Teaching prize winner is a gardener who sows wisdom in the classroom
February 25, 2014
In her garden, University of California, Davis, anthropologist Suad Joseph has propagated more than 140 different varieties of fruit trees, assorted grapes, herbs and other vegetables — many grown from her own seeds and cuttings that she has collected. She shares the bounty, and her well-known cooking, with friends, colleagues and her students.
In her classroom, she propagates students in much the same way as her white Kadota figs and summer savory — urging her students to flourish by reading voluminous texts, coaxing them to look at each situation through a different lens, and teaching them what it means to be “human,” her students say.
“There was nothing else for me but teaching; that is all I ever wanted to do,” said Joseph. She is still in touch with her fifth-grade teacher and several of her undergraduate professors. She was brought up to value education, and teachers, above all things, she said. Joseph was recognized for her teaching, scholarship and service when UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi surprised Joseph's “Gender in the Arab World” class today to announce that she is the recipient of the 2014 UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement.
Established in 1986, the prize was created to honor faculty who are both exceptional teachers and scholars. The $45,000 prize is believed to be the largest of its kind in the country and is funded through philanthropic gifts managed by the UC Davis Foundation. The winner is selected based on the nominations of other professors, research peers, representatives from the UC Davis Foundation Board of Trustees, and students.
With the professor’s students and UC Davis officials looking on, Katehi surprised Joseph and her class with a fruit-filled cake.
“Professor Joseph has a gift for connecting with students — she challenges, invites, follows and leads them to thoughts and ideas they may not have encountered. In her class, students learn to think critically and solve problems, not just learn the subject matter. This is good teaching,” said Katehi, in presenting the award in front of Joseph’s students.
“The UC Davis Foundation is honored to present this award to Professor Joseph who exemplifies the wonderful professors we have on the campus and illustrates why UC Davis is such an amazing place,” said UC Davis Foundation Chair Bruce Edwards ’60. “The UC Davis Foundation is also proud to support this award because it promotes and celebrates stellar undergraduate instruction at UC Davis.”
Created programs, majors and courses
Joseph has not only taught, but created subjects to teach. She founded the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program, which welcomed its first declared majors in 2008, at a time when the study of that part of the world was particularly poignant — and it remains so today. She “put UC Davis on the map” for study of the region, said George R. Mangun, dean of the Division of Social Sciences, which includes the Department of Anthropology. Joseph also has introduced many of the two dozen courses she has taught in 38 years — five of those in the past three years. She has introduced minors, the study of Arabic and Urdu languages, a lecture series — and cultivated donors to fund some of those programs. She has raised nearly $5 million in research grants and over $2 million in teaching/curricular development in the past decade.
Born in Lebanon, the youngest of seven children — all of whom achieved advanced degrees — Joseph and four brothers and two sisters were taught to put schooling first by their parents who were unskilled laborers. Her mother, Rose Haddad Joseph, could not read or write. If not for the presence of State University of New York, Cortland, in the town where she grew up, she fears that she may not have been able to achieve a college education. Her conservative parents, she said, would not have allowed their daughter to go away to school. She, however, did go on to complete graduate school, studying anthropology at University of Pittsburgh and then at Columbia University, where she achieved her doctoral degree in anthropology.
Her early education also informed her respect and love for public education — one she passed along to her daughter, Sara Rose Joseph Mitchell, who graduated from UC Davis in 2012 and even got married to her UC Davis graduate groom on the UC Davis campus last summer.
Joseph as mentor
Joseph came to UC Davis in 1976, when, she said, one could personally know almost all of the women faculty because there were so few. Today there are nearly 1,000, and they make up more than one-third of the faculty.
“There was no women’s studies, no Middle East/South Asia studies. Anthropology was half its present size,” she said. “Yet there were colleagues, especially senior women scholars … who made it their job to guide and mentor junior women faculty through the academic system.”
Joseph has continued to mentor women students and faculty, seeing it as not only a duty but a passion. As a tribute to her dedication, she received the Consortium for Women and Research Graduate Mentorship Award, as well as the UC Davis Diversity Award, and the Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award.
One of the women who has looked to Joseph for guidance in her scholarship, teaching and life is Nadine Naber, an associate professor of gender and women’s studies and Asian American studies at University of Illinois, Chicago. Naber achieved her doctorate in cultural anthropology at UC Davis in 2002.
“If one of the main problems with U.S. academia is the isolation women of color disproportionately face, Professor Joseph’s role was to build a space for us to thrive, open up possibilities for us, and model for us the feminist principle ‘lift while you climb.’”
Joseph carries on the tradition of mentorship partly as a tribute to what she has gained at UC Davis. “Davis is the place I grew up, academically, nurtured by unbelievably committed senior scholars, especially women scholars. I’m profoundly indebted to UC Davis for inviting me to make my academic ‘home’ here.”
Teaching and scholarship, work in the Middle East
Li Zhang, department chair in anthropology, described Joseph’s teaching style in a letter recommending Joseph for the teaching prize. “If one is truly open to the dialogue, one cannot predict the outcome of a give and take that aspires to be non-hierarchical and that engages students with each other as much as with the professor. When it works well, it is magical, electrifying, unsettling and inspiring… . The impact is that students learn how to think critically, rather than just learn the ‘stuff’ of the course.”
Her students call her engaging. “The best class and the best professor I have had here at UC Davis,” wrote one sophomore female student in an evaluation. “If I could take every class with Professor Joseph, I would.”
“Her lectures were excellent. They went a long way in clarifying the reading material,” wrote another.
Joseph also excels in scholarship. She has published eight edited or co-edited books and has five edited or co-edited books in preparation. She has published six print volumes and eight online supplements of the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, of which she is general editor. She has authored hundreds of articles.
Joseph is internationally known in the field of Middle East studies; has served as the president of the leading scholarly organization in the field, the Middle East Studies Association; and has founded scholarly organizations — the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies, the Arab Families Working Group, the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association; and co-founded the Arab American Studies Association and the Association for Middle East Anthropology.
In 2001, while director of the UC Education Abroad Program in Egypt, Joseph founded a consortium for graduate student and faculty research that grew to five universities. Joseph has brought together other overseas projects, and has co-organized a trip to Dubai for Katehi in March, where the presidents of the four partner universities will discuss future projects with UC Davis.
In one of her many book projects, undergraduate and graduate students have worked with Joseph for a decade analyzing representations of Arab and Muslim Americans, Arabs, Muslims and Islam in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. She mentored graduate and undergraduates in a book project analyzing how Muslim women and the “veil” are portrayed in the New York Times over three decades.
The academic achievement Joseph said she values most is her founding of the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program. “It has attracted community members to campus across heritages,” she said. “It has joined students, faculty, administration, and communities in a most unusual collaborative project to institutionalize academic degrees and scholarly programming whose impact will endure far beyond any one of us.”
Editor's note: Photos of the award presentation will be available online soon at: http://photos.ucdavis.edu/albums.php?albumId=345220.
About the UC Davis Foundation
The UC Davis Foundation is a nonprofit organization that plays an essential role in sustaining and enhancing the excellence of UC Davis by highlighting the impacts of philanthropy and stewarding private donations to the university. It is governed by a distinguished volunteer Board of Trustees. Its mission is to secure, steward and manage private gifts for UC Davis. Established in 1959, the UC Davis Foundation has a rich history of stewarding private contributions that advance the university’s mission. Gifts made through the foundation leverage the core funding the university receives from the state of California, enhancing UC Davis’ ability to teach, discover and serve the public in ways that shape the future of our world.
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- Karen Nikos-Rose, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-6101, firstname.lastname@example.org
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