Mary Kaye Waldron

Award Winner

Purnell Earns Mary Kaye Waldron Award
UGBC presents award to a faculty member or administrator who has worked to enhance student life at Boston College


Assoc. Prof. Jennie Purnell (Political Science) is the winner of the 13th annual Mary Kaye Waldron Award, presented by the Undergraduate Government at Boston College to a faculty member or administrator who has worked to enhance student life at Boston College.

The award — which commemorates the late Mary Kaye Waldron ‘95, a varsity basketball manager and member of the Jenks Leadership Program who died of cancer in her senior year — was given to Purnell at a dinner April 23.

“I’m very touched to received this award,” said Purnell, a faculty member since 1993. “I was particularly gratified to meet the Waldrons, who have such a meaningful, strong connection to BC. Mary Kaye graduated from the same high school [in Harvard, Mass.] my kids now attend, so this honor is all the more significant to me. She was clearly someone with courage and an incredible generosity of spirit.”

Earlier this year, Purnell was appointed as inaugural director of the Center for Student Formation which, when it opens as expected next academic year, will offer programs and activities that foster, and integrate, students’ intellectual, spiritual, social and moral development.

Undergraduates’ testimonials for Purnell portray a caring, inspiring and supportive teacher who undertakes student formation as a personal mission: “What she has given me most is being someone I can talk to, someone I can trust, and someone I can call a friend”; “[An] example of an adult genuinely concerned about and active in her community while maintaining compassion and openness to others”; “My friends like to say that I majored in Jennie Purnell...a great teacher, but her contributions to my BC experience were even more significant outside of the classroom.”

Purnell has taught in the Cornerstone Program Advisement Seminar, a 12-week, one-credit elective that encourages freshmen in the College of Arts and Sciences to reflect on academic and personal goals and develop confidence to meet challenges in college and beyond.

She also has participated in the Halftime retreat program, met with student groups prior to immersion trips to Central America — a region that is the focus of her research interests — and assisted students in applying for the University’s Advanced Study Grants program. In addition, Purnell has been active in the Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, which provides a grant to faculty to pay for a student’s research assistance for a faculty member’s research project.

Discussing her interest in enhancing student life, Purnell says she draws on her own undergraduate years. “I had a wonderful advisor at Dartmouth named Robert Huke. I’d been doing a senior thesis on Israeli kibbutzim, and he supported my desire to go there and do a study, which was one of the most important experiences in my life.

“All it takes is one professor to say, ‘Of course you can do that,’ and it can make all the difference in your college education. That’s the kind of professor I try to be.”

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