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UNC School of Law professor wins 2019 BOG Excellence in Teaching Award

Donald Hornstein
Donald Hornstein, a professor in the School of Law, won the UNC Board of Governor's Excellence in Teaching Award. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

Donald Hornstein, the Aubrey L. Brooks professor at the UNC School of Law, loves teaching as much as he loves knowing he and his wife are now on equal playing fields since he won the 2019 Award for Excellence in Teaching selected by the UNC Board of Governors.

Hornstein's wife, Amy Sheck, teaches at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. This past year, she won the BOG Award for Excellence in Teaching. 

“I was very happy to get the Board of Governors this year so there will be peace in our household and Amy could stop holding it over me," Hornstein said. “The bottom line is, both Amy and I like working with young people, especially now that our kids have graduated and gotten older.”

Hornstein teaches at the UNC School of Law, but this award is primarily for the work he has done as an undergraduate teacher. He has taught the undergraduate course "Environmental Law and Policy" for about a decade. 

“We take great pride in honoring these recipients," said UNC Board of Governors Chairperson Harry Smith in a statement. "They all bring a high standard of excellence in the classroom through creative teaching methods that impact our students."

When he was an undergraduate, Hornstein was on the debate team at the University of California, Los Angeles. He noticed that there was a correlation between people that participate in debate and people who enjoy legal questions. Since he was surrounded by many people that were interested in law, he decided to give it a shot as well. 

Hornstein was the first in his family to go to college, let alone go to law school.

Hornstein started as a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and worked on the D.C. Circuit, the second highest court in the United States. After that, he went to the U.S. Department of Justice, where he was an environmental litigator for many years before going to the law firm Arnold & Porter. 

“It was my wife’s turn in the marriage to drag us to a place that was good for their career, and she picked N.C. State as the place to get her Ph.D.,” Hornstein said. 

When they moved to North Carolina, he took a year off to take care for his and his wife’s child while she was in school. He spent a lot of time at Pullen Park. He thought their plan would be to stay in North Carolina for a few years then go back to D.C., so he applied for a two-year position at the UNC School of Law. During his last year of the two, his wife Amy playfully told him to get a job because she was nowhere near done with school yet. 

He took the North Carolina bar exam and applied for a full-time tenure position at the UNC School of Law that conveniently opened up. 

“I never planned to be a professor or an academic,” Hornstein said. “It turns out that I really do like teaching and my wife does too. Amy works at the School of Science and Math in Durham, she’s actually the Dean of Science.”

He and his wife like working with students and helping them master the things they are interested in. 

When he’s not working, Hornstein and his wife love hiking. Before they had kids, they were long distance hikers and achieved the Triple Crown Award in hiking. They hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, each over 2,000 miles. This hobby has carried on, and they hiked the Appalachian Trail again with their son Eli. Every summer for the past decade, Hornstein and his wife go to Great Britain and hike for two weeks.

Courtney Johnson, a student in the School of Law, said Hornstein is one of the best professors she’s ever had in her undergraduate education and now in law school. 

"I think a lot of people teach, but I think it’s definitely a talent to be able to teach well,” said Johnson. “I think it’s pretty unique to have a professor be able to captivate an audience of 150 students or so, and that’s what he does every time he teaches.”


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