by John Jackson
David Bollert, a philosophy professor at Manhattan College, received the Costello Excellence in Teaching Award for 2017.
The award, named after Brother Casimir Gabriel Costello, FSC, recognizes a liberal arts faculty member at Manhattan College who “exemplifies the excellence in teaching that characterizes Manhattan College and is central to its mission and the mission of the Lasallian Christian Brothers,” as stated in the award description.
Keith Brower, dean of the school of liberal arts, notified Bollert that he won the award late in the Spring 2017 semester. On Tuesday, Oct. 10, Bollert was given the award during the sixteenth annual Costello Lecture.
“I was moved,” Bollert said. “My department was there and it was wonderful to see them. They’ve been very supportive. I’ve benefitted from watching them teach and learning much from them.”
During the lecture, Brower spoke about how glad he was that such an award was in place upon assuming the office of dean in 2014. He also spoke about Bollert’s teaching and presented him with his award plaque.
Apart from the award ceremony, Carissa Harris, an assistant visiting English professor from Temple University, gave the annual lecture. Her lecture was called “Alehouse Lessons: Alcohol, Consent, and Sexual Education in Medieval England.”
This is the fifth year in which the Costello Excellence in Teaching Award has been bestowed upon a professor at Manhattan College. Ashley Cross, Arno Kolz, Br. Patrick Horner and Andrew Skotnicki were the past four winners in that order.
Horner had the privilege of knowing Costello and teaching alongside him for a few years.
“Winning an award in the name of Gabe Costello is just over-the-top,” said Horner. “That’s how good and that’s how well-respected he was as a teacher.”
Costello was born in 1910. He attended Manhattan College and graduated in 1933. He later received a master’s degree in history from Manhattan in 1939 and received a doctorate in history from Fordham University in 1946.
Costello was the chair of the history department at Manhattan College from 1949 to 1953.
In 1953 he became the dean of the college and served in that position until 1959. He went back to teaching at Manhattan for about two more decades before retiring.
The process in which faculty are chosen for this award is threefold. Students have the opportunity to nominate a teacher who has been at Manhattan for at least three years. After being nominated, the liberal arts dean requests a brief teaching evaluation from the nominee’s department chair. The nominee is then invited to submit a brief teaching philosophy statement and summary of teaching evaluations from the previous three years. A committee chosen by the liberal arts dean then decides on the winner based off those three criteria. Past winners of the award become apart of the committee.
Horner and Skotnicki are two members of the committee and both thought highly of Bollert.
Skotnicki, who had taught three classes alongside Bollert, cited his relationship with the students as a big reason he deserved the award.
“He’s got a terrific rapport with the students and [they] have a great love for the material he teaches,” Skotnicki said.
Horner praised the work of Bollert, among others, for rebuilding the philosophy department.
“The philosophy department has had a renaissance as a department in the last 15 years or so,” Horner said. “And David is a major reason for that.”
Horner viewed certain departments, such as the philosophy department, as simply being stable for years. There were many tenured professors who brought valuable experience, but at the same time they didn’t connect to the students as well as Bollert and some of his fellow younger colleagues do right now.
“The students clearly benefit from his classes and philosophy has reasserted itself in the school of liberal arts as an important major,” said Horner. “That was not necessarily true 25 years ago and now it is.”
For many students, having good professors in college can be quite beneficial. It was indeed that case for Bollert when he attended Michigan State University. One of his English professors and one of his philosophy professors saw something in him. They both pulled him aside and called him out for underperforming. Bollert took that to heart and he took his studies more seriously thereafter.
“I was inspired by their expertise, their pedagogy, [and] the fact that they cared about students not just as learners, but as people,” Bollert said.
Bollert admires the mission of Manhattan College and how it focuses on more than just the student in the desk, but rather who that student really is inside.
“It’s built into our Lasallian mission that we’re supposed to teach to the whole person,” Bollert said. “That our students are not just minds, and that’s very important. They’re also human beings going through a key kind of transitional stage in life.”
Bollert felt he had good examples at Michigan State with regard to treatment of students.
“We’re supposed to be here for matters of the heart and the soul, as well as the mind,” said Bollert. “I think I had some good examples of that at Michigan State many years ago.”
The process of choosing a worthy recipient for this award will begin again in the spring semester. This time Bollert will be on the committee to help choose the next winner. In the meantime, the honor belongs to him.
“He’s being recognized for the gift he is to the school,” Skotnicki said.