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English professor awarded $10,000 faculty prize

English Professor Geri Chavis.
English Professor Geri Chavis.
Photo by Catherine Tsen '11.

Professor of English Geri Chavis, Ph.D., who teaches the practice of using poetry, story-telling and creative writing to promote healing, was presented with the 2011 Bonnie Jean Kelly and Joan Kelly Faculty Excellence Award.

St. Catherine University Senior Vice President, Colleen Hegranes made the presentation at the University’s opening festivities on Sept. 7.

"Geri Chavis is a creative scholar, a first-rate teacher who delights in her students learning, and a valued colleague," said Hegranes. "She is truly a gift to St. Catherine University."

Presented annually since 2006, the distinguished award carries a $10,000 cash prize and recognizes accomplishments in teaching, scholarship and other achievements in the honoree's field.

Accepting the award, Chavis said, “There are experiences beyond words—this is one of them. I want to remember this moment forever!”

 2011 awardee – Geri Chavis

Since she began teaching at St. Catherine University in 1977, Chavis has been building a body of work that uses literature for healing. A certified poetry therapist and practicing psychologist, Chavis uses poems, stories and creative expression to facilitate growth and healing.

Chavis’s book, Poetry and Story Therapy: The Healing Power of Creative Expression, was released in spring 2011 as part of the “Writing for Therapy and Personal Development Series,” published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in the United Kingdom.  In addition, Chavis has co-edited two other books on poetry therapy as well as the first edition of the required text for the St. Kate's liberal arts core curriculum course, “The Reflective Woman.”

Among the many courses she teaches is “Literature for Growth and Healing” — offered to both undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in exploring the power of fiction, poetry and creative writing and how these creative practices can be used in therapy.

A poetry therapy mentor and supervisor, Chavis has facilitated workshops in Ireland, Scotland and England and also shares her expertise with the community in workshops during campus events such as “Careers in Aging Week.”  In 2009, she was recognized for her innovations in education with the Alumnae Association’s Myser Award for Teaching Excellence.

Chavis holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English literature and language from Syracuse University, as well an M.A. in counseling psychology from the University of St. Thomas. She is an editorial board member of the Journal for Poetry Therapy, a former vice president of the National Association for Poetry Therapy (NAPT) and recently was named honorary president of the Irish Poetry Therapy Network.

About the Kelly Award

St. Kate’s donor and Centennial 100 honoree Joan Kelly ’46 endowed the faculty prize and a distinguished visiting scholar program, as well as a writing excellence award for students.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of St. Kate’s, Kelly credits her liberal arts education and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet for her success after she joined her father’s business and led it to national standing.

The Bonnie Jean Kelly and Joan Kelly programs are all co-named to honor Joan’s late sister, Bonnie Jean, who attended St. Kate’s for a brief time before her death.

This is the sixth year the award has been presented. Past recipients include:

2010—Amata Miller, IHM, professor, economics, and director of the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity

2009—Susan Dandridge Bosher, professor (English, American Sign Language) and Margaret Dexheimer Pharris, professor (nursing);

2008—Mary Ann Brenden, associate professor (social work);

2007—Laurie Swabey, professor (ASL/Interpreting Department); and

2006—Mary Wagner, professor (Master of Library and Information Science).

Sep. 7, 2011 by Julie Michener

See also: Faculty, Liberal Arts