Four Occidental College professors were honored for exceptional teaching, scholarship and service August 27 as the Class of 2023 was formally welcomed to the Oxy community at the College’s 125th annual Convocation ceremony.
Keynote speaker Margi Rusmore, professor of geology and Occidental’s inaugural Gibby Professor of Science, used the story of Barbara ’68 and Michael Gibby ’68’s undergraduate years to illustrate the kind of impact the faculty-student relationship has at Oxy. “These exceptional opportunities to engage academically are not the exception at Oxy, they are the norm,” Rusmore told the first-year class. “Seize your chance to fully partake of our Oxy experience.”
Sociology Professor Dolores Trevizo ’88 was awarded the prestigious Graham L. Sterling Memorial Award, established in 1972 to recognize a faculty member with a distinguished record of teaching, service and professional achievement.
Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus Keith Naylor and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Mathematics Jay Daigle both received the Linda and Tod White Teaching Prize, which is based on student nominations. The prize has been presented since 2008 thanks to the generosity of Linda and Tod White ’59, both of whom were present at the ceremony.
Art and Art History Professor Amy Lyford was presented with the Janosik-Sterling Award for Service to the College, created in 1993 to honor the memory of Politics Professor Robert Janosik.
Colleagues praise Trevizo as a scholar, teacher, colleague and mentor. As a scholar, they point to the publication of the 2018 book she co-authored on Mexican immigrant entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, which makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how immigrants are economically incorporated into the United States. They also cite her research into state violence and forced disappearances in Mexico that continues to earn her national and international recognition.
Trevizo also has been critical to the success of Oxy’s Latino/a and Latin American Studies major and minor. She has taught the senior comprehensive class, guiding individual students’ projects in disciplines ranging from theater to political science. Each year, she has organized a capstone celebration for LLAS majors—many of them first-generation students—at which they present their work to their peers, faculty, and their families.
Students of Naylor, who retired in May after a 31-year career at Oxy, were deeply impressed by his extensive knowledge of and passion for his field, his interdisciplinary approach, his patience, and his ability to connect with them on a personal level.
As one student wrote, “With every class I am further in awe of his ability to push others to probe the things they thought they knew and the world they thought they live in.” One of the keys to his classroom success, his students say, was his insistence on making them the drivers of their own academic inquiry. By demonstrating a real trust in their intellectual abilities, he built his students’ confidence and encouraged them on their journey of self-discovery. The result? “I have grown to be the person I am today with his guidance and for that I will be forever grateful,” one student wrote.
The courses Daigle teaches—including calculus, linear algebra and number theory—can be intimidating and stressful even for students who enjoy math. But as one of his students put it, “He managed to get so excited about abstract number theory concepts every day that the rest of us could not help but do the same.”
Students describe Daigle as encouraging, patient and thorough in explaining concepts, someone who will take as much time as necessary to ensure that they have a thorough grasp of the material. They know him as a teacher who is dedicated to their success—to the extent that he has held office hours on a Sunday if an exam fell on a Monday. “His teaching skills, care for students and passion for learning are unrivalled,” one wrote.
Lyford was nominated for the Janosik-Sterling Award by her colleagues who cited her “above and beyond” approach to her work. She has served as president of the Faculty Council, associate dean and a member of the Academic Planning Committee. Her leadership has been a key factor in Oxy’s successful applications for several foundation grants that have enhanced the arts and humanities curriculum and deepened the College’s ties to the city of Los Angeles.
As a prolific scholar, she explores issues of gender, sexuality and race within modernist art—issues she explored in her most recent book, an award-winning exploration of the life and art of sculptor Isamu Noguchi. As a teacher, she regularly works with undergraduate research students and teaches in the Cultural Studies Program. As one colleague said: “With respect to teaching, professional achievement and service, Amy is the faculty member we all aspire to be.”