The professorships, announced during the university's Opening Day for the new academic year, support members of the faculty from a variety of disciplines across the university.
Elon University honored five faculty members with endowed professorships on Monday, Aug. 14, during the Opening Day ceremony in Alumni Gym to launch the 2023-24 academic year. The professorships will support faculty members in the fields of religious studies, science, classical languages, philosophy and history.
“These professorships have been established through the generosity of alumni, parents, trustees and friends of the university. Being selected as the recipient of such a professorship is a high honor which indicates that the faculty member is respected for excellence in teaching, scholarship, mentoring students and service to the university,” Elon President Connie Ledoux Book said.
Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies
Sheila Otieno, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Sheila Otieno has been honored with the Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies professorship.
Otieno teaches religion and religious ethics focusing on African and African American religion. As a comparative ethicist, her research and teaching areas center on alternative belonging and indigenous epistemologies, particularly those which generate social change and transform moral behavior.
Otieno comes to Elon from Centre College, where she taught religious studies and was affiliate faculty in the African and African American, Latin American and Gender Studies programs. She earned her doctorate in social ethics at Boston University School of Theology and master’s degrees from Duke University in theological studies and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in divinity.
Her interdisciplinary research is situated at the intersection of postcoloniality, Africana religious traditions, and feminist and womanist theory and explores how religion fosters social connections and how people build collective futures. These interests shaped her dissertation and current book project focusing on digital kinship among Black activists in Africa and the African diaspora.
“I am confident that Dr. Otieno will find multiple ways of connecting with and contributing to our scholarly life at Elon,” said Professor of Religious Studies Lynn Huber, who presented Otieno with the professorship.
“Thank you all so much,” Otieno said as she received the professorship. “I look forward to meeting all of you and building community here. This has been an incredible honor.”
The Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies professorship recognizes a junior faculty member who has potential for a distinguished academic career in religious studies, offering support for research, travel and professional development.
The Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies Professorship was endowed in 2000 and first presented to the Department of Religious Studies in 2001. President Emeritus Leo Lambert said the professorship would attract outstanding teacher-scholars to the university.
Other recipients of the Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies professorship include:
- Andrew Monteith
- Rebecca Todd Peters
- Michael Pregill
- Amy Allocco
- Ariela Marcus-Sells
Japheth E. Rawls Professorship for Undergraduate Research in Science
Chris Richardson, Associate Professor of Astrophysics
Associate Professor of Astrophysics Chris Richardson has been honored with the Japheth E. Rawls Professorship of Undergraduate Research in Science.
An exceptional colleague, teacher, scholar, mentor and contributor to the Elon community, Richardson offers a holistic approach to his work with students on undergraduate research. “I expect students to take more ownership of their project by creating their own goals and standards for progress,” Richardson said.
Richardson helps his students feel comfortable through every phase of the research process such as writing grants, developing posters and presentations, and attending conferences. Having mentored 11 students in undergraduate research since first arriving at Elon in 2013, Richardson places great importance on advocating for diversity and providing a comfortable atmosphere for students to connect with peers and establish a professional network.
As the next chair of the Rawls Professorship, Richardson’s plans for undergraduate research involve projects in his areas of expertise as an astronomer, astrophysicist and computational astrophysicist.
“I’m grateful to be in such a very supportive department,” Richardson said. “The provost, the dean and the FR&D (Faculty Research & Development) committee have always been very gracious in their support of my research. And finally, I’d like to thank all of my collaborators and my research students for their hard work and their dedication to excellence.”
This honor is a rotating two-year professorship that supports the efforts of faculty engagement with students in the scholarship of scientific discovery. The professorship is funded through a gift from the estate of Dr. Japheth E. Rawls Jr. ’35 and his wife, Virginia Riddick Rawls. The honor is for a faculty member in biology, chemistry, environmental studies, exercise science or physics.
Former Rawls Professors include:
- Jen Hamel, Biology
- Karl Sienerth, Chemistry
- Greg Haenel, Biology
- Linda Niedziela, Biology
- Brant Touchette, Biology and Environmental Studies
- Eric Hall, Exercise Science
- Yuko Miyamoto, Biology
- Kathy Matera, Chemistry
- Amanda Chunco, Environmental Studies
Trustee Chair for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching
Kristina Meinking, Professor of Classical Languages
Professor of Classical Languages Kristina Meinking has been honored as the inaugural Trustee Chair for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.
Meinking was selected for this recognition based on her commitment to innovative, inclusive and engaged pedagogical strategies across a variety of teaching and mentoring contexts.
“She is an innovative and thoughtful teacher, scholar, mentor and her passion for teaching has made me think differently about the way I engage in my career and think about higher education,” one colleague wrote in support of Meinking. “Her dedication to her craft is exceptional and she serves as a role model for many on our campus of how to be an innovative and thoughtful educator.”
Meinking also serves as the assistant director for assessment in the Elon Core Curriculum. She is currently producing a full translation and accompanying commentary of Ammianus Marcellinus’ “Res Gestate.”
In her capacity as coordinator of the classical studies program, she has mentored numerous students, developed the classics curriculum and taught several courses in Latin, ancient Greek, mythology, civilization and reception.
“My courses emphasize community and the unique value of what we as group of people can explore and discover, and how we can trust and inspire one another to dig deeper, take intellectual risks and learn together,” Meinking said. “As we begin this academic year as a community, may we each find joy and creativity in each other and in everything we do.”
The Trustee Chair for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching was established by the Board of Trustees to recognize an Elon faculty member for excellence in teaching and to provide support for their promotion of undergraduate teaching excellence.
Distinguished University Professors
Professor of Philosophy and Director of National and International Fellowships Office Ann Cahill and Maude Sharpe Powell Professor and Professor of History Mary Jo Festle
Ann Cahill, professor of philosophy and director of the National and International Fellowships Office, and Mary Jo Festle, Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of History, are to be honored as Elon University’s seventh and eighth Distinguished University Professors.
The announcement of the honor was made by President Connie Ledoux Book at the final faculty meeting of the 2022-23 academic year. The Distinguished University Professorship is bestowed upon occasion to senior faculty members, honoring their teaching, scholarship, leadership and service to the Elon University community. The board of trustees created the professorship in 2001 and a faculty committee solicits nominations and recommends recipients of the honor to the president.
In its recommendation of Cahill and Festle for the Distinguished University Professorship honor, the nomination committee noted that both are highly respected for their collaborative and selfless leadership styles. The committee pointed to the long-standing commitments of Festle and Cahill have demonstrated to making Elon a more inclusive, diverse and intellectually rigorous institution while using their rank and tenure to advocate on behalf of students, faculty and staff, particularly those from historically underrepresented and marginalized communities.
The six other Distinguished University Professors are:
- Maude Sharpe Powell Professor Emeritus of Philosophy John Sullivan (2002)
- J. Earl Danieley Professor of Sociology Tom Henricks (2003)
- Maude Sharpe Powell Professor Emeritus of English Russell Gill (2006)
- Watts-Thompson Professor of Human Service Studies Pamela M. Kiser (2010)
- Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of Religious Studies Jeffrey Pugh (2017)
- A.J. Fletcher Professor of Communications David Copeland (2017)