Teaching excellence award finalists spark students’ desire to learn

Teaching excellence award finalists spark students’ desire to learn
Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Creating classrooms that encourage a free exchange of ideas among students is a commonality among the six finalists for the 2020 UNC Charlotte Excellence in Teaching Awards.

Heather Coffey, associate professor, Department of Middle, Secondary and K-12 Education; Paula Connolly, professor, English Department; and Eric Heberlig, professor, Department of Political Science and Public Administration; are finalists for the Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence.

Tonya Bates, senior lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences; Susana Cisneros, senior lecturer of Spanish, Department of Languages and Culture Studies; and Kathleen Nicolaides, teaching professor, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology; are finalists for the UNC Charlotte Teaching Excellence Award.

The Bank of America Teaching Excellence Award, presented since 1968, honors full-time, tenured faculty members who have at least seven years of service to the University; the UNC Charlotte Award for Teaching Excellence, in its second year, is presented to full- or part-time non-tenure track faculty members with at least five years of service.

A teacher of future teachers, Heather Coffey sets high expectations for her students and models the respect and appreciation for diversity that can lead to rich discussion and impactful learning. She encourages a social justice mindset in her students and gets to know her students so they are comfortable sharing concerns about teaching in environments that do not mirror their own experiences. 

Paula Connolly is known for development of students’ keen, critical analyses. Her preparation for classes begins with extensive research to help her understand the range of work on a topic and to formulate new arguments on the material. This ultimately models for students how to engage in critical analysis.

Eric Heberlig employs three key principles in his approach to help students be active participants in their own learning. First, engage the student. Second, be rigorous. Third, emphasize analysis, synthesis, research and communication skills. He seeks to apply active learning techniques consistently in a variety of classes, to integrate them with assignments, and to take advantage of opportunities outside of the classroom.

Tonya Bates is considered a pioneer and leader within the Department of Biological Sciences in incorporating active learning, inquiry-based learning and technology in the classroom. Her courses, including high-enrollment, general education classes for non-majors, are strongly student-centered and focus on real-world applications and scientific literacy in an effort to better connect students with the material.

Susana Cisneros creates academic experiences outside of the classroom that students often say are life-changing. Known for her enthusiasm and positive attitude, Cisneros seeks to engage students in learning both the Spanish language and the culture by exposing them to such places as a Latino supermarket, a quinceañera store or an archaeological site in Argentina.

Kathleen Nicolaides has achieved an enviable balance for a classroom instructor – scoring high both in classroom rigor and in student support. Her dedication to teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students led to the adoption of innovative teaching strategies and ground-breaking curricular changes resulting in positive student and peer evaluations and the receipt of several awards. She seeks to train students to become critical thinkers and leaders in their fields, and to provide a learning experience that is inclusive.

The two recipients of UNC Charlotte’s Excellence in Teaching Awards will be announced Thursday, Sept. 17.