Julia Reinhard Lupton
Chancellor's Fellow and English professor Julia Reinhard Lupton teaches a freshman seminar called "Playing Shakespeare" in the Mesa Court Community Center. Steve Zylius / University Communications

If Hamlet were alive, he’d have an iPhone. And he and Ophelia might break up at Ikea.

So says Julia Reinhard Lupton, who nimbly crosses centuries, genres and a huge digital divide to make quirky connections for her students.

Why? She wants them to see that “Shakespeare still speaks.”

For 21 years, the Chancellor’s Fellow and professor of English has animated UC Irvine with her unique, creative perspective.

Her passion for teaching and innovative community outreach netted Lupton the 2009 Living Our Values Award for an individual faculty member. Given annually by Chancellor Michael Drake, LOV awards honor faculty, staff and students whose actions best embody UCI’s values of respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment, empathy, appreciation and fun.

“I’m very impressed by the other recipients – people dealing with Middle East peace and making quilts for cancer patients,” says Lupton. “I was very surprised and touched to be included in that category.”

But she’s literally in a category by herself. As English professor Jerome Christensen wrote in his nomination letter: “When she was considered for promotion to full professorship in 2003-04, Professor Lupton was the rare candidate whose credentials of service to the university, the community and the profession loomed as large as her scholarship. For that reason, we argued for a new category of distinction in the academic personnel process: excellence in public scholarship.”

Lupton has brought scholarship to the public by, in 1997, founding Humanities Out There, which she directed for seven years. The program sends undergraduate and graduate students into local school districts to help teach humanities. “You further your academic studies by doing something in the community,” Lupton explains.

Whether it’s high school seniors or senior citizens – whom she instructs through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute – Lupton relishes the challenges of teaching. “I’m addicted,” she says. “It’s a constant process of discovery.”

That discovery includes reaching across disciplines. For the last three years, Lupton has directed the Humanities Core Course; she’s been a faculty lecturer in the program for 15 years.

She finds interdisciplinary partnerships exhilarating. “Working with other people extends your power, your creative energy,” says Lupton. “There’s one me, but somebody else has a skill I don’t have. We can create things together I couldn’t create on my own. I love collaboration.”

She says the keys to fostering joint efforts are respect and acknowledgement. “Share the work, but also share the recognition and thanks,” Lupton says. “It’s a really simple thing. We teach our kids to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ but we forget to do the same.”

Even while juggling a full-time career and raising four children with her husband, Ken Reinhard, she tries to attend colleagues’ functions, saying, “People take time to come to your events, so you should go to theirs.”

“UCI has been really good to me,” Lupton reflects – not only professionally but in a deeply personal way: Her triplets were born at UC Irvine Medical Center. “They’re UCI babies,” she says. “The medical center took really good care of me and the babies, who were in the hospital for 27 days. They came home healthy and ready to go.”

Lupton, who lives in University Hills, says, “I love raising kids on campus because they get to see the educational environment.”

Those surroundings also allow her to nurture an “ever-growing extracurricular interest” in design. In 2008, she began the UCI Design Alliance with Sanjoy Mazumdar, professor of planning, policy & design. She has also written two books with her twin sister, graphic artist Ellen Lupton: D.I.Y. Kids and Design Your Life. In fact, her next book will merge Shakespeare and design.

Lupton’s eyes still light up when she talks about the Bard: “Shakespeare belongs to everyone – even this new generation with the iPhones.”

She brings his plays to life by requiring students to act them out. “They are Hamlet. They are Macbeth,” she says. “It’s really powerful.”

Ultimately, Lupton says, “the students inspire me. They’ve worked so hard to get here, and they’re paying more money every year. I want it to be worth it to them. They deserve the best.”

But they have to work for it in her classes. “Our students need to not be afraid to take risks and to learn to be participants in their education,” she says.

Many ask: “What do you want in order for me to get an A?” Lupton responds: “I want you to have a fresh idea – have a new thought.”

Perhaps Hamlet should have taken her class.