Obituary: Carnegie Mellon's Lois Josephs Fowler Inspired and Mentored Generations of Students
By Shilo Rea / 412-268-6094
Lois Josephs Fowler, professor of English, emeritus, at Carnegie Mellon University, died Dec. 28. She was 89.
Fowler, who joined the Carnegie Mellon faculty in 1961 after spending six years as an English teacher at Pittsburgh's Taylor Allderdice High School, inspired and mentored generations of students and has often been referred to as an "unforgettable" teacher.
"Both in her scholarship and her teaching, Professor Fowler sought to bring the interdisciplinary study of literature, rhetoric and composition and educational psychology into reinforcing relations and to create curricula that allowed students to share her passion for English and to explore the implications of literature for current social issues, especially those related to the role of women in society," said Chris Neuwirth, head of CMU's Department of English in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Fowler's areas of expertise included English education, feminist criticism, applied rhetoric, Victorian novel study and biography, autobiography, and professional and technical writing. Her most recent project was co-editing "The Collected Stories of Gladys Schmitt," a 2014 volume that brings together work by the award-winning author and founder of Carnegie Mellon's Creative Writing Program.
English Professor David Kaufer said Lois was a "highly regarded teacher in the English Department who played a significant role building working relationships with high school English teachers and who for many years played a key role as chief coordinator and adviser to students in the professional writing program."
A mainstay of Fowler's legacy was her devotion to her students.
"Lois didn't simply advise or mentor. What she did was take you on as a project. Once she did so, she was fiercely loyal, always looking out for your interests, making connections in and beyond the university community, and never hesitating to tell you what she thought your next step should be," said Karen Schnakenberg, teaching professor of English, emeritus, at CMU who Fowler took on as a graduate student instructor in 1987 to teach the professional writing courses she had developed. "We quickly discovered shared interests in pedagogy, administration and mentoring, as well as professional writing, and worked closely together over the next nine years until Lois retired in 1996. It's more than fair to say that my 20+ year career in professional writing at Carnegie Mellon was firmly grounded in her advice and friendship."
Fowler actively worked to improve education — particularly within the English discipline — at local, regional and national levels. Fowler edited several volumes in the 14-volume Insight Series (Noble & Nobel, 1968-69), work that resulted from a faculty collaboration in the Curriculum Study Center on a federal grant to create curricula for college-bound high school students. The series covered English, American literature and world literature. She also wrote numerous other scholarly books and articles, including a July 10, 1983, piece in The New York Times Magazine on "Improving Our Schools," which she co-wrote with her husband, David H. Fowler, professor of history, emeritus, at CMU. In 1985, the Dietrich College honored Fowler with the Elliot Dunlap Smith Award for Distinguished Teaching and Educational Service.
Fowler also is credited with inspiring students to pursue creative careers.
Joyce Kornblatt (DC'66), the author of four novels and many short stories who was a professor of English at the University of Maryland for 20 years, gives an example on her website about how Fowler's instruction became ingrained in her own practice.
"Decades ago, when I was in the 8th grade, our English teacher, Lois Josephs, led me and my classmates out to the meadow behind our school," Kornblatt wrote. "We brought with us notebook, pen, and youthful curiosity. 'Find a spot that interests you,' she said, 'and look at it closely for twenty minutes. Take a few notes, but mostly let yourself discover what you didn't know was there. Pretend you are seeing what's in front of you for the first time. Stay open to surprise.' That instruction continues to serve me, more than 50 years later."
Kornblatt added that Fowler "was my high-school English teacher and college professor at CMU, and is very much the reason I am a novelist and English professor myself."
In addition to her husband, Fowler is survived by her sons Daniel (Nadine) Josephs and David (Wendy) Josephs; stepdaughter Denise (Doug) Berczik; grandchildren Erik (Angela) Josephs and Kasey (David Sax) Josephs; and great-grandson Connor Josephs.
Friends will be received at the Homewood Cemetery Chapel at Dallas and Aylesboro avenues in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood from 12 -1 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 31. A funeral service will follow. Contributions may be made to a charity of the donor's choice.