Rhona Free '78
Rhona Campbell Free ’78, a professor of economics at Eastern Connecticut State University, in Willimantic, was named in December as one of four U.S. Professors of the Year.
The awards, presented by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), honor educators for classroom work, commitment to undergraduate students and influence on teaching.
Free was recognized in the Master’s Universities and Colleges category, which includes more than 600 American colleges and universities. Overall, the four national winners were chosen from among almost 300 nominees. Free has taught at Eastern Connecticut State University since 1983, the year she earned her Ph.D. from Notre Dame. She says former students have sent her congratulations from as far away as Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates.
Sarah Lawrence, Free notes, has played an important role in her teaching career. In her acceptance speech at the awards ceremony, she said, “The most important teacher I ever had was Frank Roosevelt, an economics professor at Sarah Lawrence. He’s much more interested in teaching than in testing and in encouraging than in evaluating. In his classes even an average student, as I was, can learn to think critically, express thoughts carefully, and view the world with an open mind.”
Free and Roosevelt are still in touch; she returned to campus in 2004 to watch him receive the College’s Lipkin Family Prize for Inspirational Teaching. Free, said Roosevelt, “has a presence about her that stands out.” In her senior year evaluation, he wrote, “Rhona Free is one of the most outstanding students I've ever encountered. With a profound interest in political and economic issues, and as a person who always thinks for herself, she is developing an independent perspective on the great questions of the day.”
Now she’s showing others how to do the same.