Prithak Chowdhury ’15 has had some amazing classes at Stonehill, but none like those he has had with Associate Professor of Sociology Chris Wetzel.
“He has this way of getting you really excited about what you’re studying,” says the senior English major. “He sees students not just as bodies in a classroom but as dynamic and fluid personalities who have as much to contribute as they have to learn. I think that’s why students get so much out of his classes.”
Such experiences moved Chowdhury to nominate Wetzel for the The Louise F. Hegarty Excellence in Teaching Award, which since 1989 has honored professors “whose teaching has had a marked influence on the lives of Stonehill students.”
That nomination – combined with input from faculty, alumni and students – convinced Stonehill’s Committee on Excellence in Teaching to bestow Wetzel with the honor on Aug. 26 at Convocation.
“The Hegarty Award is the highest form of recognition a Stonehill faculty member can receive,” says Provost Joseph Favazza, who presented the award to Wetzel. “It acknowledges highly effective and reflective teachers who work hard at their craft.”
Wetzel says he is “humbled.” “It’s an incredible validation,” he says. “But of course, I don’t do this work alone. I’m fortunate to be part of a community where faculty and staff meet and challenge students every day. And Stonehill students want to be challenged, to stretch the boundaries of what they know and can do.”
Brittany Frederick ’16 is one of those students who Wetzel challenged and she says his approach was inspiring.
“Chris works with the persistent belief that each of his students has something valuable to contribute to the College, and he is more than eager to help each of us find ways to bring what we care about to our community,” she says.
Wetzel holds a bachelor of arts degree in sociology from the University of Michigan and master’s and doctorate degrees in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of the forthcoming “Gathering the Potawatomi Nation: Revitalization and Identity.” In the introduction, Wetzel thanks Stonehill students enrolled in his Native New England Learning Community: “Our conversations deepened and clarified what I was thinking,” he writes.
“Teaching really isn’t work for me – it’s a passion,” Wetzel says. “I’m lucky because not everyone can say that about their job. But I love what I do. I’m honored that people feel I’m contributing something worthwhile.”
Those contributions can be seen in more than just his lectures.
In addition to taking several classes with Wetzel, Chowdhury worked with him over the summer on a Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) project and now co-facilitates IDEAS (Integrating Democratic Education at Stonehill) with him. A novel program now in its second year, IDEAS are one-credit, student-led courses, offered on a pass/fail basis. Last spring, 56 students enrolled in eight courses running the gamut from “Chemistry of the Cupcake” to “Spirituality and Social Change.”
“Professor Wetzel is invested in the success of all students both in and out of the classroom,” adds another of his students, Amanda Nagim-Williams ’16, who also was an IDEAS collaborator. “As a professor, he challenges us to develop an independent thought process while providing us with the tools to define them.”
Favazza, who serves as the liaison for the nominating committee, says Wetzel is a fitting choice. “Chris cares deeply about a number of social issues and in turn, he gets students to care about social issues, too,” Favazza says. “He also spends an incredible amount of time with students. You’ll see him on campus in the evening doing review sessions or attending a town hall meeting. Students see him as a mentor not just in their academic lives but in their personal and professional lives as well.”
“In his classes, Chris holds the academic bar high while supporting students in reaching that high bar,” Favazza concludes. “In that way, he’s doing exactly what a teacher at a small liberal arts college should be doing.”