Home News
Colgate News


Aveni receives Balmuth Teaching Award

By Mark Walden on April 9, 2012

To paraphrase Michael Stipe and R.E.M., 2012 could be the end of the world as we know it. And pioneering archaeoastronomer Tony Aveni, Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor of astronomy and anthropology and Native American studies, has every reason to feel fine.

Professor Tony Aveni wins the Balmuth Teaching Award

He has written more than two dozen books, including The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012, earned grants from the National Science Foundation, been named a CASE National Professor of the Year, and served with Stephen Hawking as a Youtube/Lenovo Space Lab Competition judge.

On March 30, Colgate gave him another reason, awarding him the third annual Balmuth Teaching Award in recognition of his legendary skills as an educator.

Colleagues, friends, and alumni gathered with award founder Mark Siegel ’73 in the Hall of Presidents to mark the occasion. “For me, what distinguishes a great undergraduate education is great inspirational teaching,” Siegel said in his remarks. “Though this might seem obvious, it is often overlooked.”

The award therefore shone a light on Aveni’s long and distinguished career and also allowed the audience to look ahead to Colgate’s future — one built on the skills and values that Aveni continues to bring into the classroom each semester.

“Colgate is an institution that depends on teachers from generation to generation succeeding each other, learning from each other, and carrying on a great pedagogical tradition,” President Jeffrey Herbst reminded the audience.

The man of the hour was preceded at the podium by the prize’s namesake, Jerry Balmuth, Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of philosophy and religion, emeritus. In his remarks, Balmuth spoke of the urgency of Colgate’s mission and the vital importance of great teaching.

“After all, we’re not teaching in limbo,” he said. “We teach in a democratic society that depends for its very future on the moral maturity and intellectual integrity of its citizens. And we believe that the liberal arts college — Colgate — is especially situated to help realize that need.”

Aveni has been doing his part to realize that need for more than four decades. When his turn came to address the audience, he thanked Siegel and then did what he does best: he told stories — of coming to Colgate in the 1960s and finding mentors who encouraged his creativity. He held the audience’s attention with his wit, but firmly reiterated the evening’s theme.

“Let the young people who come here develop the rich careers I think they can have in the classroom at a place like Colgate,” he said.

Putting it all in context — the prize, the recipient, and Colgate’s ongoing tradition of excellent teaching — Siegel himself stated it best. “We are so lucky to have Tony Aveni as one of us here at Colgate.”


  • Jennifer Huergo said:

    Congratulations, Don Antonio! From Astronomy 101 to the archaeoastronomy trip to the Yucatan in ’93, I have so many great memories of learning from you. Best wishes to you and Lorraine.

  • Laurel Brown '99 said:

    In my freshman year, my favorite class was taught by Tony Aveni — a man who did strange experiments with fire extinguishers and encouraged my edible model of the Earth’s orbit. In my senior year, one of my best trips ever — to the Mayan ruins of Central America — was led by Tony Aveni. Two of my favorite college experiences thanks to one extremely influential professor. Congratulations!

  • Kate Sullivan said:

    A well deserved recognition for one of the most impressive educators, formidable minds, and inspiring individuals I’ve ever met. I had the great good fortune to not only take classes under Prof. Tony Aveni while I was at ‘gate in 2001-2003, but to also have him as my advisor and mentor even after my transfer…to pursue Mesoamerican studies and epilinguistics, to which he introduced me. I have Tony, his teaching, and his enthusiasm to thank for my academic path…and for my unfortunate tendency to lecture people on why 2012 is not the end of the world.

    Congrats, Tony!

  • Rich Rugen '70 said:

    The mark of a great teacher is the ability to inspire students who do not major in his or her discipline. Tony did just that with me in the required physical sciences course for non-majors! All the best to a fine teacher!

  • Krissy Saddlemire '98 said:

    A well-deserved award for a kind, prolific, and thought-provoking professor. I consider myself so fortunate to have had the opportunity to take Aveni’s classes, and travel to Mexico with him, Lorraine, and my amazing class!

  • Amanda Kalal said:

    Congratulations, Tony! A well-deserved honor. Thank you for all that you do for the Alumni Office!

  • Bruce Crowley said:

    Congratulations, Tony.

    I have known Professor Aveni for almost thirty years. I first became his student during the summer of 1977 at Colgate. His passion, vision, charisma and continuous contribution to the field ignited my life-long interest in the Maya and achaeoastronomy.

    In 2005 —- twenty-eight years after studying the subject matter in his class at Colgate —- Professor Aveni invited me to join a group of scholars and students on a trip to the ruins of Copan, Honduras, in order to monitor the current archaeological field work and to visit the mystic Temple 22 which had been the topic of a paper I wrote years ago. I spent three weeks in the jungle of Honduras with a group that included approximately twenty students.

    The experience had an unprecedented positive lasting influence. Not only did I have the privilege of learning directly from Professor Aveni in the field, I also had the opportunity to experience and observe his gifted teaching style again through my lens as a parent. I marveled at how he was able to quickly integrate this collection of students who had never met one another into a high-functioning collaborative group. Furthermore, I watched him connect with and inspire each student in the same extraordinary and magical way he had inspired me thirty years before.

    The Balmuth Teaching Award confirms the following: Professor Anthony Aveni is the brightest star in the teaching firmament.

    Bruce Crowley ’79

  • Nancy Kaplan '86 said:

    So great for Tony. I went to Mexico with him and Lorraine a whole lifetime ago. A profound experience. All my best wishes.

    Nancy Kaplan ’86