Since 1961, the University of St. Thomas has recognized faculty members who demonstrate excellence in “teaching, scholarship and inspiration to students” with the Professor of the Year award, selected by faculty vote. Previous winners include former director of the Center for Senior Citizens Education, Mohamed Ali Selim (1978); Center for Women namesake Luann Dummer (1989); and Pushcart Prize winner Lon Otto (2003).
This year’s finalists boast academic interests ranging from mechanical engineering to metaphysics to communication. The 2016 finalists for Professor of the Year are Dr. John Abraham, Dr. Gary Atkinson and Dr. Carol Bruess.
Dr. John Abraham
Abraham, a full professor, joined St. Thomas in 2002. He has published three books, written seven book chapters and produced 91 refereed journal articles focusing especially on climate change. He has been a climate blogger for the Guardian Newspaper since 2013 and is a co-founder of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team. In 2011, he was part of an engineering team to electrify a remote Ugandan village. That year he also testified at the Minnesota Legislature in favor of continuing coal plant restrictions in the state.
Abraham advises all 67 of the current mechanical engineering master’s students at St. Thomas as well as 30 undergraduate engineering students. In his nomination letter, Dr. John Wentz, the department chair, called him “an exemplary teacher, scholar and community leader whose energy and passion for his work embody the true spirit of this prestigious award.”
Abraham received the John Ireland Award in 2009 and the UST Distinguished Educator Award in 2008.
Dr. Gary Atkinson
Atkinson – a 35-year veteran of the Philosophy Department – has been a full professor since 1988. In his nomination letter, Dr. Michael Winter wrote, “Gary has served the department, division, college and university over his long tenure at UST in too many ways to enumerate; he has twice served as philosophy department chair.”
Atkinson recently published a book, Our Search with Socrates for Moral Truth, inspired by his work in the Introductory Ethics classes he teaches. Atkinson focuses on Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics, and his scholarship encompasses topics in medical and business ethics.
“Gary has inspired many students over the years in Introductory Ethics, a course he still finds exciting and rewarding after teaching ethics for more than three decades,” Winter wrote. “He inspires his students by instilling in many of them an appreciation for classical thinkers.” Winter added, “He impresses his colleagues by approaching his ethics course with the zeal of a missionary.”
Dr. Carol Bruess
Communication and Journalism Department, Family Studies
Bruess joined the Communication and Journalism Department 17 years ago, and currently is director of Family Studies. In addition to teaching, she is co-host of a weekly CBS/Twin Cities TV segment "Relationship Reboot.” She recently published a book, Family Communication in the Age of Digital and Social Media, and is the author of four other books on relationships and communication. Bruess operates a blog called “What Happy Couples Do” and frequently is interviewed locally and nationally for her expertise about relationships, family, health and communication. She received the Faculty Service-Learning Award in 2000.
In her nomination letter, Dr. Tonia Bock wrote, “Dr. Bruess has an infectious energy that students gravitate towards. … [She] provides wise counsel to students not only about the technical aspects to obtaining a major or minor in family studies but also about how students can use their major or minor beyond graduation – with an emphasis on contributing to the common good.”