The 2018 University Awards recognizes 25 faculty and staff members each year for their teaching abilities and their contributions to their respective intellectual communities. Staff writer Marine Elia interviewed a few of the winners.
Marc Cohen is one of the recipients of a Tanner Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and is a teaching assistant professor with the Department of English and Comparative Literature. He teaches undergraduate writing and literature classes. Before coming to UNC, Cohen began his teaching career with the public school system in California.
“I definitely consider it my vocation, my calling," Cohen said. "It’s something I love, and it’s something I’ve devoted myself to professionally."
As an instructor who firmly believes in growth mindset, Cohen designs his courses to reward growth, recognizing the varying degrees of prior knowledge different students have at the start of a course.
“It is a privilege to be able to teach Carolina students — I learn as much from them than they do from me,” Cohen said.
In addition to teaching, Cohen is also a mentor for the Carolina Covenant program, which allows low-income students to graduate debt-free. His involvement in the program stemmed from his dedication to help first-generation college students with their experience at the University.
“The teaching award is the bonus for what the real big prize is: the chance to work with Carolina undergraduates,” Cohen said.
UNC's nominee for the Board of Governors’ Award for Excellence in Teaching is Jason Metcalfe, a professor with the Department of Mathematics who teaches both undergraduate and graduate students.
Metcalfe is a thesis adviser for graduate students, but he also enjoys the enthusiasm and vibrancy that comes with teaching undergraduates. As a part of his personal teaching philosophy, he tries to get his students to engage with the material by trying and doing problems on their own as much as possible.
His research involves the study of partial differential equations, and more specifically, wave equations and their role in background geometry and general relativity. Although he studied a different topic in graduate school, he cites time as the factor that to led him to develop an appreciation for his current work.
Metcalfe describes teaching at UNC as energizing and says he always enjoys when his office hours are busy. He is grateful towards the students who played a role in his nomination.
By empowering every student in the room to engage in the processes of discovery and learning, Amy Maddox, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, has received the William C. Friday/Class of 1986 Award for Excellence in Teaching.
As a professor, Maddox teaches both undergraduates and graduate students, who she trains in the lab and monitors on research projects. She also teaches some medical school courses.
In her research laboratory, she works alongside post-doctorate students and graduate students to study how cells change shape and split in half.
“I think cells are beautiful," Maddox said. "The dynamic changes that they make are so mesmerizing and we just really have no idea how the tiny parts are working together to make the changes that we can see in the microscope."
For Maddox, she said it can be hard to determine the strength of her teaching performance on a daily basis.
“It was incredibly touching to win the award, and even to be nominated in the first place.”
Maddox is also a Tar Heel herself, having graduated from UNC with her doctorate in 2003.
“This is a community I am willing to make sacrifices for and investments in,” Maddox said.
As a recipient of a Distinguished Teaching Award for Post-Baccalaureate Instruction, Deborah Gerhardt, an associate professor with the UNC School of Law, advocates for her students to "dive into difficulty."
“I really try to be the kind of professor I wish I had," Gerhardt said. "I want my students to feel very affirmed and supported, and I also want them to see how what they're learning in the classroom relates to the real world."
Yet the rigor of her trademark, copyright, arts entrepreneurship and art law classes do not discount a supportive environment for her students to thrive in. Gerhardt encourages her students to support each other through teamwork – a value she holds to be key. Her alumni Facebook page is open for her past students to join and serves as a space for them to help each other personally as well as professionally.
“In this way, we all maintain connections and learn from an inspiring intergenerational community that grows in number, experience and expertise every year,” Gerhardt said.
Gerhardt is currently working on a piece about the intellectual property rights to particular colors.
Through her commitment to capturing the Latinx experience, Laura Halperin, a professor with the Department of English and Comparative Literature, has earned a Chapman Family Teaching Award.
Halperin teaches a variety of courses, the majority focused on Latinx studies. In her graduate and undergraduate classes, Halperin stresses the importance of participation.
“What I aim for is to have a student-centered discussion in the classroom where students really can take some ownership in their own education,” Halperin said.
In her personal research, she studies Latinx literary and cultural studies in the 20th and 21st centuries. After writing her first book examining representations of harm in various Latina works, her current book project discusses Latinx experiences in the United States educational system.
Through literary analysis, curricular analysis and ethnographic work, she seeks to determine how schools can foster a sense of inclusion or exclusion towards Latinx students with voice, representation and belonging.
The inspiration for her current research comes from her past as a grade school teacher, as well as her own experiences growing up Latina. Halperin is also the academic director with the North Carolina Scholars Latinx Initiative.
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