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Press Release

Barbara Laskin

Ruthanne Kurth-Schai Receives
Thomas Jefferson Award

Photo: Ruthanne Kurth-Schai

March 23, 2010 – St. Paul, Minn.– Ruthanne Kurth-Schai, professor and chair of Educational Studies, has been awarded the Thomas Jefferson Award. The award was established in 1961 by the Robert Earll McConnell Foundation to honor faculty members that exemplify the principles and ideals of Thomas Jefferson.

Here's the citation:

Exemplary colleague, visionary scholar, generative teacher, and latter-day oracle Ruthanne Kurth-Schai, professor and chair of Educational Studies, is the 2010 Thomas Jefferson Award recipient.

Ruthanne spent her formative years in Kentucky, but she soon made her home in the Twin Cities.  She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in secondary science education from the University of Minnesota, followed by a Master of Science degree in alternative education from Indiana University before returning to the U to earn a PhD in the social and philosophical foundations of education.  In her dissertation, deftly applying philosophy, social science theory, history, sociology, and anthropology to educational policy issues, we see the roots of her scholarly and pedagogic commitment to pioneering interdisciplinary, collaborative, socially just, and systemic educational reform—and to oracles.

We don’t talk much about oracles in the academy, but on her webpage, Ruthanne reminds us of their primary civic purpose—in her words, “to deepen and extend collective wisdom concerning issues of social significance…and to inspire principled social action.”  Although she is far too humble to admit it, this is exactly the role she plays on campus and beyond.

While specific topics of her visionary scholarship are wide-ranging, they all revolve around a core concern with philosophically grounded, imaginative, democratically responsible educational systems theory, design, and change.  Many of Ruthanne’s papers and presentations feature her innovative application of the Delphi technique.  Named after the ancient Greek oracle, this approach captures the hallmarks of Ruthanne’s approach to knowledge: context-sensitive, intuitive, consensus-building, forward-looking.  Her work spans youth development, teacher education, and democratic public policy and reform in the United States as well as in several European and Asian nations.  Along with being the chief methodologist on a complex study involving 23 interdisciplinary scholars from Europe, Asia, and North America, she was the informal coordinator, diplomatic dispute mediator, and spiritual center on the project that became the book Citizenship for the Twenty-first Century.  More recently, she collaboratively authored Re-envisioning Education and Democracy, a book that encourages us to restructure public education to promote enhanced social inquiry and civic participation.  She is now at work on her next book project on civic learning and life in the age of globalization, and, like its predecessors, it promises to be transformative in its argument and impact.

As befits an educational scholar, Ruthanne is an inspired, inventive, and rigorous instructor. In her multi-perspectival style, she works with well-crafted assignments of reading, reflection, writing, discussion, and experiential learning to create communities of learning.  Ruthanne neither teaches routinely nor for routine outcomes.  She creatively involves her students and colleagues in the complex processes of reflective, often radical, change.  Ruthanne's students know they are on challenging paths with her.  Some paths are well traveled, with useful maps, recognized guidebooks, and even milestones.  But she believes the most interesting and important paths are found through joint inquiry, social imagination, and mutual action.  Such educational journeys are exciting, confusing, risky, and vital, and Ruthanne is a skillful and courageous guide and fellow travelerStudents and colleagues reap the rewards of their excursions with Ruthanne in their lives as students, as citizens, and in many cases as teachers. 

Ruthanne’s gifts as a scholar and a teacher are formidable, but they pale in comparison to her extraordinary contributions as a colleague.  She joined her first committee at Macalester in her very first year of teaching—in 1986—and she hasn’t stopped since.  She has served on, and chaired, virtually every committee on campus.  Each committee has benefited immeasurably from her sagacity, generosity, grace, integrity, patience, and humor.  Ruthanne is the paradigmatic college citizen in her willingness to tackle important but thorny questions.  You may remember the labor-intensive process that resulted in our new General Education requirements.  Ruthanne chaired EPAG during those painstaking deliberations, and, at every turn she opted for inclusiveness and transparency to ensure full participation in the outcome.  Ruthanne’s leadership of our Educational Studies department is a testament to her quiet persistence, her ingenuity, and her dedication.  Buffeted by the vagaries of state licensing requirements and vicissitudes of institutional support, the department has not only survived but thrived.  As the department’s sole tenured or tenure-track faculty member, the successes of this nationally recognized, innovative program are a direct result of Ruthanne’s vision and resilience.

We are not the only ones to benefit from Ruthanne’s prodigious talents. She is a visible and active colleague in educational research and policy communities---internationally, nationally and locally.  She provides peer reviews for professional journals, publishers, and funding agencies as well as being formally involved in professional organizations as a board and committee member.  She has been called on as an evaluator of international education projects, a reviewer of, and consultant to, liberal arts college Education Departments, and an influential member of state policy advisory panels.  Her collegial approach extends to her role as a citizen as she lives out her passionate commitment to democratic possibilities at all levels.  In true oracular fashion, in all that she does, she “deepens and extends collective wisdom concerning issues of social significance and inspires principled social action.”   

With deep gratitude for all that she has done, and all that she will do in the future, we are delighted to honor Ruthanne Kurth-Schai with the 2010 Thomas Jefferson Award.

Macalester College, founded in 1874, is a national liberal arts college with a full-time enrollment of 1,958 students. Macalester is nationally recognized for its long-standing commitment to academic excellence, internationalism, multiculturalism and civic engagement.