Barbara J. Jago

Excellence in Teaching

Assistant Professor of Communication Arts
University of New Hampshire Manchester

Photographed on August 10, 2004, near Wallis Sands State Beach, Rye, N.H.


Barbara J. Jago

The Teaching Excellence award represents not only a professional accomplishment for Barbara Jago, but a personal one as well. Four years ago, Jago, assistant professor of communication arts, found herself combating a major depression so deep that it stole her joy in teaching and in life itself. She had to take medical leave in the middle of a semester, abandoning the students so dear to her and the colleagues she respected. She struggled in the intervening year to regain her equilibrium through counseling and medication.

“This award was: ‘You did it…. You came back really strong!’ It’s nice enough to get the award, but when you add that extra layer on, it’s especially nice,” she says.

Jago specializes in relational communication, teaching Introduction to Interpersonal Communication, Communicating in Families, and Narrative, among other courses in Manchester ’s Communication Arts program. She studies how people make sense of their lives through storytelling, most often using autoethnography—a methodology that examines the personal as a lens through which to explore the cultural, social, and political.

Sitting at the kitchen table in her Manchester apartment, she radiates vitality—from her alert eyes and flowing strawberry-blond hair to the lithe body movements that reflect her passion for swimming and lifting weights. She had greeted her visitor at the door in blue shorts and bare feet, leading the way across the pine floor, all forward motion, past the “Cats Rule” water dish, to the kitchen at the end of the hallway.

“My classes are very hands-on and interactive—the award came to me but also, by extension, to my students,” she says. “Without them it would have never happened.”

It’s difficult to talk so frankly about someone’s inner pain, but Jago’s calm, open and receptive manner inspires confidence that the conversation will be a shared journey, one that she is willing and able to undertake. As much as she looks forward today, she’s not afraid to look back and hope that her experience will help others.

When her depression mystified the doctors by not responding initially to medication, Jago reached deep within and turned to writing. “Writing was part of the process of coming out of the depression,” she says. She went on to complete an autoethnographic story titled “Chronicling an Academic Depression” that was published in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, December 2002.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say that Barbara Jago changed my life,” says Daniel Edwards, a psychology major and nontraditional student. “She encourages you to write and share your experience in a way not taught in other classes. I really learned so much from her. If I remember one professor, it will be Barbara Jago. She’s so real, so honest, and so willing to share.”

“I was so happy to see her get that award,” adds Edwards. “She is willing to put her vulnerability forward and use that as a position of strength. If you don’t learn anything else, she models that there is strength in vulnerability.”

“What comes out in Barbara’s teaching is both passion and a genuine dedication to open, respectful yet critical inquiry,” writes former student Valerie Brown. “She’s willing to step out of that comfort zone . . . but at the same time she’s always respectful of students’ intellectual and emotional positions, and the ethical space of the classroom.”

—Denise Hart