and emancipation in the Americas and on the ways that gender and sexuality structure race, labor, and capital. Parsard’s work in this area is transforming the English Department’s curriculum and is informed by an innovative research agenda that introduces her students to challenging new perspectives in literary studies and the humanities more broadly, while bringing such perspectives to students’ everyday experiences.