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Sociologist Daphne Pedersen named Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor at UND

University’s highest academic honor goes to scholar who ‘exemplifies excellence across many different domains’

Daphne Pedersen, UND’s newest Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor, in her office. UND archive photo.

Parasites and sociology likely don’t figure in the college plans of many new UND students. But they should.

In fact, if we were just starting out at UND today, here is what we’d do: First, we’d take Professor Vasyl Tkach’s Parasitology class. Second, we’d find out whatever Sociology Professor Daphne Pedersen would be teaching that semester, and we’d take that class or classes, too.

That’s the lesson of the past two weeks – the fact that truly, there are few better ways to start a UND college career.

Last week, Tkach was named a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor at UND; this week, Pedersen was accorded the same honor. And as was the case with Tkach, the nominating packet that the Chester Fritz Selection Committee saw for Pedersen shows her to be an extraordinary educator, one whose work “has been a gift to our students, her colleagues, and the institution,” as Anne Kelsch, Professor of History and UND’s Director of Faculty & Staff Development, wrote in a letter of support.

“In short, she is exactly the kind of scholar who should be honored as a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor.”

Visit from the president

Pedersen learned the news on Zoom, a few minutes after UND President Andy Armacost showed up in what Pedersen had thought would be a routine departmental meeting.

Over the past year, “I’ve had so many really great conversations with folks,” Armacost said. “I’ve met with departments, I’ve met with individuals.”

And one of the most interesting sessions was with the University’s Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors, the president continued.

“I asked them, ‘What’s the biggest joy of being a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor?’ They said, ‘One of the most valuable experiences and one of the greatest opportunities that we have as Chester Fritz professors is to actually select the new Chester Fritz professors.’ They really take that honor and that responsibility seriously.”

This is why “I’m so pleased and proud to let Professor Pedersen know that she is a new Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor,” Armacost announced.

“Congratulations, Daphne! We’re really proud of you.”

Off went the “Mute” buttons as Pedersen’s colleagues broke into cheers and applause.

“You’re amazing,” said Alena Kubatova, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. “You’re amazing. Thank you for being our friend and colleague.”

Krista Lynn Minnotte, Professor of Sociology, agreed. “I’ve known Daphne for over 20 years,” she said. “And she’s always been such a fantastic mentor to me, someone who really exemplifies excellence across many different domains. … So yes, so very well deserved. Congratulations, Daphne!”

Highest academic honor

Said Pedersen in response, “I’m overwhelmed.

“Really, as an introvert, I’m a little overwhelmed by all of this. But I am so thankful and so humbled, and I hold the title and the University in such high esteem. This has been a really good place – a wonderful place – to make a career, with very supportive faculty and staff.

“Thank you, everybody, for being here. Such kindness,” she said, brushing away tears.

The Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship is UND’s highest academic honor. The award was established with an endowment gift from the late University benefactor Chester Fritz (1892-1983).

The criteria for selection include “demonstrated achievement across research, teaching, and service,” with “significant national or regional recognition in any one of these missions”; “significant professional contributions” throughout the nominee’s career; and recognition by UND colleagues “as a faculty member who has made a valuable contribution to the quality of UND’s academic programs.”

And as mentioned above, the letters that supported Pedersen’s nomination document how she qualifies on all counts.

• Demonstrated excellence: “Her research productivity is exemplary, as indicated in part by a publication record that currently includes 56 refereed journal articles,” wrote E. Helen Berry and Richard Krannich, both Professors Emeritus at Utah State University and former presidents of the Rural Sociological Society.

“She is a nationally and internationally recognized sociologist with special emphasis on work-life balance. She has made deeply valuable contributions toward student success, the understanding of family life and understanding the stresses that institutions place on individual life and success.”

• Significant national or regional recognition: “Dr. Pedersen currently serves as Co-Editor in Chief of The Social Science Journal and has served on the editorial boards of The Social Science Journal, Teaching Sociology and Marriage & Family Review,” wrote Dennis McSeveney, professor emeritus and dean emeritus at the University of New Orleans, and current president of Alpha Kappa Delta, the International Sociology Honor Society.

“AKD was founded in November 1920, and Daphne served as AKD’s President during most of AKD’s Centennial Year. … I was President-Elect of AKD during Daphne’s term as President and had the opportunity to work closely with her. She was a strong and organized leader who gently nudged people to work collaboratively and get tasks done. …

“In my five decades in higher education with almost half of that time in administrative positions, I’ve worked with a lot of faculty,” McSeveney continued. Pedersen stands out, he wrote, as someone who exemplifies higher education’s best: ”Quality scholarship, the ability to work with students and guide them to maximizing their potential, and service to the university and their discipline.”

• Recognition by UND colleagues: At UND, Pedersen “is the recipient of two prestigious awards: the Bertin Gamble Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, Research and Service, and the Bertin Gamble Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching,” noted Curtis Stofferahn, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at UND.

Agreed Professor of English Tami Carmichael, who coordinates the UND American College of Norway Programs and oversaw Pedersen’s visiting professorship there, “I can say unequivocally that Dr. Pedersen did an excellent job. Her classes were carefully planned, rigorous and very student-centered. The result was that students who previously had little interest in (or even awareness of) Sociology as a field, became very engaged in the courses and aware of the topics presented.

“Several students privately indicated a desire to major or minor in the field, and several selected transfers to UND specifically because of Dr. Pedersen’s efforts.

“As I observed her and reviewed staff observations of her work, I – and the ACN staff – found her to be extremely respectful, encouraging, and helpful as she worked with students. Her courses were a great success, and she had exceptionally strong student evaluations.”

An inspiring career

In the last note on the last page of the nominating packet, Brad Rundquist, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at UND, summed up why he thought Pedersen deserves to be UND’s newest Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor:

Perhaps the most striking element of Pedersen’s work “is that she has served multiple times as an Alice Clark faculty mentor for incoming faculty,” Rundquist wrote.

“I believe it is very telling that incoming faculty repeatedly choose Dr. Pedersen’s career as one they would like to emulate.”

Add a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship to the list of great reasons for new faculty to feel that way.