November 16, 2022

CHaSS Faculty Honored in USU Inaugural Lecture Series

2022 CHaSS faculty honorees (from left): Christopher Conte, Patrick Mason, Rebecca Walton and Brian McCuskey 

2022 CHaSS faculty honorees (from left): Christopher Conte, Patrick Mason, Rebecca Walton and Brian McCuskey

By Andrea DeHaan, CHaSS Communications Editor  

The 2022 Inaugural Lecture Series saw four faculty in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences recognized as full professors: Christopher Conte (History), Patrick Mason (Religious Studies), Brian McCuskey (English), and Rebecca Walton (Technical Communication and Rhetoric).  

Hosted by the Utah State University President’s Office and coordinated by the Office of the Provost, the series honors tenured faculty who have earned the rank of professor. Newly-promoted professors are invited to reflect on personal and career milestones in a presentation for colleagues, friends, and family in attendance.   

“We get to hear about their professional journey to get to this point and also hear about their research and scholarship,” explained Provost and Chief Academic Officer Larry Smith, speaking at Professor Conte’s event. 

Each presenter is asked to give a lecture highlighting their career and defining the moments that mark the path to full professor, and while each certainly touched on aspects of their research, this year’s CHaSS faculty honorees chose to focus on the passions that initially drew them to their fields and the opportunities that had brought them to USU.  

Christopher Conte, professor of history, said he could either tell a “tragically sad story or one that’s kinda funny” and so had decided to go with the funny version.   

During his Oct. 10 presentation, Conte, an environmental historian, used a tree to map the formative experiences that had shaped his career. He traced the roots back to working-class ancestry in the Midwest and talked about joining the Peace Corps to travel to Africa for the first time, a continent that informs Conte’s research to this day.    

On Oct. 19, Professor of Religious Studies and Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture Patrick Mason explained that his journey was marked by “serendipity” or “dumb luck” while listing the events that had changed his trajectory. Namely, working in special collections as an undergrad at Brigham Young University, connecting with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame, and being named to one of the country’s few Mormon studies professorships just before the “Mormon moment” of 2012, when popular culture and politics made Mormonism part of the national conversation. 

Professor of Technical Communication and Rhetoric and Associate Dean Rebecca Walton focused on the importance of mentorship, or what she called “targeted interventions,” throughout her lecture on Oct. 27, and shared how her journey to discover a fulfilling profession had been enhanced by advisors, professors, and colleagues.   

To honor the encouragement she received, Walton, whose early career and research focused on international humanitarian efforts, says she now aims to do “meaningful work in my own yard” and to make her field “more inclusive.”  

Using favorite books to show how he had latched on to the “immersive feeling” of reading and writing at an early age, Professor of English Brian McCuskey said his sixth-grade career plan was to sit in a “quiet corner happily reading books, and writing stories, and doing research.”  

On Nov. 7 McCuskey told a humorous tale of how he’d come to interview at USU, bringing only a box of Franken Berry cereal to his job talk, and expressed gratitude for the 27 years he’s spent discussing literature in noisy classrooms full of students because teaching great literature to others is now his “favorite way to dissolve into books.”  

Faculty punctuated their lectures with appreciation for the many people who had supported them personally and professionally, pointing to those in attendance, a sentiment that was echoed by Vice Provost Paul Barr during Walton’s event.   

“We don’t get here by ourselves,” he said.   

CHaSS had the largest number of faculty honored in the series this fall, which was held at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art. An additional CHaSS faculty member, Greg Goelzhauser, professor of political science, also achieved the rank of full professor in 2022.

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