Literature Scholar Wesley Mott Receives WPI's 2016 Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize

Awarded at Commencement, the prize recognizes faculty members for excellence in all relevant areas of performance, including teaching, research, and advising
May 14, 2016

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Wesley T. Mott, professor of literature in the Department of Humanities and Arts at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), received the 2016 Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize during the university’s 148th Commencement exercises today.

The prize, in the amount of $10,000, recognizes WPI faculty members who excel in all relevant areas of faculty performance, including teaching, research and scholarship, and advising. The tradition of awarding the prize was established in 2007 through the personal philanthropy of Donald K. Peterson '71, then chairman of the WPI Board of Trustees. It was continued this year by current board chairman Philip B. Ryan '65.

Mott was recognized for his groundbreaking scholarship on the New England Transcendentalists and the other writers of the American Renaissance; his innovative approach to teaching literature within the context of the WPI Plan, WPI's project-based undergraduate curriculum; and his service to his profession, to WPI students, and to the preservation of New England's cultural and literary heritage.

Having earned his bachelor's, master's, and PhD degrees in English at Boston University and having held academic and administrative posts at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mott joined the WPI faculty in 1987. He was drawn to WPI, in part, because of its proximity to Concord, the heart of the Transcendental movement. In his early scholarship, he helped bring the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson out of the shadow of his younger contemporary, Henry David Thoreau.

Through his first book, The Strains of Eloquence: Emerson and His Sermons, and his editing of The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. 4, Mott explored how Emerson, who began his career as a Unitarian minister, anticipated in his sermons the brilliance of his later essays. Of Mott's books, one reviewer wrote, "His work is the point of departure for all future studies of the sermons."

In 1989, Mott founded the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society and launched its newsletter, Emerson Society Papers, which he published for 20 years at WPI. He twice served the organization as president, including during Emerson's bicentennial year in 2003.The society awarded Mott its Distinguished Achievement Award in 1999. Mott, who has also received WPI's Board of Trustees' Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Scholarship and the Thoreau Society's Walter Harding Distinguished Service Award, has published numerous papers and books on Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, and other writers of the American Renaissance.

Mott has also been recognized for his work as an educator. His course "The American Dream" received the 1990 Leavey Award for Excellence in Private Enterprise Education and his articles on teaching Thoreau through Interactive Qualifying Projects (IQPs) and Emerson through his Inquiry Seminar on American Self-Reliance appear in books on innovative pedagogy published by the Modern Language Association of America. The IQP, which explores the intersection of science, technology, and societal issues, is one of two major projects all WPI undergraduates must complete; the other is the Major Qualifying Project (MQP), which is in the major field.

The advisor for 342 humanities projects, 58 IQPs, and 15 MQPs, Mott forged ties with New England institutions, including the Thoreau Society, the Fruitlands Museum, the Walden Woods Project, and the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society, that have opened doors for numerous student projects in such areas as literature, culture, and historic preservation. A number of his project teams—as well as numerous volunteer projects by WPI’s chapter of the Alpha Phi Omega national service fraternity, which Mott has advised for 25 years—focused on efforts to save Thoreau's Walden Woods from development.