Rhodes Honors Professors Amy Risley and Michael LaRosa With Clarence Day Awards for Outstanding Teaching and Research

two college professors standing in front of black backdrop with a college logo printed on it

Dr. Amy Risley and Dr. Michael LaRosa were presented Rhodes College’s highest faculty honors for teaching and research at the college’s annual Awards Convocation, held on campus April 26.

Risley, associate professor of international studies and department chair, received the Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Teaching. LaRosa, associate professor of history, received the Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Research and/or Creative Activity. The awards, first given in 1981, were established by businessman and Rhodes alumnus Clarence Day and are provided by the Day Foundation.

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The Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Teaching is given to a member of the faculty who has demonstrated excellence in teaching over the previous three years as determined by the assessments of students and colleagues, the effective use of imaginative and creative pedagogy, and a strong record of motivating students to embrace a life of continuing study.

Risley joined the Rhodes faculty in 2005 after completing a Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. In making the presentation, Provost Milton Moreland said about her, “In the past 14 years as a professor of international studies, specializing in Latin American studies, she has established herself as a thoughtful and deliberate teacher who puts students at the forefront of her classroom.”

As an example of how she affords students opportunities to gain firsthand experience on how global developments play out at the local level, she asks students in her Social Movements class to do an internship with a local advocacy organization. Through such a creative pedagogical component, the academic discussions students have in class find a real-life meaning in student experiences.

In addition, Risley is a strong advocate of interdisciplinary learning, contributing courses and time to Rhodes programs in gender and sexuality studies, urban studies, and Latin American studies. For example, in her Women in World Politics course, she combines research on international relations, security studies, comparative politics, democratization, sociology, U.S. politics, and environmental studies to provide her students with a richly textured pedagogical experience. As one of her nominators states, “By engaging in such an interdisciplinary approach, students are able to see the perspectives of multiple political actors, the chain of events, and thus the bigger picture.”

Risley also has become an authoritative voice on pedagogy by researching and writing two peer-reviewed articles on teaching.

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The Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Research and/or Creative Activity is presented to a member of the faculty who has demonstrated that research and/or creative activity is an integral part of his or her vocation and who has published or performed outstanding works over the previous three years that have gained scholarly recognition or critical acclaim.

LaRosa joined the history department at Rhodes in 1995 after completing a Ph.D. at the University of Miami, and he has helped to build the department as well as the Latin American studies program. During his career at Rhodes, he has produced a significant body of scholarship about contemporary Latin American history and culture that has been published in both English and Spanish. As one of his letters of nomination states, “His works offer penetrating analysis of historical questions, but are also aimed at bringing the histories of Latin America to audiences beyond the narrow confines of academia. Professor LaRosa’s work has always been collaborative, interdisciplinary, and international, thus building a significant scholarly reputation across the field of Latin American Studies.”

As a scholar of the history of Colombia and of U.S.-Latin American relations, LaRosa has an international reputation as a leading expert in his field, having published 10 books and dozens of essays, book reviews, and encyclopedia entries. He serves as editor of a major Spanish language journal and is the founding editor of a monograph series called “Topicos,” published by one of the leading scholarly presses in the world. 

In addition, LaRosa has received numerous grants for his research, including from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the U.S. and Colombian government agencies. He also speaks regularly as an invited expert at national and international conferences and events, and has held numerous positions as a visiting faculty member or affiliated scholar at prestigious universities in the U.S. and Colombia.  

One of LaRosa’s most recent works, already in its second edition, is a path-breaking new history book titled Colombia: A Concise Contemporary History. As one reviewer notes, “This book succeeds in offering a distinct interpretation of Colombian history, one which conveys the complexities of a nation that falls outside so many Latin American ‘norms.’ It is written with care, insight and deep affection.”