Julee Holcombe

Excellence in Teaching, 2015

Professor Julee Holcombe and students

A student said her "stomach flipped" when she heard that Associate Professor of Photography Julee Holcombe was nominated for a teaching excellence award-she was excited for the professor she calls the most influential teacher in her entire educational career.

Such high praise is explained by Professor Holcombe's passion, energy and commitment both to the immensely successful photography program she has built over the past decade and to the growth of her students, not only as artists, but also as lifelong learners.

The long view is essential when considering the rapid rate of technological change, says Professor Holcombe. One need only consider the profound changes brought about by the turn from analog to digital photography. Her strategy is to develop adaptability in her students by demystifying technology and focusing on critical thinking and problem solving skills-a hallmark in a Liberal Arts education. She encourages her students to be artistic risk-takers, unafraid of failure. The response has been enthusiastic. Students have learned to trust Professor Holcombe, even when their growth is uncomfortable.

Professor Holcombe, too, has learned a bit about trust in the classroom. One of her earliest lessons was that of perspective and patience. A student submitted a project for which she had clearly expended minimal effort. Although the young woman was passionate and creative, she had not yet mastered the lessons of self-discipline, commitment and working through failure. After assigning a low final grade, Professor Holcombe was surprised when the student enrolled in another photography course the next semester. Even more surprising was the dedication and commitment the student brought to the course, creating an exciting and skillful new body of work based upon her failed project, and producing some of the most powerful and personal work that Professor Holcombe has seen, to this day, in her courses.

The lesson, says Professor Holcombe, is this: "Success isn't always immediate nor should it be because, in many ways, students are like photographs. You never know how they are going to turn out until they have time to develop."

By: Kenneth Fuld, Dean, College of Liberal Arts

About This Award

Each year, the University selects a small number of its outstanding faculty for special recognition of their achievements in teaching, scholarship, and service. Awards for Excellence in Teaching are given in each college and school, and University-wide awards recognize public service, research, teaching, and engagement.