Faculty Spotlight

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Known for his boundless support of students and passion for teaching, Associate Professor of Sociology Christopher Wetzel is this year’s recipient of the Louise F. Hegarty Excellence in Teaching Award. In his forthcoming book Gathering the Potawatomi Nation: Revitalization and Identity, Wetzel acknowledges his Stonehill students in the introduction, noting that their classroom conversations “deepened and clarified” his thoughts as he wrote of how the scattered Potawatomis reclaimed their common heritage. Here, Wetzel shares why he chose to teach, the idea behind IDEAS and hiking in the Blue Hills.

I chose to study sociology because: I’m fascinated by the dynamic between structural forces that exist outside of individuals and the creative agency of groups.

I chose to study sociology because: I’m fascinated by the dynamic between structural forces that exist outside of individuals and the creative agency of groups.

Something I learned while writing my book: How talented and thoughtful people are about their work. This was consistently true whether I was in communities talking with elected officials, program directors or tribal citizens as well as in all stages of the revision process working with editors, indexers and designers.

Why I decided to teach: Throughout graduate school, I explored some other career options, including doing applied research or a dot-com company and the federal government. Yet I found that I missed the ability to direct research.

I challenge my students by: Creating spaces for them to pursue answers to questions that interest them. This is the central premise of the Integrating Democratic Education at Stonehill (IDEAS) program I cofounded with Hailey Chalhoub ’13. Students spend a year working on developing and facilitating a class related to something about which they’re passionate. Regardless of whether the class is about sabermetrics or yoga or social justice, we’re all asking questions about what it means to be engaged learners.

Something I am curious about: Why is change so hard? This question is at the heart of my teaching and research. I think about this related to structures of power, the ways in which groups make meaning and how communities do or don’t organize to make change.

In my spare time, I like to: Read newspapers and hike. On the reading front, I keep up with state and local politics in the places I’ve lived over the years, so I layer on more newspapers whenever I move. Plus I get several tribal newspapers. In terms of hiking, it’s great to explore places near Boston, so a lot of walking through the Blue Hills and Middlesex Fells.

My favorite saying: There are two that I see as complementary. Frederick Douglass: “The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress.” The Dalai Lama: “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” To me, struggle and optimism go together.

In September 2014, Professor Wetzel received The Louise F. Hegarty Excellence in Teaching Award. To read the story, click here.

Flannery O’Connor’s Profound Influence

If you ask Rev. George Piggford, C.S.C., associate professor of English, to come up with a Mount Rushmore of 20th century writers, Flannery O’Connor would be his first pick of the draft.

Flannery O'Connor illustration by Katherine SandozIn fact, he’s spent nearly a decade becoming one of the leading scholars of the Georgia-born writer—a devotion that led to his speaking at O’Connor’s induction into the American Poets Corner in New York City this fall. Piggford doesn’t see O’Connor as just a storyteller. For him, O’Connor is a writer of remarkable depths. He was drawn towards studying her work after he finished his M.Div. degree at the University of Notre Dame. “I was looking for a way to incorporate theology and divinity,” says Piggford, noting that O’Connor’s work explores a number of themes, from sin and grace to the nature of evil. “She had a combination of intellect and a deep sense of faith.”

As interesting as O’Connor is as a writer, Piggford says that she’s a fascinating person to study outside of her prose. “I think she was an eccentric person,” he says. “She was always interested in out-of-the-ordinary situations and people.” O’Connor was the type of writer who transcends generations, says Piggford, adding that contemporary writers like Cormac McCarthy have been influenced by her work, as have television shows like “American Horror Story: Freak Show.”

“Her influence is profound,” he says. Read The New Yorker’s coverage of the induction here.
—Andrew Clark

Courtroom to Classroom

As a prosecutor, Kathleen Currul-Dykeman always needed to think on her feet. “I had to try to keep the jury’s attention,” she recalls. Now an assistant professor of criminology, Currul-Dykeman says that she faces a similar challenge, although instead of engaging a jury, she strives to keep the focus of her students.

A former assistant district attorney for both Suffolk and Worcester counties, Currul-Dykeman aims to bring her practical experience to the classroom. “I always tell stories of the courtroom to help illustrate things and give real-life examples,” she says.

Currul-Dykeman has created a class entitled Practicum: Victims in the Courtroom. This course gives students the chance to shadow victim advocates at the Plymouth County District Court in Brockton.

In her eyes, there’s nothing quite like hands-on experience. “You literally see that ‘aha’ moment,” she says of the importance of students practicing what they’ve studied. “By having real life experiences, they are more engaged and draw connections all the time.”

Rather than just simply teach her class about the ins and outs of the legal world, Currul-Dykeman works to go the extra mile. She steers her students towards making a difference once they leave her classroom, whether it’s working with victims or going to law school. “It’s fun when you get to inspire and motivate someone to work in criminology,” she says. “You’re inspiring them to help people, as well as society and the justice system.”
—Andrew Clark