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Erin Hahn receives Jim Smart Award

Erin Hahn, center, was presented with the 2023 Jim Smart Award by Liz Smith, left, and John Harris of the Cothran Center.

Last updated April 24, 2024

By Tina Underwood

When Jenna Dawley ’25 declared psychology as her major in the fall of her sophomore year, she never viewed herself as a researcher. But Erin Hahn, professor and chair of psychology at Furman University, recognized Dawley’s potential.

Hahn, recipient of the 2023 Jim Smart Award from Furman University’s Cothran Center, invested in Dawley to deeply understand her passions, motivations and her interest in sustainable living and the natural world. After reading an article by Dawley in the student newspaper The Paladin, Hahn saw how their interests intersected and invited the undergraduate to join her in summer research.

white woman with dark hair wears black shirt and stands at podium.

Jenna Dawley ’25 speaks at a reception for Erin Hahn.

“The gesture was so thoughtful and such a blessing,” Dawley said in her remarks at an award ceremony hosted by the Cothran Center, whose mission is to encourage exploration of purpose and calling among members of the Furman community.

That level of academic and career mentoring between Dawley and Hahn captures the spirit of what the Jim Smart Award celebrates. Named for longtime Furman History Professor James H. Smart, who taught from 1967-1995, the award pays tribute to faculty and staff who help students add depth and meaning to the life decisions they make while in college. Hahn is the 10th person to receive the award since 2015. View previous awardees here.

At the ceremony earlier this year, Liz Smith, professor of politics and international affairs and assistant faculty director for the Cothran Center, spoke on behalf of a colleague who proffered a nomination for Hahn.

The faculty member described a slew of Hahn’s contributions, including her Autism Capstone course, field trips to non-profits and hospitals, and her mentorship in MUSC’s South Carolina Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (SC LEND), a training program aimed at improving the health of infants, children and adolescents with disabilities.

The nominator noted the wildly popular May Experience course Hahn and Kristy Maher, a sociology professor, lead in Denmark to explore happiness from a psychological and sociological perspective, “Science and the Culture of Happiness.”

white woman in maroon sweater at podium.

Katie Rudins ’26 speaks at a reception for Erin Hahn.

Katie Rudins ’26, an applied mathematics and business administration major and data analytics minor, participated in that MayX.

“Dr. Hahn gave us time to grow and learn through individual exploration. I am forever grateful for that,” Rudins said.

Rudins related a story from her Copenhagen trip that demonstrated Hahn’s willingness to take risks for the sake of a poignant teaching moment.

“She invited all her MayX students to join her on a cargo bike tour of Copenhagen,” Rudins said. “A cargo bike is essentially a bike with a giant bucket in front where one or two people ride. So, imagine about 10 of these, with inexperienced drivers, barreling down the bike lanes of Denmark. We laughed, we made memories, we traveled like locals … and most importantly, we learned to trust each other,” she added.

Clearly, propelling students past their comfort zone is part of Hahn’s gift.

Dawley, who is also majoring in English, believes Hahn took a chance on her, and because of that, she’s more willing to set aside self-doubt and challenge herself.

“Dr. Hahn is a mentor and academic who is willing to take chances on people and see what’s possible, connect them with opportunities to bring out their best,” Dawley said. “Without Dr. Hahn, I wouldn’t be where I am today, looking forward to graduate school and new research opportunities. I’m thrilled Dr. Hahn is getting recognized for the work she does.”

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