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Through the Gates: Tow Foundation

Photograph by Dorothy Hong

Seated (from left): Kristina Milnor, Elizabeth Boylan, Emily Tow Jackson. Standing (from left): Christian Rojas, Leonard Tow, and Debora Spar.

 

A generous benefactor supports faculty research and exemplary teaching

Kristina Milnor, an associate professor of classics, was pregnant with her first child last May when she received the exciting news. Milnor, along with Associate Professor of Chemistry Christian Rojas, had been named as the first two recipients of a new award for Barnard faculty members offered by the Connecticut-based Tow Foundation: The Tow Professorships for Distinguished Scholars and Practitioners. Designed to help Barnard recognize and promote outstanding teaching and research, the new professorships will be awarded to two associate professors each year and come with two years of support totaling $50,000 for each professor; the award’s uses include summer stipends, research, and professional development.

“It was a real vote of confidence,” says Milnor, who joined Barnard in 1998 and teaches lecture courses in classical civilization as well as classes in elementary, intermediate, and advanced Latin. A specialist in Roman history and Latin literature of the late Republic and early Empire, Milnor received the Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit from the American Philological Association for her 2005 book, Gender, Domesticity, and the Age of Augustus: Inventing Private Life. She also recently completed a book about literary graffiti from the ancient city of Pompeii, and says that the Tow award will be a big help as she chooses and begins pursuing her next big project. Milnor’s not sure yet of the topic—perhaps something on representations of law and the idea of law in Roman literature—“but stay tuned,” she says. “I feel incredibly grateful.”

Professor Rojas, the other 2010 Tow award winner, definitely shares that feeling. “It’s just a tremendous honor,” he says. Rojas joined Barnard’s chemistry department in 1997 after completing an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Scripps Research Institute. His research focuses on developing novel methods for incorporating nitrogen into organic molecules and the application of those methods to the synthesis of amino sugars. “It’s very labor-intensive,” says Rojas, who notes that the Tow Foundation stipend will enable him to hire two Barnard students to help in his lab this summer.

Along with the two annual professorships, last year the Tow Foundation also announced plans for a new annual teaching award to recognize an exemplary member of the Barnard faculty: The Tow Award for Innovative and Outstanding Pedagogy. The first winner of the award will be announced this spring and will receive $10,000, which can be used for research or professional development that helps promote innovative teaching.

The Tow family has long been a generous benefactor to Barnard. Leonard Tow, a former cable television industry executive, started the family’s foundation together with his wife Claire; their daughter, Emily Tow Jackson ’88, began serving as Tow Foundation executive director in the mid-1990s. Since 1996, the Tows have sponsored the Tow Foundation Public Service Internship Program at Barnard; the program has helped dozens of students get practical work experience at a wide variety of organizations including nonprofit organizations, education, public health, and public-service agencies. Moreover, since 2001 the foundation has also funded the Tow Research Fellowships, which enable students to travel and conduct research for their senior theses.

In the past few years, however, the Tows decided they would like to expand their focus to give faculty members extra support. “We thought it was essential to recognize really top-quality teaching,” says Tow Jackson, who majored in American history. She and her father spoke with Barnard president Debora Spar about how they could best support great teaching, and the ideas for the Tow Professorships and the new Tow teaching award were born. “One of President Spar’s goals was to really shore up faculty recognition,” says Tow Jackson. “We think there’s a tremendous benefit to the College in helping high-performing staff pursue their interests.”

News of the Tow Professorships and the new teaching award was greeted with rousing applause at a faculty meeting last May. Barnard Provost and Dean of Faculty Elizabeth Boylan was thrilled that Barnard was able to recognize Professors Milnor and Rojas, each is a “wonderful and distinctive embodiment of the scholar-teacher ideal.” Boylan says she believes the new Tow teaching award will send a strong signal both within and to the outside world about “the value we place in innovative and effective teaching.”

Spar says that the experience of working with Emily and Leonard Tow and witnessing their strong support for Barnard has been a real pleasure. “They both know the institution so well and clearly understand higher education,” she adds. “We are very lucky to have them as part of the Barnard family and I look forward to seeing all the good that will come from the generous awards they have established.”

The Tow Foundation last year also decided to double the funding available for both the public-service internship program as well as the Tow Research Fellowships. The fellowship program was launched a decade ago; 89 students have received funding for summer travel and research projects since 2002. These projects have covered everything from microfinance in the nonprofit sector in China to the study of graffiti from the Ptolemaic and early Roman period in Egypt. “We knew that travel costs were prohibitive for many students,” says Tow Jackson, who notes that her father, the Tow Foundation chair, is a strong proponent of travel for students. “He really believes it’s an essential experience,” she says.

With the public-service internship program, Tow Jackson says the goal was to assist students who wanted to explore potential careers in the nonprofit and public policy spheres, while also providing some extra support for the organizations for which the students interned. “We saw it as a double bang for the buck,” she says and notes that many nonprofits struggle to do their work with limited budgets and staff. Since the program started 15 years ago, it has provided support for some 230 interns working for a mix of organizations including public-interest groups and government agencies, such as the Revenue Watch Institute, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the New York State Office of the Attorney General.

- Susan Hansen