Honours for Dr. Randy Harris

I am pleased to be able to share this guest post by English PhD candidate, Devon Moriarty. I am thrilled to celebrate the work of a colleague. Congratulations to Dr. Randy Harris for his work, and thank you to Devon Moriarty for hers. Read on to find out what people have to say about Randy…

In the world of graduate education, supervisors play a crucial and often formative role in our academic and professional lives. One of this year’s recipients of the GSPA’s Award of Excellence in Graduate Supervision, Professor Randy Allen Harris, has played the important role of mentor and advisor for numerous scholars throughout his twenty-seven years in the English Department. I know this not only because of my own positive experiences with Professor Harris as one of his supervisees, but from the countless stories relayed to me by others. And not just from individuals in the department either. It’s a common occurrence to attend a conference and have Professor Harris’ name be raised, and inevitably, a cluster of attendees eager to share their own encounters with him congregate.

I had the privilege of collecting just a few of these stories while compiling a package to nominate Professor Harris for this prestigious award. Twenty-three past and present students wrote letters in support of his nomination; together they tell the story of a Professor whose investment in students does not end upon their graduation, and whose mentorship extends beyond those whom he supervises. Indeed, some letter writers had graduated decades ago, and letters of support weren’t just from supervisees, but from individuals who had encountered Professor Harris in one of his many roles: as the PI or co-PI on research projects; as a Course Instructor for undergraduate and graduate courses; in his role as the department’s Associate Chair, Graduate Studies (2011-2014); as a chair of PhD area exams; as a dissertation committee member; and the list goes on.

It would be a disservice for me to attempt to summarize the fond reflections of those who have benefitted from Professor Harris’ guidance. Instead, I’ve opted to let the letter writers speak for themselves by selecting a brief quote from their letter found below.

Professor Harris is incredibly passionate about his own work—contagiously so. . . Professor Harris has been and continues to be for me—and so many others—what we all look for in a supervisor: honest, intelligent, reliable and an overall incredible person.” -Lillian A. Black, Master’s student, University of Waterloo

Professor Harris gave me room to learn independently when I needed it and timely, no-nonsense feedback when I needed that.” – Ian Blechschmidt, Lecturer, Northwestern University

Dr. Harris held us all to a standard higher than we set for ourselves and after knowing him for nearly a decade I recognize that these standards are not simply something expected or applied, they are part of Dr. Harris’ overall scholarly ethos. In this way Professor Harris is the ultimate exemplar for young graduate students.” – Adam James Bradley, Research Scientist, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

My experience with Professor Harris was overwhelmingly positive. Prof Harris was always available, positive, and supportive. His feedback was both constructive and delivered with kindness. I had no doubt that by the time I had handed in my thesis, Prof Harris helped me create the best work that I could.” – Greg Cento, Program Director, Cyber Security, Sun Life Financial

Professor Harris is the rare supervisor who is brilliant, but able to let the student develop their own ideas. He is able to point to the possible path but lets the student blaze it on their own. I have tried to model my own supervisory skills on Prof. Harris’s methodology.” – Robert Clapperton, Assistant Professor, Ryerson University

I’m sure the reference letters from current and recent graduate students supporting this nomination will enthusiastically attest to Dr. Harris’s fitness for this award. However, I hope that my letter will show that the English department and the University of Waterloo have benefitted from Dr. Harris’s dedication to graduate students and his supportive supervision of them for decades, and that his skill as a supervisor has benefitted the field of rhetoric generally.” – Bruce Dadey, Lecturer, University of Waterloo

In addition to Dr. Harris’ support as an academic advisor and research facilitator, I found myself identifying Dr. Harris as a strong role model and mentor. Like Dr. Harris, I came to academia a little later in life and through an untraditional route. I felt that Dr. Harris truly cared about me as a person, and could identify with my struggles to juggle family obligations, full time employment and academic expectations. He exceeded my expectations as an advisor.” – Cort Egan, Director, External Relations and Communications, Renison University College

In an early article on rhetoric, Dr. Harris writes ‘[w]e are what we hear. We appropriate and transform strands of language, and the bits of thought spun into them, and throw them out again – hopefully with enough velocity, direction, and adhesive that they catch onto someone else.’ As I increasingly articulate my own intellectual voice, I’m grateful for Dr. Harris’s transformative influence.” – Kyle Gerber, PhD Candidate, University of Waterloo

Dr. Harris consistently supports his students in disseminating their research. In my case, he did this by co-authoring two journal papers and one conference presentation with me that were based on my dissertation or on our joint project work. This collaboration allowed me to experience various approaches and strategies in negotiating and adapting publications to diverse research fields and audiences. Recently I saw Professor Harris use a central concept from my dissertation in one of his presentations, thus indirectly raising the profile of my analytic framework.” – Olga L. Gladkova, Lecturer, University of Waterloo

I am not a graduate student, though I feel compelled to write this letter of support because Dr. Harris has provided me with exceptional informal mentorship as I prepare for the next step in my academic career towards graduate studies. . .Dr. Harris is an outstanding mentor. There is no other way to say it. He encourages his students to independently pursue their interests while providing thoughtful feedback on their work. He provides opportunities for graduate students to excel and grow as academics and facilitates the exchange of ideas. He is rightly treasured in the department.” Danielle Griffin, 4B Undergraduate Student, University of Waterloo

As I’ve met other Ph.D. students and learned of their trajectories, I feel increasingly fortunate to have been mentored by a scholar of the caliber that Professor Harris embodies. He taught me to pursue the highest standards of humanities scholarship, through exhaustive historical research, expansive theoretical explorations, and crystal clear writing to distill arguments and hypotheses. . .I have seen how my training with Professor Harris has distinguished me as a Ph.D. student.” – Douglas Guilbeault, PhD Candidate, Annenberg School for Communication

I am honored to have Professor Harris as my supervisor. The guidance he provides and the opportunities he helps to facilitate, advances his doctoral candidates into scholars.” – Monique Kampherm, PhD Candidate

Dr. Harris is unequivocally a brilliant supervisor. He has a contagious flare for his discipline of Rhetoric and Language and for academia itself to the point where he creates and sustains a culture of academic, professional, and personal excellence. . .Dr. Harris’ attention to pedagogy and student development at the CLO (Course Learning Outcomes) level is something that has stayed with me throughout my own teaching career, and it continues to guide me in my educational development work at the University of Guelph.” – Tommy Mayberry, Educational Developer, Educational Development, University of Guelph

Each of us could tell a dozen more stories about a paper Prof. Harris commented on that we published, a conference he put us on to, a moment of doubt he walked us through or, crucially for junior scholars, a moment when he advocated for us or gave us an opportunity to demonstrate the significance of our work to an audience that might otherwise never engage our research. Professor Harris is a model for faculty members, and indeed the epitome of what a professor can be, and for those of us who have most closely benefited from his mentoring, he is also a role model for how to challenge students with compassion for their individual challenges and strengths to allow them to be independent scholars.” – Ashley Mehlenbacher, Assistant Professor, University of Waterloo

I believe [Professor Harris] is deserving of recognition for endeavouring to ensure that students coming to him for guidance receive encouragement and inspiration to perform fruitful academic enquiries in an atmosphere that not only serves to nurture their intellect, but also their social skills and emotional welfare.” – Diana Moreno Ojeda, PhD Candidate, University of Waterloo

While psychologists have long known the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy, there’s something to be said for the Harris-fulfilling prophecy. Professor Harris has an astute eye for potential not always obvious to others, and he has an uncanny ability to know just what that potential needs to be nurtured. He made me believe in myself by first believing in me.” – Devon Moriarty, PhD Candidate, University of Waterloo

One of the many things that most amazes me in Prof. Harris is how intellectually capable he is in following and understanding such a complex computer science area as Artificial Intelligence. He is not only a very flexible mentor in understanding elements out of his concentration area, but also contributes a lot with his insights in my major interest—interpretability of neural networks.” – Paulo Pacheco, PhD Candidate, University of Waterloo

Professor Harris has made me a better thinker, a more persuasive rhetorician, and a skilled communicator. I give him much credit for equipping me with the professional tools I use daily as a highly effective strategist in the dynamic discipline of modern marketing.” – Frances Ranger, Head of Strategy, Quarry

Professor Harris has also been key in my professional development as a scholar. Early in my PhD years, Professor Harris motivated me to propagate my research at conferences. In fact, when I attended a conference at the University of Waterloo, I noticed he was in the audience – listening to my presentation, and I would later come to know, writing feedback for me. . .Him taking the time to show up to conferences made me feel like my scholarly contributions really matter.” Saeed Sabzian, Lecturer, University of Waterloo; Recent PhD graduate (2017)

Professor Harris provided me with many professionalization opportunities. Sometimes his presence was minor but assuring, like when he attended my first major conference presentation in Las Vegas and consulted with me afterward. More often, he generated opportunities for me to meet leading figures in the field, in both formal and informal settings. . . [my graduate education experience] meant spending those formative years with a mentor who had the right temperament, experience, and wisdom to guide my learning with an ethical and convivial manner.” – Michael Truscello, Associate Professor, Mount Royal University

Amongst my peer group in the UW English grad program, we used to have a saying (and still do, for that matter): ‘I want to be Randy Harris when I grow up.’. . . He is the very model of the modern academic in his enthusiasm to produce a meaningful contribution to the world through pragmatic investigation and dissemination. But he is not a miserly researcher who hordes his process and knowledge. So much of what makes Professor Harris an inspiration is his willingness to share and bring on board anyone who was interested in helping the project.” – Mark Rowell Wallin, Associate Professor, Thompson Rivers University

Prof. Harris also introduced me to new research areas situated in rhetoric, linguistics, semiotics, and philosophy – disciplines that I had minimal exposure to or engagement with during my studies as an engineer and then a computer scientist. The exposure to these new research paradigms not only provided me with a broader and more innovative vision for my research, but also generated a Gestalt effect on the knowledge model in my mind.”—Yetian Wang, PhD Candidate, University of Waterloo

I have never encountered anyone with Dr. Harris’s combination of generosity and intelligence. He has a unique capacity to celebrate the strengths in students’ work while making weaknesses visible in ways that are candid, precise, constructive, and inspirited by the highest ideals of intellectual and democratic engagement.” – Sarah Whyte, Lecturer, University of Waterloo; Recent PhD graduate (2018)

Congratulations, Professor Harris!

Image source: ARST Oral History Project–An Interview with Dr. Randy Harris


2 responses to “Honours for Dr. Randy Harris

  1. I’ve been blessed with amazing students who, fortunately for me, in addition to being brilliant and focussed and inventive are also rhetoricians, so they can make a crusty, stubborn old Burke-nerd seem like God’s gift to graduate studies.

  2. Pingback: Faculty Teaching Recognized |

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