Attending our annual Excellence in Teaching Awards dinner Tuesday evening, I was struck once again by what a remarkable group of faculty members we have at the College and the Conservatory.
Both institutions have long placed great importance on faculty scholarship, research, intellectual inquiry, and artistic and musical talent and performance. But above all else, we at Oberlin cherish great teaching and teachers.
This year’s recipients of the Excellence in Teaching Award are: Jennifer Bryan, associate professor of English; John Petersen, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of environmental studies; Robert Thompson, professor of chemistry; James David Christie, professor of organ; Sanford Margolis, professor of pianoforte; and Tim Weiss, professor of conducting.
I offer my thanks and admiration to all. As recipients of this award, they join a long line of legendary Oberlin professors that includes Charles H.A. Wagar, William Hutchins, Frank Fanning Jewett, Helen Hoddam, Wendell Logan, Robert Fountain, and Ellen Johnson, to name but a few from our rich history. Ellen Johnson, for example, was the first professor to be honored with the “Distinguished Teaching of Art History Award,” by the College Art Association of America in 1978.
I think there are quite a few traits shared by Oberlin’s faculty members past and present. Our professors were and are outstanding experts in their respective fields. They are passionate about sharing their knowledge and expertise in ways that enlighten and inspire their students. They love teaching undergraduates. And like Seneca, the Roman philosopher who wrote that, “while we teach, we learn,” Oberlin professors love learning from their students.
Learning from one’s students is one of the things that makes teaching so exhilarating. I’ve taught a politics class every semester and I always learn a great deal from my students.
Our 2015 awardees and their colleagues also encourage our students to seize opportunities to learn, grow, and challenge themselves intellectually and artistically. And, of course, Oberlin faculty members serve as mentors. Frank Fanning Jewett, for example, mentored Charles Martin Hall. And Thornton Wilder, the brilliant playwright and author, often cited Charles H.A. Wagar as his mentor as well as the single greatest classroom lecturer Wilder ever heard.
In short, our teachers and their teaching help students go on to lead meaningful lives. I know that because just about every Oberlin alum I’ve ever met—younger or older from the College or Conservatory—has told me how studying with an Oberlin professor made an enormous and positive difference in that person’s life.
That’s a great tribute to Oberlin teaching and to our outstanding teachers.
Speaking of great teaching, a lot of important teaching at Oberlin and at other colleges and universities is also done by staff members. When I was working at the University of Michigan, Greg Harden stood out as a dynamic teacher and mentor.
Harden is the associate athletic director and director of athletic counseling at the University of Michigan. He is one of the most inspirational people you will ever meet. Super Bowl winning quarterback Tom Brady, who played football at Michigan, credits Harden as one of the most influential people in his life.
Harden has guided many student-athletes toward a path of success athletically, academically, and professionally. He will be speaking tonight, Thursday, February 19, in Dye Lecture Hall at the Science Center. His talk is for all students, not just student-athletes. I urge you to attend if you can.
PRESIDENT’S PUBLIC SERVICE FELLOWSHIP
The President’s Public Service Fellowship is an initiative to foster positive change in the local community. It began in summer 2014 and provides funding for three Oberlin College students to serve full-time during the summer with select Oberlin community partners on intensive service projects. The projects will engage local teens by focusing on youth empowerment, leadership, the arts, and/or ecological and economic sustainability.
This is a great opportunity for students to be a part of a local organization and the community during the summer months. The program will assist local agencies that fill a critical need in the community, while at the same time empowering students to cultivate change.
The deadline for applying for these fellowships is Monday, February 23, so if you are interested, you need to act fast! The Bonner Center for Service and Learning (BCSL) administers the program.
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