OSWEGO — The State University of New York board of trustees has appointed SUNY Oswego’s Alfred D. Frederick to the rank of distinguished service professor, among the system’s highest faculty honors.
The professor of curriculum and instruction was born the son of an Alabama sharecropper and a mother, Sallie Frederick, who left the cotton fields and moved to the small city of Opelika when Frederick was 2, insisting he obtain a college education. Frederick went further, earning a master’s degree at Columbia University and a doctorate at the University of Brussels and doing post-doctoral work at Harvard University.
Frederick has taught at SUNY Oswego since 1985, building a series of cross-cultural partnerships, programs and events in places as distant as Benin and Brazil, and as close as Syracuse and the classrooms and theatres of his own campus.
The SUNY system named just six distinguished service professors from around its 64 campuses this year; there have been 259 since the program’s inception in 1963. Frederick, the first to earn the rank in the college’s School of Education, joins three other current SUNY Oswego faculty members at this rank, and only three others before them.
The notion of service — to Oswego’s students, to the disadvantaged at home and abroad and to the knowledge and practice of multicultural education — illuminates Frederick’s career.
Colleagues on three continents supported his nomination, lavishing admiration, praise and affection on him for his achievements. For example, Dr. Geraldine Forbes, distinguished teaching professor of history at Oswego, wrote: “It would not be difficult to write pages and pages about Alfred Frederick’s efforts to create a more connected and understanding world. Dr. Frederick lives what he teaches, and teaches what he lives.”
Frederick speaks passionately of his mission to bring people together across ethnic and cultural boundaries, a goal and a talent the professor has repeatedly demonstrated:
* He established a curriculum development and teacher training program in the West African nation of Benin, followed there over the years by three teams of educators from SUNY Oswego and by exchange groups from Benin to Oswego.
* With help from contacts established in his years teaching at Brazil’s Federal University of Santa Maria, Frederick has built a similar program in the states of Piaui and Rio Grande do Sul. He has brought the work of Brazilian and African artists here for years.
* Learning that after Brazil freed its slaves in 1888, many freemen returned to West Africa, Frederick established the African and Brazilian Academic and Cultural Initiative.
* The professor, who is fluent in English, French and Portuguese, has published works on multicultural education, including his books “Curriculum and the Social-Cultural Context” and “Integration of Language, School and Community: Bridging the Gap Between Home and School,” and, collaborating with professors from Auburn University, the concluding chapter of “Africans in the Americas: A History of the African Diaspora.”
* Closer to home, Frederick developed the first multicultural education course at SUNY Oswego. His students, mostly white, often have little knowledge of diverse cultures when they arrive, but leave with a wealth of personal and cultural experiences, including trips to diverse neighborhoods and to churches such as Tucker Missionary Baptist in Syracuse.
* Frederick, who won a 2009 Post-Standard Achievement Award, has collaborated on multicultural community outreach, including an annual arts festival in Syracuse for all communities, especially those of color. He volunteered for seven years to substitute teach in Syracuse city schools to better understand the needs of today’s students.
Frederick, a six-time Fulbright award recipient, talks about how teachers form a crucial part of a student’s extended family. They can literally make or break a life. He speaks fondly of the impact primary and secondary school teachers made on him.
But it is his mother, who lived to see her son deliver the address as valedictorian of the all-black J.W. Darden High School in Opelika, to receive his undergraduate degree at Northern Illinois University and to accomplish much more, whom Frederick credits with his quest for intercultural understanding. He is establishing the Sallie Frederick Foundation for Teacher Training in Africa and Brazil.
Frederick is not done building cultural bridges. He continues to hold gatherings for people from many walks of life at his Syracuse home. He will take a delegation from the University of Washington, Syracuse University and SUNY Oswego to the second International Seminar on Educational Management and Research Aug. 16 to 20 in Brazil. And he will return to Benin in January with a fourth group of SUNY Oswego faculty.