A Passion for the Job
The University of New Hampshire annually selects a small number of outstanding faculty for special recognition of achievement. This year, seven faculty members from the College of Liberal Arts are honored for their excellence in teaching and engagement. Learn about their work in the videos and profiles below.
Excellence in Teaching Award
Associate professor Raina Ames is the theatre educator for theatre educators. For more than a decade, hundreds of students have benefitted from her hands-on approach in the accredited theatre education program she reimagined and now directs at UNH.
"My students learn best by doing," says Ames, so she provides many opportunities for students to "do." They develop and perform plays for Artsreach and Little Red Wagon, the theatre department's touring programs, and work with children in S.T.A.R.S., the day camp Ames created that has become one of UNH's largest summer offerings. They teach in area schools, including workshops for special needs students at Dover Middle School.
"I am most proud of the poise and self-assurance my students develop through these practical experiences," says Ames, who is gratified to watch her students, in turn, inspire their own students. "I'm proud that they are spreading a legacy of arts education."
For several alumni, that legacy includes trying to live up to the high bar Ames set for excellence. They cite her deep commitment to students' individual development; her respect for difference; her ability to foster civil discourse; and her honesty, humor and big heart as characteristics they try to model in their own classrooms.
"More than anything," one student says, "I've learned from professor Ames to be a collaborator with the children that I teach, as that is the spirit of creating art."
Andrew Boysen won the Excellence in Research Award, which recognizes a UNH faculty member who has demonstrated superior creativity and success in his or her research.
Excellence in Teaching Award
Susan Curry never thought she’d be a teacher. Then, as an undergraduate, she went to Lesotho, Southern Africa, to work in the schools. When she arrived, the students rushed out of their classrooms singing and surrounded the jeep she was traveling in.
“I felt as close to a rock star as I will ever feel,” says Curry, a senior lecturer in the department of classics, humanities and Italian studies. “That is really hard to compete with, but I've had experiences with students at UNH that have given me a feeling that comes very, very close to that.” A lover of Latin and the classics, Curry is known for finding innovative ways to span the vast chasm between ancient times and present day. That happens in her “Sustaining Ancient Rome: Ecology and Empire” course where students look at how the Romans dealt with feeding people and then talk about today's food stamps and WIC programs and whether the government should support people who have food insecurity in their homes.
Making those connections sets the standard for a teaching style that has Curry trying to stir the passion of her students, wanting them to claim something of their own.
“It doesn't matter that it isn't my subject or of interest to me, but I hope that they see that I am passionate about what I research and teach and that the passion itself becomes a kind of contagion,” Curry says.
Mary Fran Malone won the Excellence in International Engagement Award, which recognizes exceptional international engagement by a UNH faculty member.
Excellence in Teaching Award
Kevin Healey believes that a good teacher is like a coach who sees a player’s potential even when they don’t — someone who relates to students not as they are now, but as who they are capable of becoming. A good teacher, he says, creates a space of teamwork and encouragement where students discover their strengths and can express original insights in their own voice.
Healey gets to know students personally, establishing rapport by weaving scholarship with personal anecdotes, showing how readings relate to day-to-day life, all with a good balance of sincerity and irreverent humor.
“A good day in the classroom is one where we think a lot and talk a lot, but laugh a lot, too,” the assistant professor of communication says.
And one where students test their technical skills. Last spring, Healey took his class into College Woods and handed out envelopes containing photographs and pieces of paper with words like “courage” and “compassion” printed on them. After students reviewed the materials — alone and with their cellphones off — they began taking photos representing their emotional response through visual metaphor.
In his digital democracies class, students don’t just write papers, they create websites. His media ethics course has students blogging about weekly readings. It’s no wonder students routinely describe Healey as “inspiring, caring, dedicated and passionate” — all words one would imagine equate to teaching excellence.
Scott Weintraub received the Outstanding Assistant Professor Award, presented to an inspiring, challenging and effective teacher whose concern and respect for students is evident both in and out of the classroom.
Jean Brierley Award for Excellence in Teaching
Janet Polasky has a philosophy that guides her teaching that goes like this: in training students to be historians — no matter if they are engineers, pre-vet or business majors — they are really learning to be global citizens. And that, Polasky says, helps them to challenge not just the beliefs of others, but their own.
“History takes students into a different time, much as studying abroad takes them to a different place,” says Polasky, UNH’s Presidential Professor of History. “By coming to understand another culture as an outsider, by getting inside another mindset or consciousness, they come to understand their own.”
The goal she sets for her students is to inspire them to think critically, to listen attentively and to read thoughtfully so they can speak and write fluently. Her hands-on learning style has had students in a freshman seminar staging a production of Bertolt Brecht’s 1939 play “Mother Courage and Her Children”; skyping with scholars in Scotland, Australia and California; and traveling via train to work in the rare books section of the Boston Library.
In a Modern France course, students reenacted the student-worker revolt of May-June 1968, each group taking on the identity of Trotskyite student activists, trade union leaders or the CRS (national guard) as well as writing pamphlets, op eds and newspaper stories that they posted online, all of which exemplifies the lengths to which Polasky goes to engage her students and to create an inclusive learning environment.