Tazewell, Rutkoff Win Teaching Awards

On Honors Day this April, the College presented the Trustee Teaching Excellence Awards to Associate Professor of Drama Jonathan Tazewell and Professor of American Studies Peter Rutkoff. Tazewell, a Kenyon graduate in the Class of 1984, oversees the dance and drama department's popular film program. Rutkoff, an historian who directs the American studies program, extends the College's reach to high schools throughout Ohio through the Kenyon Academic Partnership. The awards, $15,000 each, are presented each year to faculty members who demonstrate "exemplary teaching informed by creative scholarship."

Expanding Opportunities

A member of Kenyon's faculty for thirty-three years, Peter Rutkoff is well known as an inspiring teacher to many generations of students--both in the history department, where he started his career, and in the interdisciplinary American studies program, which he helped to create in 1990.

But he is as widely respected in Ohio secondary-education circles as he is on the Kenyon campus. Rutkoff directs the Kenyon Academic Partnership (KAP), in which professors from the College work with high-school teachers, helping them to develop their own versions of Kenyon courses for their most talented students. Founded in 1979 as SCAP, for the School-College Articulation Program, the effort has grown from six schools to twenty-nine, including not only several selective private schools but also a number of inner-city schools. The program also brings students from some of those city schools to the Kenyon campus for a summer program.

"It isn't just educational," says Rutkoff, "it's political. I want to extend the bounty of the private liberal arts to public education. The goal is social and racial equality."

Indeed, KAP and another program in which Rutkoff is active, the Silverweed Foundation, have successfully helped many first-generation college aspirants pursue their education beyond high school. The citation for Rutkoff's Trustee Teaching Excellence Award recognized him as "Mr. Outreach."

The title fits Rutkoff's teaching as well. In recent years he has devoted a good deal of time and creative energy to a course that takes students on an off-campus odyssey. Together with William Scott of the history department, Rutkoff created "North by South: The Great African-American Migration, 1900-1960." The course, which has attracted considerable grant support, entails two week-long field trips during which students conduct archival and documentary research as well as oral-history interviews in paired cities or regions--Birmingham, Alabama, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for example; or the Mississippi Delta and Chicago.

Student projects range over history, literature, and music, while incorporating such facets of cultural life as art, food, and the fabric of family life. The projects are incorporated into the course's widely praised
Web site.

One of Rutkoff's favorite moments as a teacher came on a trip to Harlem during the course's first year. The class went to the legendary amateur hour at the Apollo Theater, and when the emcee scanned the audience for volunteers, one of the Kenyon students raised her hand. She got up and sang, and walked out with the top prize. "They were there!" marvels Rutkoff. "They lived it!"

A Family Vocation

Jonathan Tazewell '84 says that, in his life, "the genetics of teaching run deep." Tazewell, his brother Paul, and several cousins constitute a fourth generation of African-American college educators. His great aunt was the first black woman president of a four-year college (Bennett, a historically black college in North Carolina), and his grandfather was a sociology professor at the University of Akron. His mother was a French professor. Among the spreading branches of the family tree, twenty college teachers can be found.

If his first role models were family members, he found others at Kenyon. Among his undergraduate mentors were James Pappenhagen and Owen York in chemistry (his major), Gerrit Roelofs in English, Peter Seymour in French, Edmund Hecht in German, Robert Horwitz in political science, and, in drama, Harlene Marley and Thomas Turgeon, who are now his colleagues.

"I sometimes feel dwarfed by the greatness of some of these people in my life," says Tazewell. They set "a rare standard for the greatness of teaching."

His students are beginning to say the same kinds of things about him. The award citation recognized him as an "extremely talented and versatile teacher who is capable of motivating students to do their best work." Brad Bennett '04, a drama major who just graduated, describes Tazewell as "a Renaissance man if there ever was one," in addition to being "one of the sweetest people you'll ever meet."

Tazewell, who holds a master of fine arts degree from the California Institute of the Arts, returned to the College to teach in 1997. In addition to teaching key courses in the drama curriculum, such as "Introduction to the Theater" and "The Play: Production and Performance," he developed coursework in the film program, including offerings such as "An Introduction to Film" and "Acting and Directing for the Camera." He also helped to create Kenyon's digital studio for video production.

His own creative work, meanwhile, includes acting, directing, and writing. In addition to directing (and sometimes acting in) productions at the College, he works with theater companies in both Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Columbus, Ohio. He also produces independent films.

Tazewell is something of an all-purpose Kenyon citizen. He advises student organizations, works with the admissions office in recruiting, has been a member of the Alumni Council, and has served this year as co-chair of Campus Senate.

Above all, however, he is known as a professor who pushes his students to explore. One of his goals, he says, is to encourage students to risk "a dive into unknown waters, a break out of the comfort zone."

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