WMU News

Two faculty members honored for teaching excellence

February 25, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- Two Western Michigan University faculty members were recognized for their superior classroom skills earlier this month when they received 1998 Teaching Excellence Awards.

Presented by the WMU Alumni Association, the annual awards went to Dr. E. Thomas Lawson, chairperson of the Department of Comparative Religion, and Greg D. Roehrick, professor of theatre. The awards were presented at a special dinner honoring the University's major award winners for 1998. Both received a plaque and a $2,000 cash award.

Since the Alumni Teaching Excellence Awards were established in 1966, 125 faculty members have been recognized for superior teaching skills and professional expertise. Recipients are selected by an Alumni Association committee from nominations by alumni, students and departmental colleagues.

Lawson has been a WMU faculty member since 1961 and has served several stints as his department's chairperson, the most recent beginning in 1976.

He is an internationally respected scholar and author, writing on such topics as religions of Africa and politics and religion. The depth and breadth of knowledge he has in his discipline was frequently cited by those nominating him.

"Dr. Lawson has an uncanny knack for making the complex straightforward and for cutting to the key issues at the core of debates," said a former student. "Professor Lawson organizes discussions to get quickly to core issues and to show why these issues are at the core of debates, with a precision and clarity that I, for one, seek to emulate."

Lawson is the author of four books, his most recent being the 1998 edition "Religions of Africa: Traditions in Transformation." In addition, he has written numerous book chapters and dozens of journal articles, book reviews, review essays and dictionary entries. He serves as executive editor for the prestigious journal Numen: International Review for the History of Religions.

Lawson has played leadership roles in a number of professional organizations and currently is president of the North American Association for the Study of Religion. He also has been the recipient of a number of other awards, including the WMU Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award in 1991.

Lawson's active life as a scholar inspired another nominator to write, "Tom Lawson exhibits a way of living that is dedicated to the importance of critical reflection on ideas as the most effective and humane means for the improvement of our world, our communities and ourselves."

Lawson earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago.

Roehrick, who also is director of design and technical production for the Department of Theatre, has been a faculty member since 1978, teaching courses in design as well as designing for three to four productions annually. In that role, he has been the scenic designer for more than 100 productions that have included opera, Shakespearean drama, modern comedies and musical theatre offerings.

He also serves as director of Multi-Media for WMU's College of Fine Arts, supervising 20-25 events per year. Those events range from dance and theatre productions to art exhibitions.

His attention to detail and energy were cited by several of his nominators along with a teaching style that is "efficient, organized, resourceful, detailed and thoughtful."

"Although I didn't realize it then," said a former student, "this unspoken consistency of thoroughness and attention to detail were principles that I grew to recognize and then accept as my own, giving me a day-to-day mantra of expecting a higher standard."

Roehrick has twice served as scenic director for the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival and has been an architectural consultant for WMU's Gilmore Theatre Complex as well as facilities in Chicago, Wisconsin and California. He also has served as a guest artist and teacher at locations across the nation, including the Virginia School of the Arts, the Idyllwild (Calif.) Arts Academy and Interlochen (Mich.) Center for the Arts.

Roehrick is a member of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology.

"For nearly 20 years, Western's Design and Technical Production program has grown, evolved, flourished and thrived," said another nominator. "That would not have been possible if Professor Roehrick's quality instruction was not part of the mix."

Roehrick earned a bachelor's degree from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., and a master's degree from Wayne State University. He was a graduate fellow at WSU's Hillbery Classic Repertory Theatre from 1976-78.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu


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