From left: Celia Barnes, Rob Neilson, and Brigid Vance

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Three members of the Lawrence University faculty are being honored for academic excellence.

Celia Barnes, associate professor of English, is the recipient of the University Award for Excellence in Teaching; Rob Neilson, the Frederick R. Layton Professor of Studio Art and professor of art, is receiving the Award for Excellence in Scholarship or Creative Activity; and Brigid Vance, assistant professor of history, has earned the Award for Excellent Teaching by an Early Career Faculty Member.

While the annual awards are typically announced during the Commencement ceremony, the 2020 announcement is coming early this year because the June 14 Commencement will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Celia Barnes: “Relatable, approachable”

Barnes, a specialist in 18th-century British literature who was recently inducted into the Johnsonian Society, an eminent assembly of scholars, lexicographers, and collectors, was described by a student as “one of those relatable, approachable professors that you really only find at Lawrence,” according to a citation in her honor from Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Kodat.

Students have praised her ability to deepen the learning experience with insightful engagement. One student said of Barnes: “She is unapologetic (in a good way), brazen, and encourages students to ask questions, challenge each other and pre-conceived notions, and step out of their comfort zones to expand their knowledge and horizons.”

Her ability to seamlessly reach across departments is not lost on her colleagues, Kodat said.

“Over the course of your 10 years at Lawrence, you have partnered with faculty colleagues in Philosophy and Physics to offer courses that help students understand the range and importance of 18th century art and thought, from Newton’s theories to the thinking of the Enlightenment,” the citation reads. “You are an eminent scholar, a generous colleague, and a dedicated, superb teacher.”

Rob Neilson: “The beauty of shared experience”

Neilson, meanwhile, was praised for his public art projects. In the 17 years since he arrived at Lawrence, Neilson has completed 14 public art commissions across the country. Five of those have been in Appleton.

“Most recently, you have contributed two elegant pieces to the new Fox Cities Exhibition Center,” reads Kodat’s citation to Neilson. “You Are Here evokes a large map of Wisconsin with a red push-pin denoting Appleton. The 10 dramatic, outsized images of We Are Here are comprised of some 10,000 photographs of Appleton community members, combined in mosaic fashion to represent a moving, composite portrait of human togetherness and community.”

The citation notes that Neilson’s work speaks to shared history, culture, and humanity and asks all of us to contemplate more directly the physical world.

“By your own admission, you did not set out to be an artist known for creating public work,” Kodat notes. “But you have clearly been called to make your aesthetic contributions to the world in ways that heighten our sense of the beauty of shared experience, to the benefit of us all.”

Brigid Vance: “Balance rigor with flexibility”

A member of the History department for five years, Vance is a specialist in late imperial China. She has quickly built a reputation for creativity that has resonated with students.

“We have seen a steady increase in the number of students who have discovered your courses and concluded that you are, indeed, exactly the kind of professor they would love to take more classes with,” Kodat writes in the citation to Vance. “Impartial faculty observers describe your almost magical effect on History 105, the department’s entry-level course. ‘Since Professor Vance began to teach that course,’ one colleague observed, ‘department enrollments and majors have climbed noticeably.’”

Kodat praises Vance for her attention to detail and her ability to engage with her students.

“Students appreciate your ability to balance rigor with flexibility, your skill in cultivating energetic classroom discussion, your detailed attention to their writing, and—above all—the warmth and respect with which you approach each and every one of them.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu