May 27, 2005 • Volume 13 Number 18

Vanessa Rumble

Rumble Chosen PBK Teacher of the Year

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

A philosophy professor praised as an engaging lecturer and thoughtful mentor has been voted Teacher of the Year by students of the Boston College chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

Assoc. Prof. Vanessa Rumble (Philosophy), coordinator of the Psychoanalytic Studies minor at BC, was honored at the academic honor society's campus induction ceremony on May 22.

The choice of a philosopher as Teacher of the Year comes at a time when philosophy has never been more popular at Boston College. More than 400 BC undergrads this spring listed the subject as a first, second or third major. No school in the country is believed to have more philosophy majors.

"Philosophy has a real draw on college students, who are living on their own for the first time, and discovering they have a life ahead of them and a mind that is, in some way, radically their own," Rumble said.

"It's interesting, isn't it, that the love of learning really first arrives with this feeling of independence. So it makes sense that a field which has as its subject matter how we should live, and what a genuine human life is, would have a special appeal."

Rumble currently is at home on maternity leave, caring for her three-month-old son, Henrik. Her husband, Jorgen Aabo, an engineer, immigrated to the United States six years ago from Denmark with son Rune, now a sophomore at Boston College.

She said she was honored to receive the teaching award voted annually to a member of the College of Arts and Sciences faculty by students of the BC Phi Beta Kappa chapter.

"Like any teacher, I am grateful to the students -- not only gifted, but already so generous -- whom it's been my privilege to teach in the course of the years here at BC," she said. "And I feel fortunate to work in a department in which the love of teaching is a common denominator."

Describing the appeal of the teacher's art, Rumble said, "I think [BC theologian] Father Michael Himes says that the secret is 'getting up every day and doing it!'

"Of course, each of us brings our own presuppositions to the task. I grew up on a farm in Georgia, and, though it was a beautiful place to spend a childhood, it was also somewhat isolating.

"So I have always enjoyed -- and probably needed -- to speak to others about what matters most to me, and to discuss what human life is all about -- what is fundamental to it." Rumble joined the Boston College faculty in 1989 after receiving her doctorate from Emory University. Her teaching includes courses in the A&S Honors Program, which centers on the Great Books, and recent philosophy electives on German Romanticism and Idealism, Freud and Philosophy, and Kierkegaard.

She is president of the Soren Kierkegaard Society, devoted to the study of the 19th-century Danish philosopher generally recognized as the first existentialist. Her languages include Danish and Norwegian (written), German, French and Classical Greek.

Yet she wears the weight of her learning lightly, according to students who nominated her as Teacher of the Year. One described her having "brightened the dismal philosophy of the 20th century with her passion and generally unique way of presenting the material.

"As a teacher...she shows a level of respect for students that I have not encountered ever before. As an academic, she not only 'knows her stuff,' she genuinely cares about it, too."

Another student called Rumble "challenging and inspiring in the classroom" and "equally committed to her students" outside the classroom. The student recalled needing to write a paper to send to graduate schools, and how Rumble agreed to read it over Christmas break and then phoned in her recommendations.

"In general, a student is lucky if his or her professor takes the time to give serious consideration to his or her papers and thoughts. I count myself doubly lucky to have shared the learning experience with such a wonderful person as Vanessa Rumble."

Rumble previously has been nominated by the University for US Professor of the Year honors in the national competition staged by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

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