November 22, 1999
UCSC lecturer honored by French government
By Barbara McKenna
"The award is very often given to French citizens but rarely to foreign nationals," said Herve Le Mansec, a UCSC lecturer in French and Consul Honoraire de France for San Jose and Silicon Valley. "Miriam has devoted her life to French studies, and the award recognizes a very creative and productive career."
Ellis came to UCSC in 1971 as a graduate student and is one of the few people who has been affiliated with campus as a student, staff member, and faculty member.
While earning her Ph.D. in literature here in 1979, Ellis worked as a student adviser. As a faculty member, she is known for her innovative ways of teaching French. One of her favorite approaches is through drama. "I've been doing theater for about a million years," she jokes. "It is the best pedagogical tool for language learning that I've seen. Along with teaching the language, a theater experience gives students a sense of teamwork, responsibility, creativity, organization, and self-confidence."
Although her career really doesn't reach back to the Jurassic era, Ellis has staged an impressive number of theater and musical productions since she began teaching. Most recently, she was the stage director for The Sisters of the Visitation (a full-length opera she translated and adapted with UCSC music professor Sherwood Dudley). For last year's Cowell College Culture Break, she directed Paris between the Wars, a cabaret piece, and a staged reading in French of Docteur Knock.
Ellis was also instrumental in securing and implementing nearly $300,000 in funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities between 1993 and 1997. The funds made it possible for UCSC faculty to offer classes combining language learning with other topics, e.g., Chinese drama, French sociology, and Italian linguistics.
"I'm quite honored to receive this recognition," Ellis said. But she quickly changed the subject back to her theater work, diving into one of her towers of files to bring out materials on a future project--a collaboration with three other faculty members to produce scenes from works in French, Spanish, Greek, and Chinese. "That's what keeps you going, isn't it," she asks, an impish twinkle in her eye. "Doing something you love."
Two other UCSC professors have received the Palmes Academiques. Le Mansec was awarded the medal in 1993 and professor of history Jonathan Beecher received the honor in 1998. Ellis will be presented with the medal later this year in a private ceremony.