Renee Heath starts every course she teaches by discussing a quote from the author Tom Hayden. Hayden’s quote begins, in part, “education in a democracy should be threatening and renewing.” By threatening, Heath explains, Hayden means we should critically examine our deepest-held beliefs “with a withering ‘why?’.”
As a teacher and scholar of organizational communication, Professor Heath works with students every day to critically examine their own and others’ assumptions within a context of respectful discourse. No actual threats are encouraged! She’s developed innovative courses that teach what she calls the art and science of facilitation.
Professor Heath’s commitment to civil discourse is exemplified in The Civil Discourse Lab, an experiential opportunity she co-founded and co-directs. The Lab has involved hundreds of students, faculty and community members in civil dialogue events.
With work strongly grounded in theory — she’s written two award-winning books that prove it — Professor Heath subscribes to a position famously put forth by psychologist Kurt Lewin: “There’s nothing so practical as good theory.” She strives to create assignments that help students connect theory to their lives and the larger world.
It’s an approach that students clearly value. Professor Heath’s course waiting lists are long, as are the lines that form outside her office door. Students speak repeatedly of her charisma, enthusiasm and ability to connect. One former student, now pursuing a teaching degree, writes: “If I can have half the impact on a young child’s life that Dr. Heath had on mine, then I will have lived a fulfilled life.”