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‘Moby Dick’ scholar catches Career Achievement Teaching Award

Monday, October 10, 2016

LAWRENCE – Elizabeth Schultz, a leading scholar of Herman Melville, has been awarded the 2016 Career Achievement Award in recognition of her work dedicated to excellence in teaching over 30 years in the Department of English at the University of Kansas.

The Career Achievement Teaching Award is bestowed annually to a retired faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences who has made a significant contribution to the teaching of students. Recipients are recognized at the College’s new faculty reception, serving as a model and inspiration to all incoming faculty.

Schultz is a professor emeritus in the English department. In nomination materials, colleagues and former students said that she stood out as a talented discussion leader who provoked students into rich engagement with the texts they were studying. Several noted the extraordinary amount of time she spent working with students one-on-one. Students remember her encouragement that pushed them to realize their potential as scholars. They also remember her enthusiasm and passion for "Moby Dick," evident both in classroom discussions and in the whale imagery that filled her office.

At the new faculty reception last month, Carl Lejuez, dean of the College, presented the award to Schultz, noting that she has “made a lasting impact at KU and in the lives of our students.”

Schultz joined KU in 1967, and it didn’t take long for colleagues and students to recognize her exceptional teaching. After only four years at KU, she earned three prestigious teaching honors: a HOPE Award, the Outstanding Woman Teacher Award and the Standard Oil Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching. She was also recognized as a Chancellors Club Teaching Professor, an honor she held from 1984 until her retirement in 2001. And she was nominated again for a HOPE Award in 2000, the same year she received the Mabel Frye Award for Teaching Excellence, selected by graduate students in the English department.

Anna Neill, associate professor and department chair, nominated Schultz for the award.

“It is hard to imagine anyone more deserving of an award that honors a career of teaching,” Neill wrote in her nomination letter. She added, “Beth’s devotion to both undergraduate and graduate students, her pioneering curricular innovations, her path-breaking work taking American literature into international arenas and her ability to simultaneously impassion students about literature and challenge them to approach it with discipline and rigor all had enormous impact on the culture of teaching in the KU English department.”

These sentiments are evident throughout the other testimonies and letters submitted by students and colleagues in support of Schultz’s nomination for the award.

Schultz introduced new courses and areas of study that have had a lasting influence to this day. Throughout her career she also transformed student experiences at KU by making key curricular innovations to programs in English. She was the first faculty member to teach a course in African-American literature — a field that is now one of the English department’s strongest. As one of only a few women in a large department in the 1960s and 1970s, she was an important role model to female English majors, and she affected many students' lives through her teaching of American literature and U.S. ethnic women’s texts.

Later in her KU career, she began teaching courses on American environmental writing that evolved into the first courses on environmental literature and ecocritical theory offered in the department. Here, too, she paved the way for what is now a pronounced strength among teaching faculty. In her retirement, Schultz remains an active scholar and influence at the university, as well as a published poet.

In August, KU Endowment announced that Schultz had made a gift commitment to create the Herman Melville Distinguished Professorship.

The Department of English is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which encourages learning without boundaries in its more than 50 departments, programs and centers. Through innovative research and teaching, the College emphasizes interdisciplinary education, global awareness and experiential learning. The College is KU's broadest, most diverse academic unit.