Board of Governor's Award for Excellence in Teaching
Florence Dore, Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature
Professor Dore brings joy, energy, and enthusiasm into every classroom she enters. Whether she’s teaching The American Novem, Contemporary Fiction, or drawing on her own experience as a singer and recording artist to teach songwriting, students and faculty colleagues were enthusiastic in their praise of her creativity, engagement, and commitment to the highest standards of teaching. In recognition of her years providing students with a rich and supportive learning environment that has challenged and inspired them, the Committee is delighted to recommend Dr. Dore for this award.
Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement
Lois Boynton, Associate Professor, Hussman School of Journalism and Media
Professor Boynton has earned remarkable heartfelt respect from mentees, supervisors, and peers for the lifechanging mentorship that she has provided to students from every background and perspective, including veterans, first-generation college students, student-athletes, international students, minority students, and other under-represented groups. She is known to provide wise, sympathetic, and encouraging counsel to students facing challenging obstacles in their educations, careers, and personal lives. Professor Boynton’s office door is always open to mentees, and when they visit, she seems to know just what’s needed, whether it be a sympathetic ear, sage advice, a dose of tough love, an orientation to academia, a bit of humor, or a chocolate treat. Because Professor Boynton invests time in knowing their mentees as people, the mentees receive personalized support, examples include supplementary test study materials, grammar instruction, birthday recognitions, introductions to alumni, job opportunities, time-sensitive help with applications, constructive criticism, or the gift of a poem. It has been said that Professor Boynton doesn’t forget mentees who have graduated, and judging by the many glowing nominations, they will never forget their mentor either.
Distinguished Teaching Award for Post-Baccalureate Instruction
Sarah Dempsey, Associate Professor, Communication
Professor Dempsey’s students and faculty colleagues praise her innovative teaching, commitment, warmth, mentorship, and fierce advocacy on behalf of graduate students. One colleague explained that Dr. Dempsey “uses deliberation as a tool of engagement drawing students into a shared process of participatory knowledge building.” She merges the theoretical and the practical, asking students to challenge and evaluate competing assumptions. In her classroom, students engage with multiple perspectives and ideas, speak openly, share ideas, and feel comfortable asking questions. Dr. Dempsey uses creative in-class approaches that allow students to really connect with the materials they are discussing. And she devotes substantial time and energy to helping students improve their writing and argumentation through sustained and individualized feedback. One former student wrote, “when I began teaching in a classroom of my own, I called on lessons I learned from Dr. Dempsey to be present and meet learners where they are as a way to engage.” They further explained that they “model their own teaching and mentoring relationships with students on the approach, Professor Dempsey demonstrates, which . . . is based on respect, curiosity, inclusivity, diligence, and care.”
Casey Rawson, Teaching Assistant Professor, School of Information and Library Science
Professor Rawson is a thoughtful, intentional, and inclusive teacher whose lessons stay with students long after they leave her classroom. Her teaching style, grounded in her MAT, experience teaching in K-12 classrooms, and years of pedagogy-focused research and scholarship, has been described as “adaptive, engaging, culturally relevant, and greatly impactful for a variety of kinds of students.” She values teaching and teaches her students to do so as well; they bring this experience—and often many of the tangible materials they created in her courses—with them into a variety of library settings. One nominator wrote: “If I . . . had the power to make a course requirement for any students in the SILS program and/or the education program, I would do so for any courses Casey Rawson has taught.” Another distinguishing feature of Professor Rawson’s teaching is her willingness to go above and beyond for graduate students, both inside and outside of the classroom. This is apparent in how she teaches, in the “magic” she performs as a dissertation advisor, in her work as Coordinator of the MLS program, in her development and maintenance of a food pantry for food-insecure students, and in the way that she opens up her own vast professional and personal networks to her students.
Amanda Reid, Associate Professor, Hussman School of Journalism and Media
Professor Reid’s students support her nomination enthusiastically. They appreciate how she transforms demanding classes about delicate issues into approachable and fun discussions. Professor Reid often brings examples from her professional life to the classroom, where she creates an inclusive environment to discuss AI, copyright, the First Amendment, and other intricate topics. Not only her in-class teaching innovations but also her outside of class care for her students is appreciated: she offers one-to-one conferences, mentors students’ research, addresses the difficulties of the graduate student experience, and even advises her former students as they navigate their careers.
Erianne Weight, Professor, Exercise and Sport Science
Dr. Weight exemplifies all that we hope to see as a graduate school educator at UNC. As described by her chair and colleagues she has a passion for teaching, leadership, and happiness. She works to identify each students’ unique skills and challenges and works tirelessly to help each matriculate successfully. She is both demanding and supportive. Her interactions with the students extend beyond their graduation and many have talked about how she continues to support them years later. Her colleagues cite her as being a critical piece in their department’s being named #3 in the world. She was described as a true champion of the student and that she connects with her students at a different level. She has an innovative classroom experience that evolves with the times and pushes students to interact and learn. She uses all forms of teaching and resources to keep the learning interactive and practical. Dr. Weight is committed to the success of each of her students and empowers them to find their way to successful careers after graduation.
Chapman Family Teaching Awards
Anna Krome-Lukens, Teaching Associate Professor and Director of Experiential Education, Department of Public Policy
Dr. Anna Krome-Lukens has restructured the Capstone to Public Policy, which is taken by all Public Policy majors (unless they complete an Honors Thesis). As such, she has direct and lasting influence on the career development and planning of all PLCY majors. She will use the project funds to write a book collaboratively with students to combine theoretical perspectives and case studies to answer the question “why does history matter to public policy”?
Mariska Leunissen, Professor, Department of Philosophy
Common themes in the anonymous end-of-course comments from Dr. Leunissen’s students include praise for her meticulous preparation, her impressive command of the material, her ability to provide rich and vivid historical context, her carefully designed handouts and incredibly helpful PowerPoint slides, her success in engaging students from many different backgrounds, and her sense of humor. Students frequently report that Professor Leunissen’s own evident enthusiasm makes them eager and happy to learn; they often say how much fun it is to learn from her. She will use the Chapman Award funds to support preparation of an edited volume on “New Directions in Ancient Philosophy” and organize an associated workshop for the contributors, and then use the insights and ideas gained through the production of this volume to radically rethink and redesign PHIL210: Wonder, Myth, and Reason: Introduction to Ancient Greek Science and Philosophy.
Michal Osterweil, Teaching Professor, Curriculum for Global Studies
Many students recognize her practice of starting each class session by inviting a pause or a short meditation. She will use the project funds to further develop her research in Transformative Pedagogy, which treats the body and mind as a whole and invites students to experience learning with their whole bodies and whole selves. She plans to develop a website that explains the approach and offers descriptions of key practices, as well as to develop and curate teaching materials, including in-person workshops and webinars, and to begin work on a book, regarding transformative pedagogy.
Isaac Unah, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science
One nominee stated that Professor Unah is one of the reasons I am a lawyer today, and that Professor Unah works tirelessly for his students. From nominations, interviews, and observations, he is clearly admired and respected, and his Department Chair described him as a “nothing less than a beacon of humanity”. He will use the award funds to support the preparation of a book containing data collected with his UNC undergraduates regarding recusal behavior in state supreme courts. He will also organize a one-day visit to the US Supreme Court with students to hear oral arguments.
Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching
Luoyi Cai, Teaching Associate Professor, Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
Professor Cai has a very deep commitment to authenticity in language teaching. She is caring, generous, flexible, enthusiastic like all good teachers. But her authentic materials and authentic teaching are what make her stand out. The challenge in language instruction is to move beyond repetitious formulas where students simply memorize and repeat. In her classes, students develop a relationship with the culture, not just the language. Professor Cai has partnered with universities in China through COIL so her students can work with Chinese instructors and students. Encouraging students to move beyond rote memorization, she creates connections that are lasting rather than transient because they form a relationship with the subject. She creates a learning environment that gives students a reason to take the next steps like applying to study abroad.
Joshua Beaver, Teaching Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry
Dr. Joshua Beaver reaches countless students on the chemistry and pre-health tracks as one of the lead instructors of Organic Chemistry I and II. His teaching philosophy centers around metacognitive awareness and active engagement with course material. The committee was impressed with Dr. Beaver’s care for student success and enthusiastic nominations from peers and students, alike. One student wrote: “Dr. Beaver reinforced and deepened my love for organic chemistry by providing great feedback when asking him questions, creating a space that fosters extreme learning, and always keeping a positive attitude.” Another added: “His unwavering support, passion for teaching, and dedication to fostering intellectual growth and professional exploration have left a profound mark on my educational and career trajectory.” Dr. Beaver’s record of accomplishment suggests he is a transformational instructor with the ability to balance individual student needs with rigorous pedagogy.
Joseph Megel, Teaching Professor, Department of Communication
Students and colleagues highlighted Professor Joseph Megel’s noteworthy contributions to performance education. Professor Megel employs an immersive teaching philosophy that integrates innovative technologies, such as projection design, providing students with practical skills aligned with industry trends. The hands-on approach, as exemplified by the Process Series, cultivates a dynamic learning environment where students actively participate in the development of performances addressing contemporary social issues. Beyond the confines of the classroom, Professor Megel’s mentorship extends to transformative experiences, influencing students’ present and future trajectories. His dedication to guiding students in creative pursuits is substantiated by the success stories of former students who have gone on to pursue careers in writing, performing, and graduate programs. Collaborative endeavors, including the proposal for a Minor in Media Technology and Design, serve as tangible evidence of Professor Megel’s commitment to shaping students’ educational paths beyond traditional academic settings.
Suja Davis, Clinical Associate Professor, School of Nursing
Professor Suja Davis is a dedicated educator committed to creating a student-focused learning environment. She is committed to excellence in all that she does and has developed approaches to teaching and learning that are focused on meeting the needs of all types of learners. Inclusivity is embedded in the framework of Professor Davis’s classes. Years ago, she recognized that many non-native English-speaking learners struggled in her fast-paced class. Having had that experience herself as a non-native English speaker, she went through the effort of recording and sub-titling all her lectures. Embracing technology in her classroom in meaningful ways, her innovative approach to teaching difficult content has leveled the playing field for students from a variety of backgrounds. Professor Davis is committed to the future of nursing and goes above and beyond when teaching student nurses both in the classroom and in the clinical environment.
Rachel Willis, Professor, Department of American Studies
Dr. Rachel Willis’ is a long-time faculty member in the Department of American Studies who utilizes experiential and service-learning approaches to education. Her teaching and research are inherently interdisciplinary, and the committee was impressed with Dr. Willis’ vast repertoire of creative pedagogies and impact beyond Carolina. In lieu lectures, Dr. Willis utilizes creative storytelling, class excursions, and team-based learning. Student nominations overwhelmingly speak to her ability to transform student lives: Dr. Willis “creates a class space that welcomes discussion, individual thinking, and leadership amongst her students.” Another student nomination noted that “Dr. Willis is a mentor who has left an indelible mark on my approach to learning and education.” She fosters a “lead by example” mentality to promote lifelong learning.
William C. Friday Award for Excellence in Teaching
Michael Waltman, Associate Professor, Department of Communication
Professor Waltman’s commitment to fostering inclusive learning environments is evident in his roles as an advisor and director of undergraduate studies, along with his work in service-learning through innovative initiatives like Communicating Common Ground. His influence extends beyond classroom activities and curriculum revisions, emphasizing a “humanizing pedagogy” that fosters inclusivity and relationship-building with students. Acknowledged by peers through grants and awards, his exceptional teaching style reflects his ability to navigate complex topics and create supportive atmospheres for his learners. Nominations lauded Dr. Waltman’s exceptional teaching style and his profound impact on students’ lives, evidenced by their professional successes and emulation of his inclusive approach. An outstanding educator whose influence transcends traditional teaching, Dr. Waltman is a very deserving recipient of this year’s Friday Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Education.
J. Carlyle Sitterson Award for Teaching First-Year Students
Bradley Hammer, Teaching Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature
Professor Hammer is a gifted and generous professor. He is known for encouraging and developing students’ abilities to think, reason and argue for themselves in speaking and writing. One student noted that he wants his students to leave his class feeling “like they have learned to become just a little more intellectual than who they were before the first day of class.” His teaching prowess goes far beyond the first-year students in ENGL 105: he is known for supervising honors theses and serving as a mentor for new faculty in the Writing Program at Carolina.
Michael Palm, Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Communication
Professor Palm is an ideal first-year teacher—his humble, approachable demeanor and passion for his subject inspire first-year students to be involved and inclusive. His demeanor stretches far beyond the classroom: Dr. Palm is considered by his colleagues and students to be one of the strongest advocates for the needs of students at UNC. He goes beyond the expectations of the classroom to make sure students feel as though they are included, and most importantly: at home at Carolina. Put neatly: “His classroom was cozy because everyone was encouraged to speak their mind with no judgment. Everyone’s words were respected.”
Johnston Teaching Excellence Award
Naji Husseini, Teaching Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
The committee was highly impressed with both the quantity and quality of nominations for Naji Husseini. Students described engaging and transformative experiences that impacted not only their academic trajectories but the way that they engage with the world around them. His courses were cited as being exciting, innovative, demanding, fun, formative, and above all else effective. One student thanked him for “helping to shift my mindset towards truly enjoying the learning process instead of progressing towards a grade.” Colleagues and supervisors appreciate and admire his work rate, innovation, and willingness to go above and beyond as an instructor and administrator. Time and again in his many nominations, students brought up his personal approach and how he goes out of his way to make students feel seen and respected.
Lorna Aviles, Teaching Assistant Professor, Department of Romance Studies
Professor Aviles is changing lives through her work teaching Spanish. In her glowing nomination, one student relayed how she and others had no intention of carrying on with Spanish beyond the language requirement but ended up continuing in Spanish simply to have more classes with Professor Aviles. Described as a high-energy innovator, Professor Aviles challenges her students while also maintaining an environment that is safe and in which students are encouraged to face the frequently vulnerable space of learning a foreign language. Her colleagues expressed their appreciation for her passion and enthusiasm, which changed the tenor within the department upon her arrival. Pedagogically her courses are rigorous and authentic, frequently tied to the Spanish-speaking world through study abroad experiences, such as the program in the Galapagos Islands, which blends Spanish language content with studies of the local biology. As one nominator put it, “she made me fall in love with Spanish.”
Tanner Award for Exellence in Undergraduate Teaching by Graduate Teaching Assistants
Ling Beisecker, Doctoral Student, Department of Exercise and Sport Science
Compelling quotes for this finalist were: “She got to know every single student.” “She always made it extremely apparent that she was always there for us and would talk about supporting mental health.” “As a pick me up she bought the whole class cookies one day.” “The basis of Ling’s inclusive teaching method was to establish a foundation of mutual respect and humanity in the classroom.” “Ling has truly changed my perspective as a student and a person.”
Courtney Blackington, Doctoral Student, Department of Political Science
Compelling quotes for this finalist were: “This is one of the few classes I have taken at UNC which I was excited to go to every single class period, solely due to Ms. Blackington’s teaching style.” “She was flexible and willing to shift her lesson plan to help us understand topics that were difficult and some students were struggling with.” “I am a better person and citizen after taking this class because of the effort that Ms. Blackington put into my learning.”
Santiago Gesteira, Doctoral Student, Department of Romance Studies
Compelling quotes for this finalist included: “He never ever left a student behind. He made 100% sure that everyone understood what he was teaching before he moved on.” “He is demanding and passionate but cloaks this in humor to create a learning environment of ease.” “I’m eternally grateful to Santi for challenging me and sparking a healthier life philosophy in me.” “I was personally touched by how he took the time to learn our names and developed meaningful relationships with students.”
Karah Mitchell, Doctoral Student, Department of English and Comparative Literature
Compelling quotes for this finalist were: “Ms. Mitchell came into the classroom every day with lots of energy and was excited to help us learn.” “Professor Mitchell is significantly more than a teacher; she is a mentor for all her students.” “Every class is truly a dive into a dynamic, intellectual environment and every student in her class was excited to join Professor Mitchell for classes.”
Emanuele Stefanori, Doctoral Student, Department of Romance Studies
Compelling quotes for this finalist were: “His teaching style is interactive, with in-class game activities where we learn and practice vocab, verb conjugation, or other elements via recall/implementation, all in low-stress environments.” “I absolutely felt I had the support I needed to be successful.” “He was empathetic, caring, and open when dealing with the aftermath of the lockdowns.” “He always invites anyone to participate in the exercises and is also very understanding of mistakes.” “When entering class, Emanuele always had a positive attitude which made learning very fun.”
Past University Teaching Award Recipients
Past awards University Teaching Award recipients may be found on the Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) website.