SUNY Potsdam Students Choose Honors Professor of the Year


Dr. John McGinness, SUNY Potsdam’s 2010 Distinguished Honors Professor of the Year, poses with his award at the Steinway piano in his office at the Crane School of Music.

After receiving a healthy amount of feedback—some of it rather grumbling—about the difficulty of the reading selections for his spring semester course, Dr. John McGinness, an associate professor of music theory at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, was surprised to learn that he had been selected as the 2010 Distinguished Honors Professor of the Year.

Every year, students in the College’s academically rigorous Honors Program vote for their favorite professor. Those that took Dr. McGinness’s advanced “What is Post-Modernism?” course—despite finding it challenging—wholeheartedly endorsed him for the award.

“Never before have I been challenged to read like a graduate scholar or asked to defend my own ideas without knowing if they were right or wrong or if they even mattered at all. Yet never before have I been so excited to give a presentation,” said Kevin Gifford, a senior honors student majoring in music education. “For the first time, and I am proud to admit this, I’ve learned so much, that I’m pretty sure—no, I am positive—that I know less than when I started!”

Other students also backed Dr. McGinness, even though they struggled with the difficult class, with many saying that they’ve never learned so much in such a short period of time.

“I am very pleased to be named 2010 Honors Professor of the Year. And, frankly, I am very surprised,” Dr. McGinness said. “It means a lot to me that, despite the challenging material (or maybe because of it), the students feel so positive about our classroom experience.”

The award was presented at the 11th annual Honors Program Awards Ceremony this spring.

The SUNY Potsdam Honors Program allows highly motivated students to explore education in a supportive environment. The Honors Program is designed to take the handcrafted education at Potsdam to the next level by offering even smaller class sizes with increased student interaction and independent projects. Honors classes are taught by specially selected members of the faculty who excel in their field of study and encourage student participation.

“As a professor, one of the most beneficial aspects of the Honors Program is that it enables me to teach subjects related to my own scholarly activity. I really enjoy the material we study. Using this as a kind of springboard, students are encouraged to find areas of interest that hold individual appeal. They then hopefully have a better chance to become intellectually involved in ways that will extend beyond a single course,” Dr. McGinness said. “Because I am fortunate enough to teach about art—with an admitted emphasis on music—I think teaching success is achieved when the art itself becomes a source of inspiration, both for me and my students.”

In addition to his “What is Postmodernism?” class, Dr. McGinness has also taught the “Scholar as Citizen” colloquium for the Honors Program, which is required for students who want to complete the Advanced Honors program. His “Scholar as Citizen” course explored the relationship between art and government in areas such as patronage, censorship and copyright.

The Honors Program is very selective and admits only 5 percent of the student body at SUNY Potsdam. Honors students enjoy benefits including graduation with distinction, early registration, housing that includes a shared kitchen and lounge, field trips and Winterim travel courses.

For more information, contact the Honors Program Office at (315)-267-2900 or


Founded in 1816, and located on the outskirts of the beautiful Adirondack Park, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 100 colleges. SUNY Potsdam currently enrolls approximately 4,350 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its handcrafted education, challenging liberal arts and sciences core, excellence in teacher training, and leadership in the performing and visual arts.