By Heather Rodriguez
Outstanding College of Liberal Arts faculty members will be honored at the Dean’s Recognition Reception on October 13, 2016.
Among those honored will be the four 2016-2017 Ray A. Rothrock ’77 Fellows. The Rothrock Fellows Program in Liberal Arts was established in 2006 with a significant grant from Ray A. Rothrock ’77 and recognizes newly-promoted, highly-recommended faculty members each year.
Fellows receive $15,000 over the next three years to encourage and support the completion of exceptional post-promotion projects and outstanding teaching.
Laura Estill, an associate professor in the Department of English, is a well-known scholar of William Shakespeare and his impact on our culture. She is particularly interested in the opinions of play-goers during Shakespeare’s time, which are evidenced in their hand-written remarks in playbills and personal books.
“People don’t realize it’s possible to know what audiences thought of Shakespeare in his day, but we actually have lots of evidence; it’s just hard to get to because they’re all unique copies all over the world,” Estill said.
The Rothrock Fellowship will afford her the opportunity to travel to various libraries in the United States and the United Kingdom to view and archive these one-of-a-kind, historic manuscripts.
“Shakespeare is not of an age; he exists for all time,” Estill said. “We have studied him for so long, and every time period finds something new. How we interpret his works shows our distinct world view at the time.”
In addition to teaching, she serves as the editor of the international World Shakespeare Bibliography, a searchable online database of Bard-related publications since 1960. She was instrumental in bringing the nationally-touring First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare exhibit to Texas A&M University—the only host in the state.
Estill says she is honored to be named a Rothrock fellow, which will allow her to continue to bring prominence to the College of Liberal Arts.
“These funds mean I can undertake this innovative archival research, and allows me to take on real humanities,” Estill said.
Associate professor Sherecce Fields from the Department of Psychology wants to help prevent the behaviors she saw while growing up.
“I came from a bit of a disadvantaged background,” she said. “When I saw people doing things that were bad for them, it made me interested in helping others not to make those same mistakes.”
Fields is currently researching impulsivity in teens—an important developmental age—to determine what drives them to engage in destructive behaviors such as smoking and disordered eating.
She believes the outcomes of this intervention will help people in a number of ways, including better health and fewer incarcerations.
“My ultimate goal is to find a way to use therapeutic intervention to keep kids from engaging in risky, addicting behavior,” she said.
She says she will use the funds for her lab work, which involves participants filling out questionnaires and attending weekly group therapy sessions.
“The Rothrock Fellowship is helping me help others,” Fields said.
Matthew May, associate professor with the Department of Communication, studies significant historical public addresses on labor in the American Progressive Era.
“Coming from a working-class background, I feel a connection to these laborers,” he said. “These speeches give us a unique perspective on the problems of today.”
The Rothrock Fwllowship gives him the opportunity to strengthen his research efforts on the lesser-known, noncanonical speeches. He said that while they may not be as popular, they deserve respect—not just for their historical influence but because they mimic speeches that have spawned contemporary social movements such as Occupy Wall Street.
“Today we face the same problems we faced in the Progressive Era, particularly with income inequality, racism, and sexism in the workplace,” May said. “Labor orators from this time were speaking on these issues before anyone else was, and it led to a revolution.”
These passionate speeches led to the social activism and political reform that defined the Progressive Era and forever changed the face of the American workforce.
“We can learn about the imagination it takes to solve the problems of today by looking at the speeches of the past,” May said.
Brian Rouleau, associate professor from the Department of History, researches the role of 19th-century children’s literature on the American identity.
“My current research focuses on how Americans came to understand our nation’s place in the world by what they read as kids,” he said. “These books, which were meant to shape their views, permeated their lives and had real implications.”
Book series like Old Glory, which was penned by the ghostwriter of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, emphasized patriotic duty to impressionable children. Other book series focused on Westward Expansion and Native American relations.
And, Rouleau said, many books were shockingly violent and blatantly racist.
“Sadly, some books are being reprinted and used today by groups who feel current children’s literature is not nationalistic enough,” he said. “This attitude is still part of the debate about how to raise kids, and what kind of citizens we want to create.”
Rouleau said he hopes his research—which will require him to travel to Australia, Britain, and Canada—will disclose the literature’s appeal and the intentions behind writing it. He will also show how children interpreted the literature in various ways.
“The Rothrock Fellowship enhances my research capacity and bring this knowledge into the classroom,” he said. “The students are the ultimate beneficiaries of this money. It’s a tremendous honor.”