Latest Faculty Corner

Updates on Professors’ Contributions to the Academy, Campus, and Community

Wittenberg University is committed to excellence in teaching and scholarship. The following is a collection of professors’ contributions to the Academy, Campus, and the Community, along with recent recognitions.

New H. Orth Hirt Chair in History

The Office of the Provost has announced that Thomas Templeton Taylor, professor of history, will hold the H. Orth Hirt Chair in History. This chair was endowed in memory of the founder of Erie Insurance Company, who graduated from Wittenberg in 1911, and whose children, the late F. William Hirt and the late Susan Hirt Hagen, also followed in their father’s footsteps, graduating from Wittenberg in 1947 and 1957, respectively. Endowed chairs are permanently funded positions typically established through gifts from donors to support excellence in teaching and scholarship.

Taylor, who was nominated by his peers in the history department, will take on the endowed position at the beginning of the Fall 2024 semester. His nomination was forwarded by Provost Brian Yontz and President Michael Frandsen to Wittenberg’s Board of Directors, which approved this recommendation at its February 2024 meeting. 

Recognized for 35 years of service at the University’s recent Service Awards luncheon, Taylor has served Wittenberg since 1988, where he has been honored with numerous awards for teaching, including Wittenberg’s Omicron Delta Kappa Teaching Excellence Award in 1991 and the Ohio Academy of History’s Outstanding Teacher Award in 2001. As a trained intellectual historian, Taylor has published work in journals such as Fides et Historia, Intersections, and the Journal of Presbyterian History.

“To many of us, we know Tom as Wittenberg’s and Springfield’s public historian,” Yontz said. “He has served numerous terms on the Clark County Historical Society’s board, as well as the principal professional historical advisor on a project to restore the Gammon House. He was also an organizer of the Westcott House Restoration Project. Tom shares his love and knowledge of Wittenberg’s history both on campus and to the broader community. His course on Wittenberg history has brought students into both the Thomas Library and Heritage Center archives to uncover the history of our institution.”

Taylor received his both his B.A. and M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in American intellectual and cultural history. He has been a past president of the Clark County Historical Society and the Ohio Academy of History, along with serving as past vice president of the Southern Ohio Synod of the ELCA and the Westcott House Foundation.

The H. Orth Chair in History, which was endowed by the late William Hirt in memory of his father, was first awarded in 1998.

New Laatsch Scholar Named

Rob Baker, professor of political science has been named this year’s Laatsch Scholar in honor of the Melvin Henry Laatsch (1905-1974), professor emeritus of political science. This endowment was funded during the Defining Moments Campaign in the late 1990s/early 2000s by a group of scholars and friends in recognition of the important influence Laatsch had on hundreds of students during his 30-year Wittenberg career. Names and accomplishments of potential recipients are submitted to the provost each year by political science department faculty, based on excellence in scholarship and teaching by one of their colleagues. The honoree also receives a professional development award from the Laatsch Endowment.

Baker has taught at Wittenberg since 1987 in the field of American politics and government. His courses have focused on the federal bureaucracy, state and local government, local government administration, American democracy, urban politics, and research methods. He received his B.A. from Central Methodist University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Missouri. In 2010-11 he served as the interim faculty director for the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement, and as the director of Community-Based Research at the Hagen Center from 2011-2013.

Chair of the political science department from 1996-2003, Baker was also director of the Urban Studies Program from 1994-1996. He is the recipient of the 2011 Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching, the 1990 Omicron Delta Kappa Award for Excellence in Teaching, the 2004 Outstanding Service to Springfield Award, and in 2015 he was awarded a Voinovich Fellowship from the George Voinovich Foundation. He was also selected to teach American urban governance in the International Summer Session at Fudan University, Shanghai, PRC, in 2015. 

A former assistant to the city manager and acting city manager of Slater, Missouri, Baker founded and co-directed the ICMA—Wittenberg Local Government Management Internship Program – for 20 years. The program was awarded a special citation as an innovative educational program by the International City/County Management Association in 2005. He is also a founding member and president of the board of the Rocking Horse Community Health Center, which, in 2017, named its board room in recognition of his 20 years of service to the organization.

Baker served as a regular columnist for Cox Media, Ohio, from 2014-2021, and he has contributed more than 65 op-ed articles that appeared simultaneously in SW Ohio newspapers, including the Dayton Daily News, the Springfield, News-Sun, and the Hamilton Journal-News. His has published numerous professional journal articles, along with five books including Readings on American Subnational Government (HarperCollins, 1993), two editions of The Lanahan Readings in State and Local Government (Lanahan Publishers, Inc., 2001 and 2010), Government in the Twilight Zone: Volunteers to Small-City Boards and Commissions (SUNY Press, 2015), and Strengthening American Democracy: Reflection, Action, and Reform (Broadview Press, forthcoming 2024). 

Two Professors Earn Lilly Fellows

Danny Marous, associate professor of chemistry and Michael Daiga, associate professor of education have been accepted as fellows in the Lilly Faculty Fellows program. The two will be joining colleagues from Hope College, Johnson University, Mount St. Mary’s University, Providence College, and Seattle Pacific University to engage with the intersections of Christian thought and practice and academic vocation. Additionally, Marous and Daiga will be involved with professional development and study, as well as implementing a Lilly Faculty Fellows program on Wittenberg’s campus.

Advancing Health & Humanities with NEH Grant

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded Wittenberg University $135,482 for a comprehensive, integrated project titled “The Healing Humanities: Creating Healthy Pathways on Campus and in the Community.” In addition to facilitating access to humanities-based teaching and learning, and empowering students and community members to impact their hometowns in ethical and equitable ways, the project aims to make Wittenberg the first liberal arts school in Ohio to offer a certificate program in health humanities and equity.

“Our team is so excited to have received this grant as it affirms the centrality of the humanities to our psychological and physical well-being—how it helps us understand what it means to be human and to be a human who cares for themselves and others,” said Veler Endowed Chair in English Cynthia Richards, who serves as the project director.

Richards is joined by co-leaders Alejandra Gimenez-Berger, associate professor of art history, and Kimberly Creasap, director of Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic & Urban Engagement and adjunct professor of sociology.

Health Humanities is a steadily growing, cross-disciplinary field that draws on the humanities and arts to investigate aspects of lived human experience related to health and medicine. Recently approve by the Wittenberg faculty and Board of Directors, the health humanities certificate will support working professionals in the health care field. The funding will also support a rotating Health Humanities Fellowship for Wittenberg faculty to help the University build capacity for continued work in the field, as well as establish clear pathways to experiential learning opportunities with local community partners, including the Rocking Horse Center, the Clark County Combined Health District, the Springfield Promise Neighborhood, and the Springfield Museum of Art.

Religion Professor’s Book Earns Honor

Travis Proctor, assistant professor of religion and director of premodern and ancient world studies (P.A.S.T.) program at Wittenberg, recently learned that his book, Demonic Bodies and the Dark Ecologies of Early Christian Culture (Oxford University Press, 2022) was shortlisted for the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, Historical Studies by The American Academy of Religion (AAR).

The book explores comparative demonology across the first three centuries of Christian history, including both biblical and non-biblical texts, as well as texts in Greek, Coptic, and Latin. This is the first book-length study of conceptions of nonhuman bodies in early Christian literature. Proctor explains how contemporary critical theories such as gender studies, environmental humanities, and disability studies can contribute to study of religion and history of Christianity.).

The AAR Awards for Excellence in the Study of Religion recognize new scholarly publications that make significant contributions to the study of religion. These awards honor works of distinctive originality, intelligence, creativity, and importance—books that affect decisively how religion is examined, understood, and interpreted.

His book is a finalist in the category of “Historical Studies,” which includes works “that focus on the history of a particular religion or religions in a specific historical period or geographical area.” 

More info on the book can be found here. Additional interviews via a podcast can be found here or on YouTube here.

Rave Reviews Continue for English Professor’s Second Novel

Recently released, Andrew Graff’s second novel True North has been receiving considerable attention, including rave reviews in the Washington Post, Goodreads, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and most recently, CBS News.

Graff, associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Wittenberg, takes readers back to his childhood home in Wisconsin’s Northwoods in his new novel, but this time for an adventure in marriage and white-water rafting as one couple, Sam and Swami Brecht, navigate the changing currents of family, community, and the river itself.

His debut book, Raft of Stars, landed on the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association best-sellers list five days after its publication, appearing in the No. 13 spot on a list that included renowned writers Kazuo Ishiguro, Kristin Hannah, Brit Bennett, Harlan Coben, Fredrik Backman, and Lisa Scottoline for the week ending March 28, 2021. The book was also selected as an Indie Next pick for April 2021, named one of Parade’s Best Books for Spring 2021, and promoted as Lead Read by publisher Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Available through HarperCollins Publishers, the True North is on sale now at this link

Knowledge Series’ Sponsored by Margaret Ermarth Institute for the Public Humanities Engages Community

The Knowledge Shared Series through the Margaret Ermarth Institute for the Public Humanities continues to engage the local community. Scott Rosenberg, professor of history, recently presented "Desegregation and the Path to Integration of Major League Baseball: 1947-1972" at the main branch of the Clark County Public Library. The talk examined whether Jackie Robinson integrated or desegregated Major League Baseball using Martin Luther King's "Ethical Demand for Integration" to differentiate and discuss the difference between the two. Rosenberg also discussed how African Americans entered the Major Leagues from Jackie Robinson in 1947 to the last team to sign a black player in 1959 (the Boston Red Sox and Pumpsie Green), followed by the Pittsburgh Pirates being the first team to field an all-black team during a game in 1972.

Liberal Arts Potential and Power Monthly Panel

Also continuing this semester is a faculty-led, panel-style discussion series titled ‘Liberal Arts Potential & Power." Inspired by the work of colleagues and designed to engage students in ongoing exploration of how the various disciplines at Wittenberg contribute to broader understanding of topics of social focus and concern, the series will again be moderated by Ross Jackson, assistant professor of business and economics and program director of the University’s graduate program in analytics. Each event will take place from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Founders Pub, located on the lower level of the Benham-Pence Student Center. The next panel discussion is "The Social-Media Self: Identity, Belonging, and the Search for Happiness" on Wednesday, March 27.

Interim Associate Provost Named

Jeff Ankrom, former longtime professor of economics and associate provost, has agreed to serve as the University's part-time associate provost for institutional research. Since leaving Wittenberg in 2014, Ankrom has served as the assistant provost for strategy and planning at Otterbein University, the coordinator of institutional research at Greensboro College, and as the director of strategic data analysis at St. Francis College in New York.

New Director of Faculty Development

Upon the recommendation of the Faculty Development Board, Kelly Dillon, associate professor of communication and digital media, was named Wittenberg’s new director of faculty development. Dillon was also recently featured in a Springfield News-Sun article about AI and generative AI.

-Compiled by Cindy Holbrook, University Communications

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About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

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