Distinguished Faculty Award Recipients Unveiled – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Distinguished Faculty Award Recipients Unveiled

Professor Emerita of Religious Studies Mary Gerhart, Professor Emeritus of Biology Joel Kerlan P’89 and the late Professor of English Deborah Tall will be honored with the Distinguished Faculty Award  by the Hobart Alumni Association and the William Smith Alumnae Association during Reunion 2011.

Distinguished Faculty Award recipients are professors who are retired, have been absent from Hobart and William Smith for more than five years or are deceased and are being recognized for the impact they made on the Colleges as teachers, mentors and scholars. Recommended by a joint committee of the Associations, these professors are noted for leaving lasting impressions on both students and faculty colleagues.


The Award will be presented on Saturday, June 4 at 5:30 p.m. on the Café Patio of the Scandling Campus Center during Reunion festivities. For those who wish to spend more time with the Distinguished Faculty, an area will be marked in the Big Tent at the Dinner on the Quad following the ceremony at 7 p.m., where friends and family can gather for dinner and to offer congratulations.


“The impact that professors can have on their students can last a lifetime. They have a gift to inspire, challenge and engage with their students,” says Director of Alumnae Relations Kathy Regan ’82, P’13. “Selected with great care and consideration, these three faculty members will be remembered for their teaching as well as their scholarly achievements. All three have left distinct marks on HWS, their legacies still influencing those who had the good fortune to study with them.”

Gerhart taught in the Religious Studies Department from 1972 to 2005. While at HWS, Gerhart’s courses cross-listed with women’s studies and other interdisciplinary areas such as the minor, the Sacred in Cross-cultural Perspective. Gerhart taught courses such as “The Religious Imagination,” “The Question of God/Goddess: Metaphoric and Philosophical Origins” and “Conflict of Interpretations.”

Gerhart’s teaching is remembered as inspirational, inclusive, and challenging. Many alumni and alumnae recall feeling treated as equals by Gerhart, who was genuinely interested in the process of mutual inquiry, constantly engaging her students in discussion. “Mary Gerhart served as one of the instructors for the General Education program in the 1970s and 80s. She taught me to think critically and to write clearly. She challenged me to do my best and offered support and encouragement along the way,” says Francine D’Amico ’80, now an associate professor of international relations at Syracuse University.

As a scholar, Gerhart and her colleague, Professor Emeritus in Physics Allan M. Russell received a Science and Religion Course Prize Award from the John Templeton Foundation in 1999. Gerhart also published numerous books, including “Metaphoric Process: The Creation of Scientific and Religious Understanding” and “New Maps for Old: Explorations in Science and Religion.”

After her retirement, Gerhart continued to work with the late Professor Russell, including bi-disciplinary writing and lecturing in science and religion. She is currently writing on three thinkers: Hypatia of Alexandria, Hildegard of Bingen and Simone Weil.

Joe Kerlan

Kerlan will be honored for his work at HWS from 1971 to 2002. Bringing to the classroom new teaching methods, Kerlan taught students to think through problems rather than simply memorize and regurgitate, even reaching beyond biology majors to interest non-science majors in the importance of biology. Alumni and alumnae agree that both his teaching methods and willingness to help students navigate the professional school application process were outstanding. His dedication to students was evident in his humor, passion, inspiring personality and kindness.

“His invitation to us to see him as more approachable was a request that we take a more adult –less passive and more active — approach to learning. This is an attitude that governs my relationships with the medical students and psychiatry residents that I teach, and as such is an example of how Joel Kerlan’s influence has extended beyond the HWS community,” says Michael Schwartz ’73, now professor of education at Stony Brook School of Medicine.

Involved in many aspects of campus life, Kerlan’s research interest was in behavioral endocrinology and biorhythms in birds, and he continuously had independent and Honors students in his laboratory. His work has been published in science journals, and he helped many students prepare for admission to medical school, dental school, veterinary school, and other health care fields. To this day, Kerlan continues to stay active on campus, with the pre-med program and admissions, including the Elizabeth Blackwell Scholar Program.

Deborah Tall

Tall taught literature and writing at HWS and pursued her passions as a poet, essayist, and editor of the Seneca Review, the Colleges’ national literary journal, from 1982 to 2006.

“Professor Tall inspired me to become an English major and integrate writing into my passion for Environmental Studies. She was a kind and supportive Honors adviser and gave me confidence in my writing,” says Sharon Bowen Murray ’00, now an ecologist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Stephen Kuusisto ’78, a professor of creative non-fiction at the University of Iowa, emphasizes Tall’s talent and passion for her craft. “It was Deborah who made me a writer by way of example … I saw how a real poet writes. I absorbed her lessons and became richer because of her exemplary gift of poetry and practice,” he says.

Tall was the author of four books of poems and several nonfiction works, including “Summons,” which was published by Sarabande Books and chosen by Charles Simic for the Kathryn A. Morton Prize. She was also co-editor, with Kuusisto and David Weiss, of “The Poet’s Notebook,” which originated from a special issue of Seneca Review.

An innovative thinker, in 1997, Tall and John D’Agata ’95 created what is now known as the lyric essay. Not quite a poem and not quite an essay, the lyric essay combines elements of both genres and revolutionized creative nonfiction writing. The pair co-edited Seneca Review, which became known for pioneering literature, and the journal continues to publish some of the world’s most innovative and experimental writing.

Tall tragically passed away in 2006 of breast cancer, leaving behind many students, colleagues, friends, and family who remember her fondly.

For a full list of Reunion activities, visit the Reunion 2011 website at http://www.hws.edu/alumni/activities/reunion.aspx.

Share your thoughts:

Alumni House will be assembling books of acknowledgments from former students, faculty, friends and family, which will be presented to the honorees’ families during the DFA ceremonies.

If you would like to include your remarks, please submit your remembrance electronically, using our online form. http://www.hws.edu/alumni/dfa_form.aspx

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