Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Fond Farewell for Dr. Betty Sawin

Dr. Elizabeth Latosi-Sawin graced the classrooms of Western for forty years. Her accomplishments as a teacher, researcher and writer are more than an accumulation of awards, however. Yes, she won the Jesse Lee Myers award, the Alumni Award for Distinguished Faculty, the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, Distinguished Professor of English, and countless other accolades, but Dr. Sawin is more than the sum of her awards.
Most importantly, Betty deserves our gratitude for introducing interdisciplinarity to her colleagues.  As Leah Spratt Chair for Writing Across the Curriculum, Betty opened our eyes to the wonders of using writing to aid learning and foster critical thinking in over 20 disciplines.  She showed us how to use writing to teach critical thinking long before this became a catchphrase for effective pedagogy. In addition to making us better practitioners, her WAC workshops invited us to collaborate with our colleagues and find pleasure in professional growth.
Those who joined Betty in Outdoor Semester also understand the impact of interdisciplinary learning. By designing programs that combined physical education, geography, psychology, and music, Betty led students (and faculty) on a veritable odyssey of discovery as they traveled across the American West, journals in hand, hiking, camping, meditating in sweat lodges and canoeing the upper Missouri River. 
Another interdisciplinary hat worn by Betty was that of the Honors Program Director. Although she never said it was like herding cats, the challenges of wrangling such a diverse group of students and interests could not have been easy. Nonetheless, we can measure her effectiveness by the dramatic growth of participation in Alpha Chi and the trees that were planted on our campus as a token of the group’s appreciation.
No doubt the majority of students will remember Dr. Sawin in the classroom, where she taught composition and rhetoric, Native American literature, English literature from Beowulf to the 20th century, and every genre from poetry to creative non-fiction.  Many have described her as passionate, honest and caring. Many have said: “One of the best teachers that I have ever had.”   
She was met by comments like “your strength is your heart” and “I think know you are the best teacher I have ever had.”  One student remarked that “she has taught the things that are important for our lives while teaching us about literature.”
The interdisciplinary theme stems from Betty’s passion for the planet. She has always seen the connections between what we say, how we live, and how those things affect our world. We are grateful for all she has done. We wish her a long and happy retirement.  

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