First Cathy May memorial honors conference celebrated student efforts


Photo courtesy of Mary Gallagher

From left to right: Sue Ellbogen, Mary Gallagher and Cathy May on a trip to Achill in 2014.

DePaul’s Political Science department held the first Cathy May memorial honors conference on Dec. 4 which featured the work of political science honors students.

DePaul professor and alumna, Cathy May, conceived the conference in the winter quarter of 2020, but it was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. May unexpectedly passed away months later, and the conference was held remotely in her honor.  

According to the DePaul Department of Political Science, “May [was] a political theorist with numerous intellectual interests, particularly food politics and homelessness… May was known for her deep engagement with students, her spirited teaching, and lively intellectual curiosity.”

The conference provided students in the winter quarter political science honors course an opportunity to present their final projects with faculty from the Political Science Department. Students also had a chance to talk about May.

During the event, students gave short presentations on their projects and how May influenced them. After each panel of students presented, faculty gave feedback and engaged in discussion pertaining to the projects at hand, and at times veering off topic to talk about May. 

Cathy May is remembered as a passionate and driven individual that touched the lives of everyone who knew her. (Photo courtesy of Mary Gallagher)

Political science professor Katy Arnold was one of the main organizers of the event. 

“I thought holding [the conference] as soon as possible was the best idea, especially now that we know that meeting in person will not necessarily happen any time soon,” Arnold said. “I think conferences like this can work very well remotely as long as everyone reads the emails. The hardest part was weighing what the students wanted against professors’ schedules, but it all worked in the end.”

Arnold says the conference was important for multiple reasons, including forging connections between students and faculty. 

“The conference was an example of what professors have to do frequently [like] present their work, field questions and engage with people we don’t know or don’t know well,” Arnold said. “I think it was particularly important for professors to understand how creative and thoughtful student work is and to interact with students as colleagues, something I try to practice and something I know Prof. May did also.”

May intended on holding the conference so that students could get an opportunity to present their work and receive feedback outside of a classroom setting. The conference was also a space for students and faculty to talk about May together.

“Prof. May’s death was untimely in several respects and so I believe it has been good for people to talk about losing such an energetic and warm person very suddenly and surprisingly,” Arnold said. “It is a jarring experience to have someone pass away that quickly and when it seemed too early. I was grateful to everyone who shared why they loved her teaching, how they missed her, and funny stories.”

“She would have loved the entire experience and knowing how important this was to her, I am happy that we followed through with this,” Arnold added. 

One of May’s former students in attendance, Avery Tunstill, recounted their experience in May’s class. 

“I think that was one of the earlier classroom interactions I had with a professor who very much treated students of all ages as very adult and was very excited to listen to our ideas… and encouraged us to have close conversations that I don’t think I come across in classes very often,” Tunstill said.

From left to right: Sue Ellbogen, Mary Gallagher and Cathy May on a trip to Achill in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Mary Gallagher )

Mary Gallagher, one of May’s personal friends and a former DePaul classmate, was also invited to the conference. After hearing students talk about their memories with May, Gallagher added a few words of her own about her beloved friend. 

“I just wanted to tell everyone something… Cathy’s and my professors made me feel like an adult too and I know they did Cathy… I loved her so much and I know she loved all of you so much. Professors, students [and] DePaul… were her life,” Gallagher said. 

The conference allowed people from different facets of May’s life to come together to celebrate her student’s work, as well as carry on May’s legacy. 

Arnold closed out the event with some final remarks about the conference and her colleague. 

“I’m not surprised the papers were all interesting and thought-provoking,” she said. “Cathy constantly talked about [her students] but you aren’t surprised by that… she cared… even in private conversations.”