Five professors recognized for top-notch teaching

Five Western Carolina University professors have been announced as finalists for the Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor Award. Jeanne Dulworth, Rebecca Lasher, Don Livington, Alvin Malesky and Wes Stone were nominated by students for their outstanding teaching in and outside the classroom.

Laura Cruz, who leads the award committee for this year, said the voting was different this time because it was online, which made student participation higher.

“We had record numbers of students participating in the nomination process with the new integrated awards voting system,” Cruz said. “We received 1376 student nominations for the awards this year. To put this in context, it is rare for any university teaching award to reach even 200 nominations.”

Mimi Fenton, who is the chair of the committee and received the award in 2003, said that finalists must not only be nominated by students but also have a nomination from faculty.

“It’s a really prestigious award,” Fenton said. “It’s wonderful to get, I always learn a lot doing this. It makes me a better teacher.”

Cruz explained that the committee created to determine the receiver of the award is made up of both students and faculty. To determine the winner, said Cruz, “Finalists must submit a portfolio of teaching materials and then we videotape one of their classes. In addition, we videotape an interview with each of them.”

This year’s finalists come from four different departments: social work, engineering technology, psychology and political science and public affairs.

Dulworth is a teacher in the social work department and has been at WCU since 2000.

“After I received my master’s degree in social work,” said Dulworth, “I came to WCU to see about teaching adjunct. I was able to do that for two years, and then was hired on full time in 2000. Teaching has always been a love of mine. Both of my parents retired from teaching so you can say it’s in my blood.”

Dulworth, whose inspirational teacher was WCU professor Dr. Mwaniki, said that there are three important skills she wants her students to take away from her classes.

“Improved communication skills, the ability to think critically and have a better understanding of who they are a person,” she said. “The most important lesson students have taught me is to stay passionate. Even when I am having an off day, I can get a pick-me-up from students. They inspire me with creativity, touch me with their inquisitive nature and remind me to love life and laugh often!”

Lasher also teaches in the social work department. She became a full-time professor in August 2008.

“I was absolutely humbled and honored to receive the news,” Lasher said. “It is a thrill for me to be nominated.

“College students in social work are so motivated and excited about changing the world,” she added. “I believe that teaching students to join this profession is the one way I can have an overwhelming impact on the future of society for many generations to come.”

Lasher said her goal in the classroom to get across to her students how much she cares for their success.

“I want them [her students] to feel as passionate about social work as I do,” she said. “This profession is one which allows them to have a powerful and positive effect on the lives of others. I feel fortune to watch them develop their identity as future social workers.”

Livingston teaches political science and public affairs. He has taught at Western for 28 years.

“I have been a finalist for this award three times, but I have never won,” Livingston saud. “I hope this will be my year. But all the finalists are excellent teachers and truly deserving of such recognition.”

Livingston describes himself as having a “passion for politics,” and he brings that passion to the classroom.

“I want my students to understand that things just don’t happen in the political arena,” Livingston said. “People make things happen. And that every action in the political arena prompts a reaction. Citizens have responsibilities as well as rights, and it is absolutely essential that citizens be informed and engage the political process.

“I also want my students to understand that relationships matter,” he added. “And of course, I want them to realize that merit alone does not make the sale in the political world.”

Livingston has three professors that made an impact on him, all professors from Ole Miss. Each taught the subject he teaches at WCU now.

“I love learning,” Livingston said. “I enjoy being around bright colleagues and sharp students who share my love of politics. I especially enjoy writing op ed pieces that are published in local newspapers. Teaching at the college level allows me time to read and write as well as the opportunity to share what I have learned over the years with my students.”  

Malesky has taught psychology at Western for eight years. His philosophy in the classroom is for his students to think critically.

“It’s extremely flattering,” he said about being a nominee. “We have such exceptional professors and teachers in my department and college. I have been extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from these individuals. I can confidently say that I would never have been singled out for this award if not for the support of my colleagues and my chair, David McCord.”

Malesky believes that he “has the best job in the world.” He loves the vigor of Western Carolina and teaching college-aged students.

“I also feel very fortunate,” he continued, “to work with students at different points in their academic careers.”

Malesky was inspired by a teaching role model at a young age. His third grade teacher, Ms. Kett, showed him how much of an “…impact that teachers have on students.” In his own classroom, Malesky learned from his students to take risks and tries to integrate several different teaching styles to benefit the variety of students that enter his classroom.

Stone teaches engineering technology and has been at WCU for eight years. His motto is that one should never stop learning.

“Lifelong learning should be a goal of yours no matter what your field,” Stone said. “It keeps your mind sharp.”

He added that his students in return taught him that he should never stop learning either.

“Every year, they collectively teach me as much as I teach them,” he said.

Stone was excited to learn he was a finalist nominee for the award and also whose company he was in.

“Things like this add a bright spot to our day,” he stated. “I was eager to see who else was nominated because there’ always good company in these groups.”

Stone said he is not worried about the videotaping of his class, but he hopes that his students are on time so that no one will walk in front of the camera. He also wonders how well the acoustics will sound in his classroom, Belk 104.

The recipient of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award will be announced in late April at the spring awards ceremony.