Honors Program Award Named After Professor Ellen Casey

Dec 14, 2009
        When Ellen Miller Casey, Ph.D., arrived at The University of Scranton in 1969, she was one of just three female faculty members teaching at what was then an all-male institution. Even after her two female colleagues left the University shortly thereafter, Casey was too focused on teaching to feel out of place.
        She has accomplished plenty during her four decades at Scranton. In 1972, for example, the University changed course and began accepting female students. Casey worked tirelessly to help integrate the campus community. And in 1977, Casey—an English and theater professor—took over an undergraduate Honors Program in need of vision and grew it from a small offering open to students in a handful of departments to a hallmark program available to students across all disciplines. 
        In recognition of her tremendous contributions, the Honors Program recently announced that it has established the “Ellen Miller Casey Awards,” which provide financial grants to assist seniors with their honors projects.
        Casey said that, while the possibility of such awards had been discussed for some time, she didn’t know they were to bear her name until it was announced at the annual Honors Program Luncheon last spring.
        “I was delighted that the awards came to fruition and honored that they were named after me,” says Casey, now professor emerita at Scranton. “The most rewarding part of my involvement in the Honors Program has been working with great students and seeing the possibilities the program has provided for them.” 
        The awards are a fitting tribute to a woman who gave so much of herself to develop new opportunities for others.
        “What Ellen has done is just staggering,” says Joseph Kraus, Ph.D., assistant professor in the English Department, who has taken over direction of the Honors Program. “She didn’t create this program, but she did build it. She grew a program that embraces the entire university and she did it for 30-plus years.” 
        One of the requirements of the Honors Program is that students complete a two-semester, six-credit research project in their majors. By participating in the Casey Awards, students complete an exercise—devising a grant proposal—that supplements their academic work. 
        “The awards have a two-fold focus,” Kraus explains. “On the practical level, they make it possible for students to do research they otherwise would not be able to do themselves. On a broader, educational level, they get students involved in the practice of requesting grants early in their research.”
          The awards’ inaugural winner is Tim Smilnak of the class of 2010. A biology major from Binghamton, N.Y., Smilnak will continue the work of 2008 Scranton Honors Program graduate John Miller, who developed a machine that functions like a heart. Smilnak will test the design of Miller’s model, gather experimental data, and make necessary changes to the model’s design. Smilnak also will develop protocols to facilitate students’ understanding of the heart and cardiovascular system.
         “Tim made a very clear case about his research and how the grant could help further his valuable work,” said Kraus.
         “[Smilnak] may not have all the answers, but he always has really great questions. That is essential to quality learning,” added Casey 
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