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Last modified: Friday, February 25, 2005

Linda Chen

Wilbert Hites Mentoring Award -- Founders Day 2005

Associate Professor of Political Science
Chair, Department of Political Science
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Indiana University South Bend
Appointed to IU faculty, 1991
B.A., Queens College, City University of New York, 1978
Ph.D., University of Massachusetts, 1988

When Linda Chen arrived on the Indiana University South Bend campus in 1991, very few females -- and even fewer minorities -- had tenure track faculty positions. Most departments, including her own Department of Political Science, were entirely male.

As it turned out, Chen's arrival heralded a new era in South Bend. The campus hired an increasing number of young women in the mid-1990s, who would seek out the newly tenured Chen to help them make the difficult transition into academia. It marked the beginning of Chen's days as a trusted and respected mentor and role model to an entire generation of women faculty, as well as to colleagues, students, administrators, university staff, and community members of all ages, races, and gender.

Chen has earned the reputation of "go-to" person for advice on campus, says Louise Collins, chair of the Department of Philosophy at IU South Bend, who benefited from Chen's "sage advice and tireless support" as she struggled to adapt to the culture of a Midwestern commuter college and become the first tenure-track female in her academic department.

"It is a remarkable accomplishment to have earned the confidence and respect of people located in such a variety of different niches in the university, yet this is indeed what Linda has done through her own consistent, low-key labor of mentoring," says Collins.

Despite her unassuming style, Chen's efforts haven't gone unnoticed. With the passing of each year, she becomes increasingly visible and in demand on campus. In recent years, Chen was asked to serve as interim director of the Women's Studies Program and chair of the Department of Foreign Languages when the department faced a possible shutdown. Today, the department is on strong footing because of Chen's efforts to maintain a collegial, enthusiastic, and positive teaching environment.

Chen also has mentored junior colleagues on how to balance teaching, research, and service; how to deal with campus culture and problems in the classroom; and how to achieve tenure. "I value her honesty, her grasp of difficult situations, and her willingness to provide assistance whenever called upon," says Betsy Lucal, associate professor of sociology at IU South Bend. "Knowing that I can call on her when I need advice, support, or encouragement gives me confidence to do my work and to take on leadership positions myself."

For Chen, though, mentoring begins in the classroom. She has been a positive role model for her students, especially her female students and those who are the first in their families to attend college. She draws on her own experiences as a woman of color, an immigrant to this country, and a first-generation college student to enlighten, engage, and encourage students facing similar obstacles. Along the way, she has emphasized civility, responsibility, civic-mindedness, and tolerance in her teaching.

"Linda reached out and served as a mentor to female students who had never before enjoyed such an empowering role model in the classroom," says Neovi M. Karakatsanis, associate professor of political science.

Chen has received a number of awards in recognition of her mentoring efforts both inside and outside the classroom. They include induction into the IU Faculty Colloquium for Excellence in Teaching (FACET) and the IU Teaching Excellence Recognition Award (TERA). Additionally, IU South Bend's Student Government Association presented Chen with its Unsung Heroine Award in 2001 and, in 2002, she became the first Asian American woman ever to receive the St. Joseph Country YWCA's "Woman Educator of the Year Award."

Mentoring is not a "top-down relationship," she says. "I learn from my students as they learn from me. The hardships they face, the obstacles they overcome, and the knowledge they have to offer, based on their life experiences, have enlightened me and made me a better teacher and mentor."