Within her first four years at Georgetown, history professor Marcia Chatelain – the recipient of this year’s College Academic Council Honors Teaching Award – has established herself as a passionate, caring and innovative educator.
With a diverse array of interests, Chatelain teaches multiple courses on African-American history and culture, including “History of the Civil Rights Movement,” “Women in the Civil Rights Movement,” “Introduction to African American Studies,” “African American Childhood,” “African American Women’s History” and “Sex, Love and Race in American Life and Culture” – one of her most popular classes.
Outside the classroom, Chatelain has been involved in various projects since she arrived at Georgetown. From launching “Office Hours: A Podcast” – a podcast discussing student passions outside of the classroom – to publishing “South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration” – a novel chronicling the relationship between Chicago’s Great Migration and black girls, Chatelain’s load of extracurricular activities is not dissimilar from that of any typical Georgetown student.
Chatelain said her varied interests and natural curiosity have helped shape her career.
“I’ve always been someone who just notices things,” Chatelain said. “I could be in a room and there’s one tiny thing, and I notice it, and I’m curious about it. So I think that has helped me to just try to think about things and experiences that people haven’t noticed yet.”
Before arriving at Georgetown, Chatelain was a professor at the University of Oklahoma Honors College from 2007 to 2011. Chatelain holds a doctorate in American Civilization from Brown University, which she received after attending the University of Missouri-Columbia for her BA.
Chatelain is also an alumna and honoree of the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life, an organization which seeks to promote female participation in politics, as well as a 2000 Harry S. Truman Scholar, a scholarship that helps fund graduate education for those committed to public service leadership. She also received the 2014-2015 Edward B. Bunn, S.J. Award for Faculty Excellence.
Chatelain’s work in the field of Women’s and Girls’ Studies has given her an insight on the pressure and struggles that women face in today’s society. According to Chatelain, it is important for girls to recognize failure is acceptable.
“I think it’s really important for young women to understand that it’s okay to fail and it’s okay if you’re not perfect. I would tell young women to not listen to all the noise, and don’t be afraid to be bad at things, and don’t be afraid to say the wrong thing or be the wrong thing, because ultimately that’s how you find your footing,” Chatelain said.
Chatelain said she was drawn to Georgetown’s unique level of commitment to academia.
“I think that the university really wants to create a culture where we care about our learning, care about the world, care about other people, and you feel that,” Chatelain said. “I’ve worked at other places, and I travel to a lot of other schools and give talks, and I’ve yet to be at a place like Georgetown where that idea shines through in everything that people do.”
According to Chatelain, one of her favorite things about Georgetown is the caring and dedicated students.
“My favorite thing about Georgetown is that no matter what is going on, I find that the students are so polite. I’ve never been around kids who are so polite. there’s just a level of respect that most students have for their professors and for grown-ups that I just think is so sweet,” Chatelain said.
Chatelain said she strives to connect with each and every one of her students.
“The thing I’m proudest of is that students always tell me that regardless of how talented or interested they are, they got something out of it,” Chatelain said. “I try really, really hard to make sure that everyone has a moment, if not the whole semester, they can really connect with each other and the material.”
Ben Zuegel (COL ’19), a student in Chatelain’s Ignatius seminar “African American food culture,” said her class opened his eyes to the relevance of what he previously considered obscure topics.
“I thought she did a really good job taking a lot of disparate elements and showing us how there was a connection between them all and how that connection was important,” Zuegel said. “One thing that also impressed me about her is that she would mention the research she is currently doing, which connected what we were learning to real problems and real issues.”
According to Zuegel, Chatelain had a lasting impact on him and his fellow students.
“Taking her has encouraged me to minor in African American studies. Taking her class made me realize how much of history isn’t told or even really looked at,” Zuegel said. “I know a lot of other people felt the same way. Every student in my class I spoke to said they also nominated her for this award.”