Distinguished Teaching Awards go to six faculty members

June 14, 2021 - 4:23pm

As a demanding year of rigorous, and mostly remote, teaching comes to a close, the Office of the Provost has selected six outstanding faculty members to receive the prestigious Distinguished Teaching Awards for 2021.

The awards, made possible by the generosity of A.J. Ersted and Thomas F. Herman, recognize teaching that is engaged, inclusive and research-led. Faculty receive either a one-time award of $5,000 or a one-time $2,000 award and a permanent salary increase of $2,000.

“These faculty, their approaches, and their caring for students are central to our institution’s mission that is built on teaching excellence and academic leadership in our scholarly endeavors,” Provost and Senior Vice President Patrick Phillips said in his recent message to UO faculty members. “And to do what these instructors have done under the trying circumstances of the pandemic only adds to their significant accomplishments on behalf of our students.”

Theresa May, professor of theater arts, received the Herman Faculty Achievement Award, and Cathy Wong, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry was given the Ersted Award for Distinguished Teaching. Both awards are limited to one recipient per year.

May’s long track record of excellence in theater arts and contributions to student learning earned her this year’s faculty achievement award.

“This award does not represent the labor of one individual; the idea of individual achievement is overrated in academia, actually,” May said. “I share this honor with my students first and foremost, honoring their curiosity and courage, their gumption and heart.”

The awards committee, comprised of previous winners, uses nominations from students and work colleagues to select finalists, and Wong’s early career excellence in chemistry has made her a worthy recipient of the Ersted Distinguished Teaching award in the eyes of other faculty members. And Wong said she appreciates students who recognize excellence in their peers, too. She described it as the most inspiring moment she’s experienced as a teacher.

“It’s awesome when someone who doesn’t think of themselves as a top student is selected as one of the best during anonymous peer review activities,” Wong said. “Sometimes you can see that bit of positive reinforcement really activate a student.”

The Herman Award for Specialized Pedagogy this year went to three faculty members: Erin Beck, associate professor of political science; Mike Copperman, senior instructor of English; and Casey Shoop, senior instructor I of literature. The award recognizes expertise in a particular field or instructional setting.

Beck has credited both her “rock star” graduate teaching fellows and students with helping her teaching evolve by being willing to engage in deeply emotional class discussions about gender and politics.

“I believe that even though it was a really challenging year, it was also one of immense growth for me and for many of my colleagues that will ultimately benefit the students and the university in the long run,” Beck said. “To me, the award is a reminder to continue taking risks and pushing myself out of my comfort zone as a teacher.”

Copperman, who teaches composition, also gives gratitude to students past and present for deepening his commitment to inclusive education, thanking “the 9- to 13 -year-old Black fourth graders back in Indianola, Mississippi, who taught me that to be an educator is a form of love.” Copperman said winning the award “validates the work I’ve done to support students of color here at the university.”

The literary imagination can be a tool for creating a more inclusive society, said Shoop, and he values the privilege of sharing it with students.

“Literature is, among many other things, the powerful means by which we can access other minds, other experiences, other worlds,” he said. “It is a technology, and one of the oldest we have, for comprehending cultural difference.”

Leah Schneider, senior instructor I of marketing, was awarded the Herman Award for Outstanding Online Education. Though it’s given every year, the award is particularly meaningful in a time when so much education was moved online by necessity. Schneider first thanked instructional designers at the UO and colleagues in the Lundquist College of Business for supporting her success online.

“Creating a successful online class experience, especially ones with team projects, also lies with the students themselves,” Schneider said. “I appreciate and value the feedback from students that has helped me revise courses each term, the grace shown as I’ve learned alongside them, and dedication to and hard work in the courses.”

Read more about this year’s awardees and their amazing work on the website for the 2021 Distinguished Teaching Awards.

—By Anna Glavash Miller, University Communications