Professor Joel Christensen of the University of Texas at San Antonio is one of those versatile teachers who is able to teach a broad range of courses on the ancient world spanning a multiplicity of disciplines, including ancient languages, literature, history, mythology, culture, drama, and even a course on “Myth and Science Fiction.” Furthermore, he is equally successful at engaging and inspiring students whether the class is a seminar of a dozen students or a lecture with hundreds. One of his colleagues characterizes him as having “an almost superhuman dedication to his students.” His commitment to them is perhaps most evident in the fact that every semester he voluntarily offers to teach multiple course overloads without any compensation so that his Greek language students have the opportunity to take a full array of intermediate and advanced classes.
In his classes, Professor Christensen clearly strives not just to inculcate knowledge of and appreciation for the ancient world, but also to motivate students to fulfill their potential and to develop their critical thinking skills. As one of his students put it, “Dr. Christensen always knew how to push me to succeed and never accepted less than my best…He challenged me to search for questions instead of answers, and I learned how to think critically…I gained confidence because I knew that if I could do well in his class, I could succeed in any class.” One professor in his department notes that “on multiple occasions his students have described to me the B’s that they, with emphasis, earned in his class with more satisfaction than the A’s they got in others.” Prof. Christensen lavishes his time and effort on his students, serving as advisor to the Classics Club, overseeing numerous honors theses as overloads, “spending double or triple his expected office hours,” continuing to mentor students long after they have graduated, and willingly sharing his expertise with members of the community. While his success and dedication to teaching have been recognized by his institution with the President’s Distinguished Achievement Award for Core Curriculum Teaching Excellence, perhaps the best endorsement of the effect he has had on his students can be found in the words of one of them, who wrote, “I can’t say enough about Prof. Christensen, he has truly altered the trajectory of my life for the better.”
His performance has been equally exceptional in the realm of program development. He is credited with “single-handedly designing and implementing UTSA’s classical Greek Program, creating the entire range of upper-division Topics courses in translation (genre, history, culture) as well as the Classics Capstone Experience, and contributing to the implementation of the Certificate in Latin,” as well as developing the assessment criteria and writing the assessment reports for Classics, Latin, and Greek. According to his colleagues, one notable result of his teaching and work at program development has been a soaring number of students enrolled in his department’s courses. His fellow Classicists describe him as “a gift to his department” whose presence and example has made them better teachers and whose tireless efforts have profoundly changed the lives of his students.
For his many exceptional achievements, we are pleased to bestow on Prof. Joel Christensen the 2013 American Philological Association Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Classics at the College Level.
Gregory S. Aldrete, Chair