A classroom approach in which students seek solutions to problems rooted in real meteorological data; nontraditional teaching techniques to help students grasp organic chemistry; and a focus on students choosing research projects geared to their interests are just some of the innovative, hands-on approaches this year’s CLAS Excellence in Teaching Awards recipients use to challenge students.
In recognition of their exceptional teaching, Casey Davenport, Jacob Horger and Valerie Bright received the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences’ Excellence in Teaching Awards for this academic year.
Davenport, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, was given the Integration of Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award. Horger, a lecturer and organic lab coordinator in the Chemistry Department, received the Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Full-Time Lecturer. Bright, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of English, was presented the Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Part-Time Faculty Member. They were recognized at a college celebration in the Halton Reading Room in Atkins Library.
Integration of Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award
Davenport is described by Geography and Earth Sciences Department Chair Craig Allan as a talented educator and a rising scholar in the fields of severe weather meteorology and science pedagogy. Seven of her articles have been published or in press in top-tier journals. She has an upcoming publication in the Journal of College Science Teaching, a peer-reviewed journal published by the National Science Teachers Association.
Students play a significant role in Davenport’s research program productivity, with seven of her 18 conference presentations featuring the work of student researchers. She uses innovative teaching approaches in a series of intensive and highly quantitative undergraduate courses that center on what is called a flipped classroom approach, where students work together to explore solutions to problems rooted in real meteorological data.
A UNC Charlotte graduate praised her for being challenging and for promoting critical thinking skills. Her approaches have resulted a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning grant, through which she uses a pedagogy known as worked examples to influence student learning in the atmospheric dynamics courses. The award committee particularly was impressed that her success in integrating teaching and research was achieved within her first four years at UNC Charlotte.
Finalists for the Integration of Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award were Heather Perry, an associate professor in the Department of History, and Shan Yan, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.
Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Full-Time Lecturer
Horger has been a lecturer and the organic lab coordinator in the Chemistry Department since fall 2010. He received his doctorate in chemistry from the University of South Carolina in 2010. While a doctoral student, he was a three-time winner of the Joseph Bouknight Teaching Award.
At UNC Charlotte, Horger teaches a number of organic chemistry courses and labs. In these, he uses a variety of different pedagogical strategies to reach his students. These include active learning activities, in-class problem solving, specification grading, and collaborative laboratory projects.
The efficacy of his unorthodox pedagogy was a common theme in his many award nominations by his students.
“I have never had a teacher so passionate and dedicated to making sure their students succeed,” one student wrote. “Organic is such a difficult topic, but I feel Dr. Horger makes it much easier to (comprehend). He utilizes different methods in class to be sure we understand the topics.”
The awards committee was impressed by Horger’s willingness to revamp his courses for his students’ benefit, by his deployment of nontraditional approaches in the classroom, and by his genuine concern that students master skills necessary to continue their studies.
Finalists for the Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Full-Time Lecturer were Peta Ann Katz, a full-time lecturer in the Anthropology Department, and John Russell Taylor, a full-time lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.
Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Part-Time Faculty Member
Bright is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of English, teaching in the department since 2012. English Department Chair Mark West has called Bright one of the department’s strongest undergraduate teachers.
Students frequently comment on her high energy, her enthusiasm for the course material and her creativity in the classroom. The awards committee cited Bright’s focus on critical and imaginative thinking and her attention to small details. Impressive too is the way she structures her classes, so that students can be self-directed learners. Students can choose their own research subjects, encouraging them to be more personally involved with their work.
A major goal is to help students improve their active listening and develop critical thinking skills. Bright said she wants her students to leave the classroom with more information about the subject matter, and she wants them to show overall growth as individuals. She particularly wants them to appreciate diversity and gain confidence.
Bright regularly has taught two of the core liberal studies courses the department offers for the general education program as well as core courses in the area of children’s literature, Literature for Young Children and Adolescent Literature. In 2012, she received her master’s degree in English at UNC Charlotte, and in 2016, she completed her Master of Library and Information Sciences at UNC Greensboro.
Finalists for the Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Part-Time Faculty Member are David Clausen, an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies, and Felecia Harris, an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Africana Studies and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.
Photo (left to right) Valerie Bright, Jacob Horger and Casey Davenport