Inspired teaching draws praise

Each year the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences presents two Teacher of the Year Awards, one to a full-time faculty member and one to a part-time faculty member.

The 2008-09 recipients are Dr. John Sharp, assistant professor of Geography, and Dr. Suzanne Kelly, adjunct instructor of Women’s Studies.

According to James Schiffer, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Sharp and Kelly were recommended for this award by a committee of their peers.

“I heartily endorsed the committee’s recommendation,” said Schiffer. “At a college that emphasizes teaching excellence, Dr. Sharp and Dr. Kelly stand out for their creativity, enthusiasm, knowledge of their subjects and great devotion to the education of their students. They have demonstrated qualities that have won the admiration of their students and their colleagues. They epitomize what is best about our college.”

Sharp, who arrived at New Paltz in 2000, said that his teaching philosophy is focused on the interplay between the ends and means of teaching.

“While my goal is to achieve certain learning outcomes, the learning process through which that happens makes a tremendous difference and that is where most of my time and energy are spent,” he said. “In today’s world with so much information readily available, I think the process of being able to evaluate information from a variety of sources is critical. Speaking from the perspective of a social scientist, I see our role shifting from being gatekeepers of information to teaching students how to evaluate information and make reasonable judgments.”

“From my perspective,” Sharp continued, “I expect students to process a large amount of information, to reflect critically on that information, and to be able to communicate both orally and in writing how they used it to arrive at a point of view. Through this process, I hope students gain a knowledge and understanding of human geography and begin to think and reason independently.”

Kelly explained that in her courses she attempts to draw out the meanings embedded in a history of thought that has worked to oppress, and is determined to elicit active engagement with those ideas/questions in order to foster a better understanding of the world and people’s place within it.

“Teaching, for me, is all about getting students to care about ideas,” said Kelly. “It’s about finding ways to generate heat around difficult questions and urging students, in subtle and not so subtle ways, to think through the arc of arguments and their relationship to social change.”

Kelly first began teaching in the Women’s Studies program in 1996, left, and then returned in 2002. Her courses include, Women: Images and Realities; Feminist Theory; Women, Love and Sex; and Women and Popular Culture.

Each recipient receives $1,000 to be used for his or her professional development and the award winners are asked to give a talk to the campus community about their teaching philosophy.