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New Auditorium Honors James S. Olson

Distinguished Professor James S. Olson

The auditorium of Sam Houston State University's newest classroom and office building has been named the Dr. James S. Olson Auditorium in honor of the distinguished professor of history and chair of that department.

The Texas State University System Board of Regents took the action "in honor of his many accomplishments...and his continued generous support of Sam Houston State University."

The new building at 20th Street and Ave. I has been designated as Academic Building 4. It will house the history, psychology and philosophy, and library science departments, as well as a Student Advising and Mentoring Center and a new computer services laboratory. Completion is scheduled this fall, with use expected at the beginning of the spring semester. The 4,100-square foot auditorium will seat 286.

Olson, who has taught at Sam Houston State since 1972, received the Excellence in Teaching Award after only five years on the faculty in 1977, received the Excellence in Research Award in 1988, becoming the first faculty member to receive two excellence awards, and in 1994 became only the second person in SHSU history to be awarded the rank of distinguished professor.

Colleagues who proposed the honor say he has taught more than 35,000 students, "probably more students than any other instructor in the history of this university." He has written or edited 40 books, and is currently a nominee for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in History.

"Most of the students have taken my large lecture classes, so to have the board of regents agree to attach my name to the auditorium in the new classroom and office building is overwhelming," said Olson.

"If I had to choose between that honor or receiving a Pulitzer Prize, I would opt for the auditorium in a second.

"Such acknowledgments usually go to generous financial donors or successful university presidents," he said. "I'm just a teacher and a scholar, so the honor is especially meaningful to me. I'm so grateful to have been able to spend my career at this wonderful institution."

Olson's most honored literary efforts include his "Historical Dictionary of the New Deal: From Inauguration to Preparation for War" and "A History of Cancer," both of which won Outstanding Academic Book Awards from the American Association of College and Research Libraries.

"A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory," won the Deolece Parmelee Award for Outstanding Research from the Texas Historical Foundation.

"John Wayne American" received the Ray and Pat Browne Award for Research and Writing from the Popular Culture Association and was nominated for the 1996 Pulitzer Prize in Biography.

His most recent effort, "Bathsheba's Breast: Women, Cancer, and History," is a current nominee for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in History.

James F. Gaertner, SHSU president, presented the naming proposal to SHSU's board of regents after receiving a number of letters from members of the faculty, administrators, a former administrator, and the community.

A nomination signed by 13 faculty members in the history department pointed out that Olson is among the most prolific academic historians in the nation, and of the 35,000 or so students he has taught, "it would be difficult to find one that would not be pleased to have the new auditorium named in Jim's honor."

"During the entire 120-plus years that this university has been in existence," said a nomination letter from Brian R. Chapman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, "no faculty member has ever achieved a level of excellence to equal that of Dr. Olson."

SHSU President Emeritus Bobby K. Marks, praised Olson for a publishing record "unmatched by any faculty member in the history of SHSU."

"Many major universities have attempted to employ Dr. Olson," wrote Marks, and he could have commanded a far greater salary than SHSU could afford, "but he has steadfastly maintained his commitment and allegiance to Sam Houston State."

Jane Monday, a former member of the SHSU board of regents, wrote that Olson "has brought SHSU credit in everything he has done and we have been fortunate to have him represent us. I can think of no one that would serve as a better role model for present students and for those to come than Jim."

David E. Payne, vice president for academic affairs, called Olson "a stunning model of what is best about our profession and our university," calling him an "innovator." One example--his adoption of a freshman skills laboratory to improve student retention and success, "when everyone else was still talking about it."

"Jim has loved Sam Houston and been generous to it," wrote Payne. "He has dedicated the revenue from several of his books to scholarships at Sam Houston State. His contributions total more than $79,000.

"Dozens of students have been able to come to this university because of his generosity and his love for Sam Houston State and its students," said Payne.

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SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Sept. 6, 2002
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