Karen Seat Wins Distinguished Head Award

May 3, 2022

Dr. Karen Seat, Head of the Department of Religious Studies and Classics, is the inaugural recipient of the University’s Distinguished Head/Director’s Award.


Seat, who also serves as Director of the School of International Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, is recognized for her mentorship, efforts co-chairing important initiatives, cultivating a collegial and positive atmosphere, and growing the department in terms of student credit hours, undergraduate degrees awarded, research activity and public outreach.


“Karen Seat’s impact is immeasurable. Her both-forest-and-trees sensibility makes her an exceptional scholar, guide, shepherd, advocate, colleague, head, and director, whose tireless work has shaped the Department of Religious Studies and Classics, the School of International Languages, Literatures and Cultures, the College of Humanities, and the broader University,” wrote department faculty members in nominating her for the award.


The Distinguished Head/Director’s Award was created in 2021, sponsored by the University of Arizona Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost. The award recognizes uncommon performance, calling attention to individuals whose leadership and management has raised the standards, expectations, and reputation of the unit as a whole, or who have otherwise brought excellence, innovation, and high ethical standards to the art of being a unit head or director.


“I am truly honored and humbled to receive this recognition,” Seat said. “Certainly none of this would have been possible without the incredible support from the College of Humanities leadership, our amazing SILLC business and academic services team, and, of course, our world-class faculty, who make the Department of Religious Studies and Classics so successful in its research, teaching, and outreach mission.”


Nearly all the faculty in the Department of Religious Studies and Classics began their careers at the University of Arizona under Dr. Seat's leadership, and they took the lead in nominating her for this award.


“Dr. Seat gives of herself, her time, and her energy in support of her faculty and to further the mission of the department and the University. Under her mentorship, an entire generation of scholars from the University of Arizona has emerged, producing ground-breaking, field-defining research, teaching thousands of students every semester, and—in imitation of Dr. Seat—serving in leadership positions at all levels of the university,” wrote the faculty members. “As a result, she directly and indirectly is shaping the university, our community, and the discipline, reaching tens of thousands of students and helping to shape our knowledge in both Religious Studies and Classics.


“While her efforts in growing the Department of Religious Studies and Classics is a herculean feat on its own, it is her mentorship of junior faculty that truly demonstrates her lasting impact and will be the indelible stamp that cements her legacy at UArizona,” they wrote. “Time and time again, she has selflessly prioritized the success of junior faculty in their research productivity and success.”


Also submitting a joint letter of nomination were Alain-Philippe Durand, Dorrance Dean; Kimberly Jones, Vice Dean of Academic Affairs; Toni Alexander, Assistant Dean of Business & Finance; and Ken S. McAllister, Associate Dean of Research & Program Innovation.


“Dr. Seat has done a fantastic job in leading the department of Religious Studies and Classics in its significant increase in nearly all areas: undergraduate student credit hours, number of majors and minors, undergraduate degrees, as well as historic and consequent increases in summer and winter enrollments and revenues,” they wrote. “She is certainly someone we know we can trust and count on when it comes to reaching our goals, mentoring and advocating for our colleagues.”


Seat was first appointed as the Director of the Religious Studies Program, within the Department of Classics, in 2012. At the time, the program had only four full-time faculty, and Seat, a scholar specializing in U.S. religious history, American evangelicalism, and gender studies, began working to build the program and diversify the curriculum through a series of strategic hires, including faculty experts in the religions and cultures of India, Tibet, and the U.S. Southwest, as well as experts in the areas of transgender studies and religion, science, and health.  


Seat was named Head of the reconfigured Department of Religious Studies and Classics in 2014, when the Classics program was in a moment of crisis. She rebuilt Classics, including hiring new core faculty experts in the languages, literatures, and cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world, which was instrumental in the ongoing success of Classics’ renowned B.A. and M.A. programs. Under her leadership, the department has created new programs, including the New Testament Language and Literature Minor, the Religious Studies for Health Professionals Concentration, the Classics M.A. emphasis in Ancient Religion, and the Arizona Online Classics Minor and Religious Studies Minor.


“Her innovations have connected us with other departments and provided unique educational opportunities for undergraduates with multiple interests, by forging individually tailored and realistically achievable academic paths for them. She has brought to our department a strong vision, one that is responsive to the professional and intellectual challenges of our fields,” the faculty wrote. “Dr. Seat has forever changed the landscape of her department, SILLC, the College of Humanities, the University of Arizona, and—we say this with no exaggeration or reservation—the world.”