Four members of the Lawrence University faculty were recognized for teaching excellence, scholarship and creative activity Sunday, June 13 during the college’s 161st commencement.
David Becker, professor of music and director of orchestral studies, received Lawrence’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, which recognizes outstanding performance in the teaching process, including the quest to ensure students reach their full development as individuals, human beings and future leaders of society.
Becker returned to the Lawrence conservatory in 2005 as director of orchestral studies after serving in the same capacity for four years early in his career in the mid-1970s. In between he held teaching positions at Oberlin College, the University of Miami and UW-Madison, where he spent 21 years as director of orchestras and professor of the graduate orchestral conducting program.
In presenting Becker his award, Lawrence President Jill Beck praised his “great skill as a master teacher.”
“Your marvelous direction of the Lawrence University Symphony Orchestra, your work with student productions such as opera and your involvement in every aspect of musical performance have had a profound effect on students, faculty and staff and the countless members of the community who have been present for the inspiring music events performed under your guidance,” said Beck. “Anyone who has attended a Lawrence Symphony Orchestra performance can sense the pride of the students and the love and respect they feel for you.”
A native of Pennsylvania, Becker earned a bachelor of music degree in viola performance and music education at Ithaca College School of Music and a master of music degree in viola performance and conducting from the University of Louisville School of Music.
Jerald Podair, professor of history and Robert S. French Professor of American Studies, received the Award for Excellence in Scholarship, which honors a faculty member who has demonstrated sustained scholarly excellence for a number of years and whose work exemplifies the ideals of the teacher-scholar.
A specialist on 20th-century American history and American race relations, Podair joined the Lawrence faculty in 1998 as the winner of that year’s Allan Nevins Prize, an award conferred by the Society of American Historians for the best Ph.D. dissertation in history written in the country that year.
He is the author of two books, “The Strike That Changed New York: Blacks, Whites, and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis,” which examines a bitter racial controversy in New York City and “Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer,” a widely praised biography of the civil rights activist who organized Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington. Other recent projects include an essay on Rudolph Giuliani and New York’s racial politics and an introduction to a new edition of the classic book about the sinking of the Titanic, “A Night to Remember.”
“Your scholarly contributions to Lawrence have been outstanding,” said Beck in presenting Podair his award. “You have published two books while at Lawrence and are working on no less than three other books. Your work has been published in several important journals and has led to many awards and honors. If there is something more that you might be expected to do right now, I have no idea what that could be.”
His current scholarship includes a baseball-themed book on the cultural implications of the Brooklyn Dodgers move to Los Angeles, a book that looks at the United States from 1877 to the present entitled “American Conversations” and a collection of essays on the ways Americans have sought to define the concept of equality.
A native of New York City, Podair serves as a member of the Wisconsin Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and was named a fellow of the New York Academy of History in 2009. He earned a bachelor’s degree at New York University, a law degree from Columbia University and his Ph.D. from Princeton University.
Patrice Michaels, professor of music, received the Award for Excellence in Creative Activity. Established in 2006, the award recognizes outstanding creative work for advancing Lawrence’s mission.
An award-winning soprano, Michaels has taught vocal performance and music theatre in the Lawrence conservatory since 1994. A specialist in the works of Mozart, Michaels has performed at prestigious concert venues throughout the world, including Salzburg, Austria in 2006 for the 250th anniversary celebration of Mozart’s birth.
She is well known for her performance of “The Divas of Mozart’s Day,” a tour de force theatrical production that celebrates the divas of late 18th-century Vienna. She has released 20 commercial recordings, among them the disc “American Songs,” which included eight world premiere recordings.
“You have been a powerful force for creative activity, both through your own work and through the inspiration you have provided to others,” said Provost David Burrows in presenting Michaels her award. “Your presence has helped many students develop their own creative abilities, helped by your supportive and friendly attention.”
In a career that has taken her to opera stages around the world, Michaels also has performed for the U.S. Supreme Court and Cuban President Fidel Castro. Most recently she has remounted an original program she first developed while at the Banff Centre for the Arts. “A Song for Harmonica,” featuring a 4-foot tall bib overall-clad puppet worked by Michaels, is a program designed for elementary school students to explore the nature of inspiration through operatic excerpts and original songs.
Michaels earned a bachelor’s degree in music and theatre from Pomona College and a master of fine arts degree from the University of Minnesota.
Dominica Chang, assistant professor of French and Francophone studies, received Lawrence’s Young Teacher Award in recognition of demonstrated excellence in the classroom and the promise of continued growth.
A member of the Lawrence faculty since 2007, Chang’s research interests include 19th-century French studies, literary history and historiography, print culture, film studies and language pedagogy.
In presenting her award, Burrows praised Chang for her “extraordinary success” in the classroom and for being a “wonderful example of the concept of individualized learning.”
“Students speak with enthusiasm about your ability to inspire everyone to learn and reach the highest levels of achievement,” said Burrows. “Your patience and warmth help students conquer their anxieties about writing and speaking and produce work of outstanding quality. Your feedback is frequent and helpful.
“Students say they strive to do well because they want to repay the trust you show in them and many give you the ultimate praise: you are the best professor they have ever had,” he added.
Chang earned a bachelor’s degree in French language and literature from UW-Madison, a master’s degree in French studies from Middlebury College and a Ph.D. in Romance languages and literatures from the University of Michigan. She also spent a year studying at the University of Paris.