Students and faculty gathered en masse last Friday for the University’s College Convocation ceremony in Dandelion Square. Since 1997, the central piece of Convocation has been the Georgen awards.

Named after the benefactor of the athletic center and the new Biomedical Engineering and Optics building, Robert Goergen, the awards serve to celebrate UR professors – our “proudest possession,” according to UR President Joel Seligman.

“The awards recognize those who have the passion not only to learn but to convey the most exciting part of their respective subjects,” Seligman said. “The Goergen awards are a way to appreciate the singular significance of teaching.”

Interim Dean of The College Richard Feldman led the awards ceremony.

Feldman began the ceremony by informing the audience of this day’s relevant place in history, in which Susan B. Anthony pledged the cash value of her life toward the allowance of women in the University.

Following this, Feldman gave praise to the gifts and character of the first of three recipients for the Goergen Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement in Undergraduate Teaching, Fuchs Professor of German Studies Susan Gustafson.

Feldman introduced Gustafson, citing the glowing admiration for her from students and faculty alike. In accepting, Gustafson thanked the Goergens, her students, the faculty and her family.

“It is important to impart a love of learning and an appreciation for the puzzle of interpretation,” Gustafson said. “I hope that students will think, write and obsess about even a single image – about one word.”

The thread of intellectual passion continued in each subsequent recipient. Following Gustafson was Professor of Linguistics and Brain and Cognitive Science Jeffrey T. Runner.

Runner has taught undergraduate and graduate students at UR since 1994 and has developed courses in syntax, linguistic analysis, semantics and grammatical systems. The recipient of National Science Foundation fellowships for his research, he is also the author of the book ‘Noun Phrase Licensing,’ among other achievements.

Introduced by Feldman as a leading light in his field and a teacher who changes minds, Runner thanked his family, faculty and students.

“I really like the material I teach and I can sense my students appreciate this ; students get enthused if I’m enthusiastic,” Runner said.

The third recipient was Professor of Physics and Astronomy Dan M. Watson. In his introduction, Feldman quoted a student’s evaluation, saying “Dan knows everything about everything.”

Watson, a five-time winner of his department’s undergraduate teaching award, has even contributed to the development of electronic course resources and Web sites.

“Professors from other Universities even lift – or, legitimately use – his outstanding notes,” Feldman said.

“This University is disproportionately blessed,” Watson said. “It’s a tremendous honor to be in the same category as the masters that have won the award in the past. Despite being in a field full of formulas and equations, good teaching cannot be reduced to a formula. I am thankful to be able to work at a university where teaching is valued.”

Closing up the awards was the recipient for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Learning in the College, Beth A. Olivares, accepting the award for the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program. The program gets its name from Ronald McNair, an African American man who, despite growing up in underprivileged circumstances, became an aeronautical engineer, eventually working on the Challenger spacecraft.

“A renaissance man in every sense – boasting accomplishments in music and a third degree black belt – McNair is the perfect embodiment of the program’s goals,” Olivares said.

The program has had an extraordinary success rate, with a 75 percent rate of graduate attendance, compared to a 15 percent average across the country. Accepting the award, Olivares thanked everyone in the program.Berletic can be reached at

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