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Dr. Kathleen Garces-Foley Receives Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award

Friday, February 17, 2012
Arlington, VA – Dr. Kathleen Garces-Foley, associate professor of Religious Studies at Marymount University, has received a 2012 Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award in the “Rising Star” category. Twelve faculty members of Commonwealth colleges and universities received awards, and Dr. Garces-Foley is one of two “Rising Stars.”

The Outstanding Faculty Awards program, now in its 25th year, was established in 1986 by the General Assembly, Governor, and State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). Recipients are selected by SCHEV, with the assistance of a committee of education, business, and civic leaders, based upon their contributions to their students, academic discipline, institution, and community. The awards program is funded by a grant from the Dominion Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Dominion Resources, which is the parent company of Dominion Virginia Power. The recipients will be recognized during a Feb. 16 ceremony at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond. Each of the 12 recipients will receive an engraved award and a $5,000 check underwritten by the Dominion Foundation.

Dr. Garces-Foley earned her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2004 and joined Marymount’s faculty in 2006. She is the author of Crossing the Ethnic Divide: The Multiethnic Church on a Mission, published by Oxford University Press in 2007. In addition, Dr. Garces-Foley is the editor of Death and Religion in a Changing World. Both books were recognized as “Outstanding Academic Titles” by Choice magazine.

Marymount University is a diverse learning community, with students from more than 60 countries and many faiths and backgrounds. Dr. Carolyn Oxenford, director of Marymount’s Center for Teaching Excellence points out, “Because discussions about religious beliefs and practices can potentially create discomfort and conflict, Dr. Garces-Foley models and requires discourse that is respectful but recognizes real differences. Students are not required to accept the values and beliefs of others, but they must listen to them and attempt to understand them.”

Dr. Garces-Foley adds, “Sometimes my classes can get a little heated because the topic matters deeply to many of us, but we also have a lot of fun considering the diversity of human experience.” To capture students’ imagination, she has been inventive – creating, for example, the “Karma Game Show” to illustrate rebirth possibilities in Buddhism. She also requires students to do field research in a religious setting that is completely new to them.

Dr. Garces-Foley teaches introductory, advanced, and honors undergraduate religion courses– emphasizing cultural competency, empathy, and ethical reflection, hallmarks of a Marymount education. At the graduate level, she teaches Contemporary and Historical Religious Perspectives in the Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling program. Dr. Garces-Foley also engages students in her research on contemporary religious trends in the U.S., encouraging them to undertake and present their own scholarly projects.

Actively engaged in campus life, Dr. Garces Foley organizes Marymount’s annual Interfaith Dialogue and Luncheon and is also the faculty advisor to the University’s Muslim Student Association. In addition, to reflect on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, she organized a student conversation about the discrimination experienced by religious and racial minorities in the wake of such tragedies.

Dr. Garces-Foley emphasizes, “Though my focus is always on helping students develop as thoughtful human beings, I know that clear thinking and empathetic imagination can change the world. When we talk about the religious ‘other’ and the challenges of living in a religiously diverse society, we are practicing civil discourse, something sorely lacking in the United States.” She adds, “I take great solace in knowing that students leave Marymount University not only ready to lead fully examined lives but able and willing to engage constructively with the world around them.”