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Two Receive Alumni Teaching Awards

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November 21, 2005

Two faculty members – Karen Brunssen and Charles F. Whitaker – have been honored with the 2005 Excellence in Teaching Awards by the Alumni Association.

The Alumni Association selects the recipients with the help of deans, students and alumni and presents them with a plaque and monetary award.

Brunssen, associate professor of music performance studies, has received acclaim for her mastery of three distinct roles -- administrator, teacher and performer.

A School of Music faculty member since 1991, Brunssen is recognized as an academic administrator who engages the faculty and advances the school’s recruitment, curriculum and standards goals. She cochairs the department of music performance studies, coordinates its Voice and Opera Program, and serves on the curriculum committee, administrative and academic councils, the Music Theatre Executive Committee, and the National High School Music Institute.

Brunssen is respected for her compassionate yet direct approach to vocal pedagogy -- traits that have made her a mentor and role model to students. She brings her knowledge of classical repertoire and performance skills into the classroom, emphasizing the physical conditioning required to transform the anatomy of the human voice into a musical instrument. “The goal of my teaching,” she says, “is to inspire students, in countless ways, to develop their voice into something that is opulent, capable of every musical texture, and able to communicate words and their meanings.”

Brunssen is also a highly sought-after mezzo-soprano who has performed widely in the United States and abroad. She has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Opera Theater, Music of the Baroque, and the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra. She has also been heard with the Cleveland Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Orchestra, Mexico City Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera, Colorado Music Festival, Prague Autumn Festival, and numerous other orchestras, opera companies, music festivals, and touring ensembles worldwide. Her discography includes recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Georg Solti and with the New York Virtuosi Chamber Symphony conducted by Kenneth Klein.

Brunssen received her bachelor of music degree from Luther College in 1976 and pursued graduate studies at the Yale School of Music and the Blossom Festival School of Music at Kent State University. She has served as a visiting artist in residence and head of the voice department at Concordia University; has taught at the International Institute of Vocal Arts in Chiari, Italy; and is a frequent guest clinician and master teacher at other music schools and for the American Choral Directors Association, Chorus America, and the National Association of Teachers of Singing.

Whitaker, assistant professor of journalism, has twin passions -- teaching and magazines -- that are leaving an indelible mark on his journalism students, the Medill School and the magazine profession.

Whitaker has been a key member of the Medill faculty since 1992. A past director of the school’s Teaching Magazine Internship Program, he currently teaches Magazine Editing on a regular basis and chairs the Student Publishing Company board, which oversees the Daily Northwestern newspaper and Syllabus yearbook. He also directs the Academy for Alternative Journalism, a summer fellowship program designed to increase diversity at member publications of the Association for Alternative Newsweeklies.

In 2004–05 Northwestern named Whitaker a Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Clinical Professor, an honor conferred in recognition of teaching excellence. Students praise him for his high standards, enthusiasm, and guidance, both in and out of the classroom. “As a teacher,” Whitaker says, “I derive my greatest pleasure from the discovery that students who had become disillusioned with journalism had their passion for the industry reawakened after taking my class.” A self-described “shameless proselyte for the magazine industry,” he strives to prepare Medill students for journalism careers while instilling a respectful love for magazines and the disciplined art of magazine editing.

Whitaker, who received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Medill, says he deeply admired the late professors Benjamin Baldwin and Leon Forrest -- Baldwin for his intensive writing critiques, Forrest for his generous attention to students. Whitaker began his career as a staff writer for the Miami Herald and the Louisville Times, earning honors from the National Association of Education Writers and the Louisville Association of Black Communicators. In 1985 he joined Ebony magazine as a senior staff editor and served as senior editor from 1999 to 2002.

When Whitaker took an unprecedented employment census of the magazine industry in the mid-1990s, the resulting article, “The Whitaker Report,” set a baseline for monitoring the industry’s minority-hiring practices. In addition to teaching and writing, Whitaker serves as advisory board cochair for the Chicago Reporter, an editorial adviser and consultant for CATALYST magazine, and director of the Gertrude Johnson Williams Literary Contest, Ebony magazine’s annual short story competition. He is a director of the Chocolate Chips Theater Company and a member of Chicago Parent’s editorial advisory board.

Topics: People