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Olesko, Mujica, Hinkson Honored at Faculty Convocation

Dean Gillis honored (L-R) Professors Kathryn Olesko, Barbara Mujica and Leslie Hinkson in the annual Faculty Convocation ceremony on Monday, Jan. 30. (Photo: Patrick Curran/Georgetown College)

February 3, 2017 — In his final Faculty Convocation, Georgetown College Dean Chester Gillis honored three beloved faculty members with the annual Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and also took some time to reflect on the state of postsecondary education.

The ceremony and reception, held Monday night in the Davis Performing Arts Center’s Gonda Theater, honored Professors Leslie Hinkson of the Sociology Department, Barbara Mujica of the Spanish and Portuguese Department, and Kathryn Olesko of the History Department.

Hinkson is an assistant professor of sociology who specializes in the study of race and inequality, teaching courses like “Education and Society,” “Engaging Difference: Race, Ethnicity and Intergroup Dialogue,” and “Race & Ethnic Relations.”

While her research is fascinating — in 2015, she gave a TED talk about the education gap between blacks and whites in the military — it was her reputation as a teacher and role model that earned her this award. The award citation, read by department chair William McDonald, included the following message from a student:

“Seeing a fellow Black woman as my professor was one of the most refreshing and joyful moments I had during undergrad. Experiencing her in action told me one day I could do this too.”

Mujica is something of a Renaissance woman, having held a litany of job titles in the fields of writing (fiction, nonfiction, essays, books, and pretty much anything else you can imagine), literary criticism, editing, theater, activism, and teaching. More than 40 years into her career at Georgetown, the Spanish literature and Latin American culture specialist has lost none of her fastball: She’s directing a play at Gonda Theater this spring and has been rated one of the College’s most influential professors in four of the past five years.

Mujica’s passion for teaching led one former student to praise her in ebullient terms, as reported in her award citation by department chair Gwen Kirkpatrick:

“Somehow, [Mujica] seemed to proclaim, ‘Look!! I have something, something that I love! I will show you how very beautiful it is, and I want for you to have it too. You will have to work hard — some of you very hard — in order to get it, because that is the only way to obtain it. But I will do everything humanly possible, everything in my power to help you, because I want so much to give it to you.’”

Kathryn Olesko is famed for her constant innovation: In 34 years at Georgetown, she has taught more than 40 different courses and is constantly enriching her classrooms with new teaching techniques. A history professor who focuses on the history of science, she was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society last year — an impressive achievement for anyone, made all the more noteworthy because she is not a physicist.

The Dean’s Award citation, read by department chair Bryan McCann, described Olesko as follows:

“Professor Olesko stands out not only for her passionate commitment to deliver the best educational experience possible, but also for her mastery of interdisciplinary approaches to history. She consistently draws students with varied interests and backgrounds, and offers inquiring students the opportunity to build on the skills they have acquired in other disciplines when addressing historical questions.”

Following the presentation of the Excellence in Teaching Awards, Dean Gillis closed the ceremony with a speech on the state of Georgetown College, Georgetown University and higher education as a whole.

Gillis cited the College’s increasingly competitive admissions process, job placement record, and trend of accomplished academics seeking employment here as indicators of the school’s continued improvement, while cautioning against the dangers of over-reliance on quantitative measures, grade inflation, and a non-inclusive environment for students. He specifically (and humorously) emphasized the value of academic interests outside traditionally “safe” disciplines.

“I’ll talk to a prospective student, and he’ll say ‘I’m thinking about majoring in classics,’ and I look, and I see the parents’ eyes go wide,” Gillis said. “But I say to him, ‘I think that’s a great idea,’ and then turn to the parents and say, ‘And actually, many employers really value the critical thinking skills our liberal arts majors develop.’ So, fall arrives, and we end up with a lot of Classics-Economics double majors.”

The Georgetown College Faculty Convocation is held annually to honor the work of professors who excel in the classroom and make a difference in students’ lives. Monday marked the last time that Dr. Chester Gillis will oversee the ceremony as Dean of Georgetown College before his retirement from the position at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year.

— Patrick Curran