UNC Charlotte to recognize teaching excellence

Six finalists for teaching excellence awards
Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Outstanding faculty members whose talents have a positive impact on UNC Charlotte’s learning environment are recognized each fall. This year, the University will acknowledge faculty through the Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence and the inaugural UNC Charlotte Teaching Excellence Award.

Three finalists have been selected for each honor. The Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence finalists are James Franki, associate professor, Art and Art History; Jordan Poler, Chemistry; and Jennifer Webb, Psychological Science.

Oscar Lansen, teaching professor, History; Thomas Marshall, lecturer in Risk Management and Insurance; and Terry Shirley Jr., senior lecturer, Geography and Earth Sciences; are finalists for the UNC Charlotte Teaching Excellence Award.

Recipients of the two awards will be named during a ceremony on Friday, Sept. 6, at the Hilton Center City.

Franki provides an inclusive environment where diverse ideas are welcome, where empathy is expressed, and where respectful dialogue is the norm. He noted this is an environment where ideas and work flourish.

A key part of his teaching philosophy is to challenge students with assignments that prompt them to consider the role of their art in context to the diverse communities their messages target.

 “Several of my assignments and discussions are designed to promote informed critical thinking and artwork for a wide spectrum of audiences,” said Franki. “Integrating required demographic research components into the beginning phases of these projects helps our students to better understand and respect their target audiences with thoughtful and appropriate strategies for their creative concepts.”

Poler said even after 24 years teaching chemistry, “I love watching all the furrowed brows become raised, with widened eyes.”

Connecting with his students is important to Poler. He developed a “Pledge of Allegiance” method to check in with students by asking multiple choice queries that students can answer by holding that number of fingers to their chest.

“It is private, but not anonymous, since I can connect with them directly, even in the back row,” he said.

Recognizing that inexperienced students need more resources to be successful, Poler, for the past eight years, has offered a weeklong boot camp for rising first-year students called, “Summer Intensive Chemistry Orientation.” This camp helps improve student success, increase retention, lower withdrawal rates and improve overall GPAs.

Webb strives for respect, fairness, transparency and authenticity when engaging with students. She considers her classroom a space where students are co-creators in the process of learning with the goal of enhancing student motivation and learning.

“I do not believe in lecturing at students,” said Webb. “I view the classroom as a creative space for our collective wisdom to dynamically unfold through lively exchanges in which we can comfortably debate the merits of multiple sides of an issue. Engaging this critical lens supports students’ consciousness-raising capacities and cognitive flexibility as personal resources.”

She also uses group projects and assignments around community engagement and advocacy themes to “advance students’ ability to synergize their collective personal strengths in a meaningful way to help strengthen campus or community resources.”

Lansen has witnessed how societal and structural changes present challenges for today’s undergraduates, and he seeks to countermand that by employing classroom innovations such as experiential didactics, visuals-spatial modeling, collaborative teaching and specialized course design, in order to develop students’ analytical and expressive skills. As a testament to his professional excellence, Lansen has received eight teaching awards during his time at UNC Charlotte.

“I love to teach: to awaken critical inquiry and equip young minds with the essential skills for meaningful action in life and work,” said Lansen. He seeks to engage students in learning by developing course themes and foci that are inclusive of and relevant to the diverse backgrounds of his students. In some courses, he has students view the content through the eyes and action of their historical peers.

Marshall said his own rewarding college experience sparked a desire to pursue a second career to teach and inspire the next generation of insurance professionals. In adding to teaching classes, he leads study abroad programs to London, Dublin, Zurich and Bermuda. As the Belk College academic advisor to Gamma Iota Sigma, he coordinates a semiannual career fair on campus and teams with colleagues to develop and implement professional seminars.

He also maintains regular contact with the Top 35 financial services companies that hire the majority of his students to ensure they are adequately prepared to meet corporate goals and add value to the company.

 “I have found that students are most interested and learn best from real-life examples and experiences, so all of my lectures incorporate stories and examples from my personal experience in the insurance industry or in my personal life,” said Marshall.

Shirley is widely known for his enthusiasm for meteorology, and he wants to share that passion with others.

“Getting someone excited to learn, to grow as a person, to embrace diversity, to problem solve, to ask ‘Why?’, and to effectively communicate is what I center my career around,” said Shirley.

During his 13 years at UNC Charlotte, Shirley has developed two general education electives and several upper division bachelor’s courses. He also developed and delivered one of the department’s first online courses. In addition, Terry is the department’s faculty fellow for LEADS, a transdisciplinary career preparation program, and was elected to the University’s Faculty Integrity Board. He also serves on the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee.

The new UNC Charlotte Award for Teaching Excellence is open to full- or part-time non-tenure track faculty members who have at least five years of teaching service at UNC Charlotte (lecturers and adjunct faculty). Eligibility for the Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence, first presented in 1968, continues to be for full-time, tenured faculty members with at least seven years of service to UNC Charlotte.