Originally published in The Sylva Herald on April 16, 2020.
On Wednesday, April 8, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors announced Dr. Jennifer Schiff as one of 17 faculty members to receive the 2020 Award for Excellence in Teaching.
The recipients represent all 16 of North Carolina’s public universities plus the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Each candidate was nominated by special committees at their respective institution and selected by the Board of Governors Committee on Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs.
“These awards provide us the opportunity to acknowledge outstanding work being done by some of the finest instructors our state has to offer,” said UNC System Interim President Bill Roper. “It represents the best of the UNC System and is another reminder of the high-quality education that our students receive.”
Schiff, currently teaching her 10th year as an associate professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University, was excited and humbled by the announcement, she said.
“I consider teaching and working with students the absolute best part of my job. Over the years, teaching has proven a source of great joy to me, and to have my work recognized by the UNC System is quite an honor,” said Schiff.
Not only has Schiff been recognized by the System, but by students and fellow faculty members as well.
“It excites me to hear that Dr. Schiff has won yet another prestigious award,” said international studies student D Germain. “She is by far one of the best professors Western Carolina University has to offer, and it is with no doubt she is one of the best in the UNC school system. She is truly passionate about her career and shows it by always engaging with her students in order to bring out the best in them.”
“Schiff is one of the most talented and engaging teachers I’ve ever known,” said Chris Cooper, head of WCU’s Department of Political Science and Public Affairs. “She is committed to the craft of teaching and to her students’ success. Her excitement for teaching and practice of keeping up with the current trends in pedagogy and student engagement is second to none.”
“In each class I teach, I try to take very complicated global situations and break them down into smaller and more understandable pieces,” said Schiff. “Once the students understand the basics, then we put all the pieces back together to rebuild the complexity. I think this approach helps to provide the necessary context for deep understanding. And I’m also always trying to find new ways of engrossing students in the hard work of solving global problems, whether it’s through conducting a simulation of a treaty negotiation or brainstorming innovative projects that have the potential to improve global poverty.”
Schiff’s inspiring personality and engagement with students within the classroom are truly like no other, according to her graduate assistant Fiona Buchanan.
“While I was an undergraduate student, I took five classes with Dr. Schiff,” said Buchanan. “She was the most thought-provoking and inspiring professor I ever had, and I loved all of my academic experiences with her. She is obviously very knowledgeable of many subject matters within international studies and is able to engage and enthuse all of her students. I hope to follow in her footsteps and become an International Studies professor. She, without a doubt, deserves this award, and I am so glad that she has been recognized for her amazing work.”
Schiff will receive a commemorative bronze medallion and a $12,500 cash prize during a ceremony at WCU.