The prize, which includes an award of $10,000, will be presented to Ashuntantang at Commencement in May.
The three-member selection committee – comprising PresidentWalter Harrison, Provost Sharon L. Vasquez, and student Elizabeth Deer '12 – surprised Ashuntantang with the news on Monday. The group, carrying red and white balloons, walked into Ashuntantang’s new office in the Shaw Center at Hillyer College, where she was advising a student.
Ashuntantang is the fourth winner in the history of the Belle K. Ribicoff Junior Faculty Prize, which was established in 2009. The three previous winners are Michael Robinson, associate professor of history in Hillyer College; Catharine (Cat) Balco, assistant professor of painting in the Hartford Art School; and Bryan Sinche, assistant professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences.
The annual prize, together with an endowed chair for junior faculty, were established through a generous gift from Belle K. Ribicoff, a long-time supporter and life regent of the University. Each year, the prize recognizes an outstanding junior faculty member – one who is in a tenure track position, but not yet tenured. The Belle K. Ribicoff Professorship will be awarded every fourth year to one of the Belle K. Ribicoff Junior Faculty Prize winners of the prior three years. The selection process for the Belle K. Ribicoff Professorship will begin in the fall of 2012, with the expectation that the professorship will be named in the spring of 2013.
Teacher, Mentor, Scholar, Poet, and Performer
Ashuntantang, who is originally from the western African nation of Cameroon, joined the Hillyer College faculty in 2009. Since that time, she “has distinguished herself as a teacher and mentor, scholar, poet, and performer,” according to the letter of nomination from Professor Marcia Seabury, chair of the Department of English in Hillyer College.
A recognized scholar in the field of African literature, Ashuntantang is the author of several books, including a collection of her poetry titled A Basket of Flaming Ashes. Her vibrant, high-energy teaching style draws on her combined experience not only as a scholar and poet, but as an oral interpreter and actress.
“Joyce contributes a welcome versatility of teaching areas to our students,” Seabury wrote in her letter of nomination. “She brings her expertise in non-western literatures to our Literature Across Cultures Course, launched our new African American Literature course, has taught the Survey of Minority Writers in Arts and Sciences, and is currently leading the interdisciplinary humanities honors seminar, ‘Art on a Mission: When Art Goes Beyond Itself.’ ”
Ashuntantang’s impact on students also extends beyond the traditional classroom. For the past two years, Ashuntantang has organized and led a highly successful Black History Month celebration called “Words Like Trees,” which invites students to read and perform speeches, songs, and poems from prominent African Americans who have influenced black history. She also has led the first two years of Hillyer College’s English Summer Bridge program, helping incoming freshmen with the transition to college.
“She has been an important force for positive change: a teacher-scholar who has lived and worked in many cultures and who brings her cross-cultural experience, creativity, and drive to our students, our college, and our university,” wrote Michele Troy,associate professor of English and director of the Hillyer College Honors Program, in a letter supporting Ashuntantang’s nomination.