Dean E. Robinson, associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been named the Terrence Murray Commonwealth Honors College Professor. The two-year award was approved by the UMass Board of Trustees on June 15.
Awarded through a competitive application process, the Murray Professorship supports distinguished faculty in developing innovative courses and programs for students in the 3,800-member Commonwealth Honors College at UMass Amherst.
Robinson’s teaching and research focus on health and inequality in the U.S. and abroad. His work, he explains, explores “how inequality ‘gets under the skin.’”
Robinson says, “Access to health care contributes only a portion of what explains health outcomes, such as life expectancy and death rates, among populations. Health care is what is required after people are sick. It doesn’t explain the prevalence of chronic diseases—those are determined by non-medical factors.” He asserts, “Social status is a fundamental predictor of health status.”
With the professorship, Robinson will enrich the capstone seminar “Health and Health Care Inequality in the United States” that he offers for honors seniors.
“Behind my vision as Murray Professor is to highlight and encourage students to research and understand the broad field of social epidemiology. I also want them to think more deeply about the relationship between politics, empowerment, and inequality and how that becomes manifested in health. The Murray Professorship provides a really interesting platform potentially to do that,” Robinson says.
Robinson will also use the support for other curricular enhancements. He plans to develop a new modular honors course that will incorporate various disciplinary perspectives on the topic of health care. He will take exploratory trips as groundwork to later integrate comparative studies of the U.S. with health outcomes and related policies in such countries as Costa Rica and Cuba, and to identify sites in New Zealand and Australia that can offer virtual tours for students on campus. In addition, Robinson intends to capture and record interviews with subjects on the topic of indigenous health in the U.S. and abroad and include them in course curriculum.
Gretchen H. Gerzina, dean of Commonwealth Honors College and Paul Murray Kendall Chair in Biography, praised Robinson’s proposal. “Professor Robinson’s plans to supplement teaching with interdisciplinary and international perspectives will surely enrich the material. His courses present provocative issues that will affect students’ views on matters that have both social and personal relevance for all. Commonwealth Honors College supports this kind of innovation among its faculty and values such opportunities to engage students so deeply in course material.”
The Murray Professorship was established in 2003 with a $1 million gift from FleetBoston Financial Foundation in recognition of Terrence Murray, former chairman of FleetBoston Financial Corporation, now Bank of America.
The professorship first supported programs that integrated community service with academics, and then helped create opportunities for students to use new research-quality microscopes to capture crystal clear cell images. Most recently, the professorship has aided in the development of an honors course that uses a computer game and team-based learning approaches to teach the topic of genomics. The professorship is awarded for two years with the possibility of a one-year extension.
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- Faculty News