To Dr. Cara Anthony, associate professor of theology, there is no such thing as a disengaged student, just one that hasn’t yet been reached. She sees it as her responsibility to make that connection. “If a student is checked out it’s not because they’re not interested in their studies, it’s because they don’t know why they should care about the subject,” Anthony said. “If I can listen and understand what is urgent in a student’s life, I can help them connect to the subject matter. Most students are just waiting for you to invite them to show up for real.”
At the recent academic convocation, Anthony was named the 2020 Professor of the Year. The honor is usually announced in June but was delayed due to the pandemic. The Professor of the Year is selected by the faculty to recognize excellence in teaching, scholarship and service. Anthony is known for her ability to make the type of connection with students that empowers them to fully engage. “Learning is an intensely social relationship. If you don’t make some authentic connection on a personal level, the learning is compromised,” Anthony said.
Dr. Amy Levad was joined by 18 additional faculty members in endorsement of Anthony’s nomination. “Cara exemplifies the call for this honor. To know Cara is to know that she is, at heart, an empath,” Levad wrote. “She has a remarkable ability to enter into the perspectives of other people, to consider what drives their points of view, and to appreciate the goods that others desire.”
A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Anthony went on to earn her master’s degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley and her PhD from Boston College. Anthony has worked for St. Thomas since 2001; she is an expert in the intersection of theology and environmental stewardship.
“Despite the demands of her teaching and service, Cara has a robust scholarly agenda. The focus of her study also requires her to step into the shoes of others and to see the world as they see it,” Levad said.
Throughout the past 19 years, Anthony has made an impact on countless students. Martin Beck ’20 is a former student of Anthony’s, currently pursuing his master’s degree in social service from The University of Chicago. “Social service requires integrity, humility and empathy. Dr. Anthony instilled those values in us every single day. Dr. Anthony is definitely deserving of this award,” Beck said. “She allowed us the space for courageous conversations where you could voice your opinions and hear those of others.”
Anthony is inspired by the resilience and determination of her students. “You have no idea what someone’s going through today. I am regularly impressed with how hard many of my students have to work to show up and do their classwork. They already have more courage and fortitude than I have had to exhibit in my entire life.”
Anthony is as humble about her accolades as she is deserving of them. When asked how she wants to be remembered, the conversation immediately redirected to what she cares about most, her students. “I don’t care if I’m remembered … I’d like my students to feel like there were a couple of things they could use in their lives. I’d like them to feel that they were seen as a person and challenged to grow.”
This year there will be no 500-seat gala to celebrate the Professor of the Year and that is just fine with Anthony. “When I saw the nomination letter, that was my biggest reward. The esteem of my colleagues is priceless.”