Faculty members recognized for community contributions

by Robert Koch

Having studied Hmong and other immigrant groups in the United States for several decades, University linguistics professor Bruce Downing knows firsthand the daily problems newcomers face.
“Not everybody can learn English right away,” Downing said. “They need help in the meantime — if they have to go to the doctor, if they have to go to court.”
So Downing, who also established the Southeast Asian Refugee Studies Project, helped develop the Minnesota Translation Laboratory, which trains interpreters to work in hospitals, clinics, schools and legal settings.
The University recognized Downing and five other University faculty members Wednesday for their community contributions during the Second Annual Outstanding Community Service Awards banquet.
Also recognized were Patrick Keenan, assistant professor in the Department of Family Practice and Community Health; Young-Nam Kim, associate professor in the School of Music; Harrison Tordoff, professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior; Rudolph Vecoli, professor in the Department of History; and Toni McNaron, professor in the Department of English.
The awards banquet, which drew more than 80 guests to the Holiday Inn Metrodome on the West Bank, also acknowledged their respective community partners.
A faculty and staff committee appointed by Bob Bruininks, University executive vice president and provost, chose this year’s recipients from among 28 nominees.
Peers from both the University and the larger community nominated them, Bruininks said.
He presented each with a certificate and plaque. Each will also receive a $1,500 raise.
“We have an extraordinary responsibility to connect our research and teaching to the responsibilities of serving the public,” Bruininks said. “We’re honoring them for their civic contribution.”
Helping Bruininks present the awards was Regent Vice Chairwoman Maureen Reed, who called their work “the music of our lives” in a world otherwise marked by the noise of discourse and disagreement.
Keenan, who is also a physician, was recognized for his work in improving HIV detection, cancer screening and helping early childhood development in the north Minneapolis neighborhood.
Through his Reach Out and Read program, Keenan has distributed more than 5,000 free books to area children and their families to encourage pre-school reading.
Kim earned recognition for successfully reviving the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota, hosting music classes and concerts at nursing homes, town halls, schools, community centers and summer festivals.
Bruininks praised retired professor Harrison “Bud” Tordoff for his commitment to conservation and species preservation.
Tordoff, the former director of the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History, helped re-establish the peregrine falcon population in the Midwest.
Vecoli, who also serves as director of the Immigration History Research Center, earned recognition for his work in preserving the history and heritage of America’s various ethnic groups and increasing public knowledge of the immigrant experience.
McNaron, who came to the University in 1964, was recognized for her contributions to women’s issues, history, culture and literature. She also contributed to the early success of the Amazon Bookstore, the nation’s oldest feminist bookstore.
“I needed to have a sense of grounding someplace outside of departments and colleges of this institution,” said McNaron.
More recently, McNaron directed the Bush Faculty Development Program on Excellence and Diversity in Teaching, which pairs assistant professors with senior faculty members to improve teaching skills.
Looking back at her 36 years at the University, McNaron said her community service work benefitted her as much as it did others.
“My graduate students say to me, ‘How have you been here so many years and kept so clear?’ I say, ‘By looking outside and working outside,'” McNaron said.

Robert Koch covers police and courts and welcomes comments at [email protected].