Besides receiving the Bassett Teaching Award, Assistant Professor Chandra Bhimull also received the Student Government Association’s Progressive Leadership Award at the awards assembly May 4. Other faculty and staff receiving awards were: Assistant Director of the Career Center Todd R. Herrmann, the Seniors’ Colby Service Award; Assistant Director of Campus Life David McGraw, the SGA Service Award; Custodian Jay G. Hayes, the Student Programming Board Faculty/Staff Recognition Award; Associate Professor of Education Adam Howard and Associate Director of Admissions Sui Kim Cheah ’99, the Pugh Community Board Commitment to Multiculturalism Award.
Covering part of one wall in her office, close by her desk, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African-American Studies Chandra Bhimull keeps a pastel patchwork of square Post-it notes. Some capture her own thoughts as she works on research. Others record quotes from her students, gleaned during class discussions: "little snippets or little phrases that they say," she explained.
The College sometimes describes what happens on Mayflower Hill as "a collaborative learning experience that is transformational for both [professors and students]," and Bhimull's checkerboard is a physical representation of that. Ideas netted on Post-its before they flutter away get mixed together on the wall. The professor is both contributor and reagent. "That is how I learn. I keep learning," Bhimull said.
Finishing her third year on Colby's faculty, Bhimull was honored May 4 with the Class of 2010's Charles Bassett Teaching Award, which has been presented annually since 1993 to honor a distinguished member of the faculty. And, clearly, the respect is mutual and reciprocal. "I'm forever learning something from my students," she said. "In the classroom, also through their papers, but very much ... when they're thinking on their feet and the different thoughts and ideas and questions they're bantering back and forth. They often open up a different way of perceiving the topics we're studying, and that's really influenced my ability to see my research materials in different ways—to ask different kinds of questions."
Bhimull graduated from Kenyon College and earned a Ph.D. in anthropology and history from the University of Michigan. Beyond introductory anthropology and theory, courses she taught this year included Caribbean Cultures, Encounters in the African Diaspora, and a course related to her Ph.D. study -- Anthropology, History, Memory. While she has focused on the African and Caribbean diasporas, her research is "an ethnographic and archival exploration into airline travel and what I call 'the geometry of empire' in the Atlantic World," she said.
After attending a liberal arts college and then a major research university, Bhimull intentionally sought a position at a liberal arts institution. "One of the things I really appreciate about Colby in particular," she said, "is the dynamics between students and faculty. I really appreciate the ways in which the community here supports ongoing learning beyond the classroom."
She noted the commitment to "breaking down the divide between the students' intellectual life in the classroom formally and their intellectual life beyond the classroom." Bhimull said, "I think Colby is doing a lot, in really good ways, to try and get students to see the integration of living and learning rather than to see their lives as fractured in these distinct realms."