2020 Awards for Excellence in Teaching at the College Level (three winners)
Robert Groves, University of Arizona
“Gaius Fabius send greetings to his father. I must say that I was at first excited to see my first
munera, but I quickly became disenchanted with them ... ”
The above is not a quote from some ancient missive, but reflects the type of response a student of Dr. Robert Groves at the University of Arizona might write for his “Letters from the Past” assignment, designed to immerse every student in the world of the Greeks and Romans.
Passion for our subject matter is something all Classicists share, but the ability to reach and engage every student is both a natural gift and a studied skill, one that Dr. Robert Groves abundantly embodies. He is an innovator in both his face-to-face and online classes, judiciously using technology and varied assignments to involve and assess his students, through collaborative learning, creative projects, peer review, and low stakes formative assessments specifically designed for skill development. Dr. Groves wants his students to know the “why” of an assignment, and from the syllabus to final grades, his students can rely on his unerring guidance and support. His approach incentivizes their full involvement in their own learning process.
His students are inspired, not only by his course material but also by Dr. Groves’ teaching style. One student remarks that he is “dedicated above all else to making students feel successful, even when they may be struggling.” His teaching evaluations are replete with the usual expected comments about his enthusiasm and energy in the classroom, but also with many expressions of appreciation for his assignments, both for their variety and for the way in which they draw students into the material.
Dr. Groves describes teaching as an iterative process, and at the end of each semester he assesses each of his courses and annotates its syllabus, noting where he might improve the class with new techniques, approaches, or assignments. The results are clear: courses and instruction that truly reflect the consummate skill of a master teacher.
We are honored to recognize Dr. Robert Groves for his outstanding teaching with the SCS’s 2020 Award for Excellence in Teaching of the Classics at the College Level.
Theodora Kopestonsky, University of Tennessee
“Dr. Kopestonsky’ s energy is so infectious that it would require active resistance not to enjoy the topic of the course” (written by a former student).
Theodora Kopestonsky knows how to spark the curiosity of 21st century students. Her Catullus students compare the vitriol of the Lesbia poems with songs like Taylor Swift’s We are never ever getting back together (2012); her archaeology students sort old cell phones into a chronological series; students in her “Women and Gender” class pretend to be local reporters and interview people from antiquity. In giving students objects like cell phones to handle or modern parallels, she actively engages them and fundamentally changes their perception of the material; no longer is it an abstraction in photos or textbooks, but something they can appreciate from their own experience. As one student writes, “Dr. Kopestonsky… had a real understanding of popular culture … and this made it easy for her to find comparisons between literature or art from the ancient world with what students today are seeing and hearing…It was astonishing at times to see the influence and know how long some ideas and ‘trends’ have been at play”.
A senior lecturer, and the first Distinguished Lecturer in the history of the University of
Tennessee Classics department history, Professor Kopestonsky knows that even ‘boring’ aspects of pedagogy can be made entertaining. Her famous stuffed Pegasus, aka "Grammar Pegasus,” act outs different Greek prepositions while students shout out what case they take. One alumna
writes, “As a teacher myself, I can really appreciate somebody who's willing to do silly things
…in order to help her students learn and who lets her love for her field shine in class”. Professor Kopestonsky builds communities where everyone feels comfortable enough to volunteer their opinions or share inside jokes. “My perspective was always valued”, notes another alumna, “and it made me comfortable enough to break out of my shell.”
Professor Kopestonsky is also creative in finding ways to calm anxieties, engage intellects and inspire students well beyond her classroom. An alumna who manages political campaigns regularly uses her as an example of professional conduct; another was inspired to participate in an archaeological excavation after graduation.
We are honored to recognize Dr. Theodora Kopestonsky for her outstanding teaching with the SCS’s 2020 Award for Excellence in Teaching of the Classics at the College Level.
Molly Swetnam-Burland, College of William & Mary
“Every Intro to Latin Prose class began with a series of photographs... of frescoes, mosaics, even a kitchen garbage chute! It was a reminder that the Romans were real people...[and] that what we were reading in our Latin class was related to a broad range of topics in the field of Classical
Studies and beyond.”
As these words by her student attest, Molly Swetnam-Burland deals with an assortment of ancient material in her courses about art and archaeology, social history, and Latin at William and Mary with the ultimate goal of making the field of Classics more inclusive. Indeed, Professor Swetnam-Burland affirms “it is my aim to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone in my classes. ”Her detailed rubrics and guidelines clearly indicate her expectations for assignments, thereby ensuring that students with a range of educational backgrounds know exactly what they must do to succeed. And her welcoming syllabi assure students who have academic accommodations that their needs will be met. Moreover, she promotes justice and equity, asserting “my central goal is to help my students thrive in college, especially those for whom the experience is disorienting for reasons of race, ethnicity, class, gender, or gender identity.” Her work with fostering inclusion extends to the subject matter that she teaches as well. She presents Classical Studies as a forward-looking, interdisciplinary field that encompasses both textual and material culture as well as the lived experiences of different groups of people in antiquity. Professor Swetnam-Burland’s students report that she is a “hardworking, “thoughtful,” and “phenomenal” teacher. It is easy to understand why they admire her. She is an engaging professor in the classroom and a dedicated mentor outside of it. Her innovative and stimulating assignments ask students to deal with a variety of ancient evidence– from graffiti to amber objects in American museums–and prompt them not only to acquire important skills but also to think about what she calls “big issues.” We are honored to recognize Dr. Molly Swetnam-Burland for her outstanding teaching with the SCS’s 2020 Award for Excellence in Teaching of the Classics at the College Level.