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English professor receives prestigious award

February 28, 2008

English professor receives prestigious award

Assistant Professor of English Rona Kaufman was named a recipient of a 2008 Graves Award in the Humanities.

The award is given every two years to eight to 10 faculty members from private, liberal-arts colleges in California, Washington and Oregon. Recipients must exhibit exemplary skill and enthusiasm as teachers, and use the award stipend for a research project that will enhance their skill in the classroom.

“It’s an award for good teachers,” Kaufman said. “The idea is that good teachers don’t give as much to research.”

Kaufman is the sixth PLU faculty member to receive the award. Past recipients include Provost Patricia Killen (1991), history professor Beth Kraig (1993), associate English professor Lisa Marcus (1997), associate English professor Jim Albrecht (1999) and associate religion professor Alicia Batten (2007).

Only one faculty member from each eligible college can apply for the honor, Kaufman explained. Along with the provost, the department chairs and deans selected Kaufman to represent PLU.

Kaufman said she was happy to be picked, especially since PLU has many talented faculty members. It’s also a prestigious award and tied to teaching, which she cares passionately about.

“Rona is an extremely innovative teacher,” said Jim Albrecht, English department chair. “We nominated her both on her outstanding record as a teacher at PLU and the strength of her research proposal for the award.”

Her $8,000 award will support travel expenses and research materials for a project examining the literacy of cookbooks during her sabbatical next year. Kaufman’s primary interest is in Jewish cookbooks and telling her family stories.

“I’m interested in the ordinary practices of living,” Kaufman said, “and how we record those, how we tell those particular stories.”

One book she plans to study is an old Seattle cookbook that contains recipes collected and published by Jewish women living in Seattle. While it lacks recipes for traditional meats like pork and ham, it has lots of recipes for shellfish, Kaufman said. She plans to research the authors of the book and examine how the recipes offer insights into their lives.

“I read it as a question of place and a question of faith,” she explained. “How do we be Jewish here and make a life?”

Additionally, Kaufman wants to tell her mother’s story as it relates to cookbooks. Raised Catholic, she converted to Judaism when she married and relied heavily on cookbooks to help her navigate her new culture.

“This will give me more practice, more experience and practice writing myself,” Kaufman said. “I think it’s really important for teachers to be doing what they are asking their student to do.”

The Graves award is administered under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies by Pomona College on behalf of benefactors Arnold L. and Lois S. Graves.