American Studies Professor Michael Steiner Receives Award From National Association

December 12, 2006

By Valerie Orleans

Student recommendations, program development and professional endorsements have earned national recognition for Michael Steiner, professor of American studies.

The 31-year campus veteran recently received the American Studies Association’s Mary Turpie Award for “outstanding abilities and achievement in American studies teaching, advising and program development.” The Turpie Award is considered one of the most prestigious given in this field.

A faculty member at Fullerton since 1975, Steiner has helped make Cal State Fullerton’s American Studies Department one of the strongest in the country, according to Thomas P. Klammer, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“The university’s nationally known and respected master’s degree in American studies was a small, regional program when Steiner began directing it in 1989,” said Klammer. “Under his leadership, the program attracted highly qualified students from across the nation while admissions quadrupled.”

Many of Steiner’s students have gone on to become teachers and professors, and in their comments, former students refer to his teaching as life changing. 

Alumna Carolyn de la Pena (B.A. American studies and German ’94), now an associate professor of American studies at UC Davis, said, “Mike approached teaching like a fisherman. He cast his net, pulled in the fish and invited us to come and make the meal. No shortcuts, no cookie cutter formulas — just a lot of individual attention and long-term investments in his students.”

Jie Tian, a former grad student from China (M.A. American studies ’94) and an associate librarian on campus, explained how Steiner’s passionate teaching “allowed me to walk from an insulated place into a cosmopolitan world.”   

Selected twice as a Distinguished Fulbright scholar — once in Hungary and once in Poland — Steiner has written widely on sense of place, built environments and regional identity, especially in California and the West.

He also is known for his architectural and historical walking tours of downtown Los Angeles, something he has been doing often twice a year since 1981. Students, alumni and community are invited to participate as he leads groups through different areas of Los Angeles, demonstrating how space and place permeate not only the grand acts but also the ordinary events of American life.

During his CSUF tenure, Steiner has mentored three graduate students who have won the university’s Giles T. Brown Outstanding Thesis Award and worked collaboratively with faculty in other departments, especially in ethnic studies, geography, environmental studies and comparative religion.

“These collaborations enrich students’ understanding of a multicultural America and help open their eyes to the rich history of the people and places right around them as well as their connections to the wider world.” he said.  “This award is especially meaningful to me because Mary Turpie, a legendary professor at Minnesota, was my dissertation adviser and mentor back in the early ’70s.

“I’ve been astonishingly lucky,” he added, “to have had such wonderful students and colleagues over the past 31 years, people who have drawn the best from me.” 

The Mary C. Turpie Prize, named in honor of the co-founder and chair of the American Studies Program at the University of Minnesota, was established in 1993. Steiner was honored during this year’s annual meeting “The United States From Inside and Out: Transnational American Studies” Oct. 12 through 15 in Oakland. 


Michael Steiner
Michael Steiner