Texas Tech University

Leading the Way

TTU philosophy senior Michelle Corcoran

Michelle Corcoran Wins Academic Citizenship Award from Texas Tech Parents Association

Award Goes to Philosophy Graduate

4.6.2020 by Toni Salama

Michelle Corcoran, a philosophy major who graduated in December 2019, has won the Student Academic Citizenship Award from the Texas Tech Parents Association. The San Diego, Calif., native was nominated for the award by Texas Tech University philosopher Jeremy Schwartz for demonstrating academic excellence and outstanding public service leadership in the field of philosophy.

Corcoran was instrumental in resurrecting TTU's Undergraduate Philosophy Club and, as its president, worked closely with the executive secretary of Phi Sigma Tau to reactivate Phi Sigma Tau's Texas Tech chapter. Phi Sigma Tau is an international honor society for philosophers, and its re-establishment is meant to encourage student involvement.

Schwartz praised Corcoran's abilities in the classroom. But it was her dedication to building a community of philosophers that, Schwartz says, made her "a real leader in the battle to keep alive a culture of intellectual curiosity here at Tech."

In his letter recommending Corcoran for the award, Schwartz described the change that Corcoran brought to the philosophy lounge, which for many years either lay empty or little used.

"For the last few years, however, this lounge has been filled with undergraduates almost every single day. Whenever I heat up my lunch, I see them all crammed around a single table chatting. I have heard conversations about all manner of topics," Schwartz wrote. "As is expected, often the conversation was about classes they took together—which professors were hard (hushed if one of us walked by) and whether any of them could make heads or tails of a certain reading. But just as often, the topics were free-wheeling conversations about whether, for example, animals are conscious and therefore subject to morals or about millennial culture."

Schwartz wrote that it is hard to overstate the importance of these sorts of conversations. "Obviously, I think coursework is important. I spend a lot of time thinking about my own classes, and I hope that my students get a lot from them. Still, I think that nothing that I teach is as important as them sitting around processing these ideas together outside of the classroom. It is in the crucibles, I think, that our understanding of the world is articulated and shaped, and I saw it happening with our students on a daily basis."

Corcoran was not only at the center of many of these conversations, but also recognized their importance and the need to preserve the culture that nurtured them. With many students from this group graduating—Corcoran among them—the continuation of the culture was threatened. So Corcoran and another person revived the ailing Texas Tech Undergraduate Philosophy Club and started actively recruiting new members. Corcoran asked professors to visit their classes to solicit new club members.

Jonathan Andrew, who submitted a peer-support letter recommending Corcoran for the award, wrote of Corcoran leading a team of seniors in the remaking of the Texas Tech Philosophy Club and how increasing interest in the philosophy department provided a platform to improve relationships within the philosophical community. "Michelle was instrumental in the planning of meetings," Andrew wrote, "and also leading the discussion that was held at the meetings."

"Under her guidance," Schwartz wrote, "the undergraduate philosophy club has blossomed and hosted several successful and interesting events. Michelle is also very keen to recruit and groom her successor."

Corcoran says receiving the award is a tremendous honor.

"I was particularly lucky to have been a part of such a great department and program, with professors and peers that I admire very much," she says. "I thoroughly enjoyed getting involved in clubs and activities outside of the classroom, and this award has given me the confidence to uphold the standards of honor and leadership that Texas Tech has taught me during my time as an undergraduate. I will continue to work hard and display good character in the years to come."

Corcoran, who minored in legal studies, also volunteered with Friends of the Lubbock Public Library and enjoys solving sudoku puzzles. Her post-graduate plans include attending law school and continuing her pursuit of research in philosophy regarding artificial intelligence and mind-to-computer uploading.

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