Swetnam, with fellow award winners McAleese and Hurst
Image Credit: ISU Photographic Services

ISU Frontrunner

Swetnam is First to Win 'Hat Trick' of ISU Accolades

Susan Swetnam, Ph.D., Idaho State University professor of English, has become the first University faculty member to be awarded all three of the University's highest faculty honors— Distinguished Teacher, Distinguished Public Servant and Distinguished Researcher.

Swetnam was honored at May 10 Commencement as the 2008 Distinguished Researcher. She was honored as Distinguished Teacher in 1988, and as Distinguished Public Servant in 1996.

"I've been calling it my 'hat trick,'" Swetnam joked, referring to the sports term used when a player scores three goals in one game. But she then grew earnest.

"The three really do go together well," she continued. "Because I believe faculty members need to do all three things."

The research award has been especially gratifying.

"I'm thrilled with the Researcher Award because I am engaged in humanities research, and I'm also a writer of creative nonfiction," she said. "Creative writing isn't always recognized as 'legitimate research,' but it is every bit as hard to get a piece of creative writing published in a national publication as it is standard scientific work."

She has written or has in publication seven books. Titles include Lives of the Saints in Southeast Idaho: An Introduction to Mormon Pioneer Life Story Writing, to Home Mountains: Reflections from a Western Middle Age.

"Dr. Swetnam represents the type of excellence that truly enhances the recognition of Idaho State University and brings significant benefit to our students," said University President Arthur C. Vailas, Ph.D.

Swetnam also has written numerous articles, chapters and introductions for books, and she has published creative nonfiction essays and magazine articles in a variety of national and regional publications, from Gourmet magazine to New Works Review, in which she is currently a featured writer. Her first book-length essay collection won an Idaho Library Association prize. Loyola, in Chicago, published her second last year.

Her work focuses on Western American culture and literature. She has worked to dispel myths and bring a wide range of writers, especially women writers, to the public's awareness. In a soon-to-be-published book, Swetnam explores historical support for books and reading in the region, correlating grassroots interest in Carnegie libraries with local social and political values.

Teaching is central to the suburban Philadelphia native's life.

"I love teaching, and I can't imagine life without it," said Swetnam, who for most of her 29-year career at Idaho State University has carried a "three-and-three" load, teaching three classes per semester.

"We joke with Susan, calling her 'road scholar' for all the work she has done lecturing throughout Idaho, doing a lot of work for the Idaho Humanities Council," said Rick Ardinger, executive director of the Idaho Humanities Council. "She has really taken the humanities off campus and reached out into rural communities, furthering the mission of the Idaho Humanities Council."

Andy Taylor
ISU Magazine