We all know heroic colleagues who are the only classicists in their institutions. But Greg Aldrete, Professor of Humanistic Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, is the only faculty member there who teaches in any area before the middle ages. As the Chair of Humanistic Studies writes, UWGB enrolls “mainly first-generation college students for whom classical antiquity either means nothing or is associated with being boring”; Greg Aldrete not only engages but inspires these students while carrying a staggering three-FOUR annual course load and teaching a total of 400 to 500 students a year.
Since Professor Aldrete arrived at UWGB in 1995, he has taught a wide range of existing courses and has developed numerous new classes on all aspects of the history of Greece and Rome. In addition, he has supervised 26 independent studies and honors theses, all as voluntary unpaid overloads, on topics ranging from “Roman Imperialism” to “Virgil and Dante” to “Augustus and Architecture as Propaganda.” All his classes, from large surveys to independent studies, stress primary sources. In Humanistic Studies 101, he uses a course pack of primary texts that he translated himself, and assigns an analytical paper of at least six pages—not a common assignment in a course that enrolls as many as 250 students. He also incorporates material culture into his classroom, whether bringing in ancient coins or having his students construct hoplite shields and fight mock battles. His course evaluations consistently rank him at an average of 9.6 on a scale of 10—and yet at the same time he is one of the toughest graders on his campus.
Students’ comments repeatedly stress how enthralling Professor Aldrete’s lectures are and how his assignments push the students to achieve; one writes, “He is so passionate about this topic that you can’t help but get excited about Greece as well.” Another comments, “It takes a good teacher to educate a student, but it takes a great teacher to make students think analytically and actively engage their minds in the subject.” Students mention that they enroll in every one of his classes that they possibly can; “a semester without one of his classes felt lacklustre and empty,” says one.
Professor Aldrete single-handedly created a new track, “Ancient and Medieval History”, within the Humanistic Studies major. Two years after its creation the program enrols several dozen students and is the major’s fastest growing track. Somehow he has also found time to serve as advisor for the newly formed Ancient and Medieval History Club, to maintain an active publication record, and to develop the remarkable Linothorax Project with current and former students.
One student wrote, “It should be mandatory that every student take at least one class with Professor Aldrete.” Alas, that is not in our power. We can, however, offer Greg Aldrete our heartiest congratulations as he receives the APA’s Excellence in Teaching Award for 2010.
It seems that Dr. Ronnie Ancona thrives on being busy. For the last twenty-five years, she has taught classics at Hunter College in New York City. But “taught Classics” or even “at Hunter” doesn’t really cover this. To be more specific, she teaches or has taught Greek at the beginning and advanced level, Latin language at all levels, etymology, classical mythology, Roman and Greek civilization, and specialty classes on women and slavery. Of course, that’s just the undergraduate level. She has taught methods of teaching Latin at the master’s level, and supervised the secondary-school student teachers, as well as teaching a full range of Latin language courses. At the PhD. Level, she has taught courses in Horace, Ovid, Catullus, and Cicero at the CUNY Graduate Ph.D. program. Right now she has classes in development on the figure of Medea in literature and the arts, and a Latin Poetry Research seminar for doctoral students. That’s three huge areas—Latin, Greek, and ancient civilization, at three levels, and two institutions. We need a better word than busy!
Dr. Ancona’s students appear to be well aware of their good fortune in having such a teacher, and many of them wrote letters of support . One outstanding example is a student who went on from a Hunter B.A. and a CUNY Ph.D. to join the faculty at a fine Midwestern state university. This now-colleague describes with appreciation Dr. Ancona’s emphasis on independent thinking in her students, the strong bond of trust between student and professor, and the pride she felt in achieving under such a mentor, saying of Ancona that “She supported me, urged and gently goaded me when necessary, while always allowing me to pursue my goals and ideas in my own way”. Many student letters make clear how generous Dr. Ancona is with her time and advice, and how sound are her suggestions. And yet they also make clear that her expectations are high, and that she expects as much from her students as she herself gives.
Surely one of her most important professional accomplishments is her twenty-year stint directing the reinstituted M.A. program in Latin teaching at Hunter. Her use of Blackboard technology and pursuit of external funds for (e.g.) National Latin Teacher Recruitment Week make it clear that she does not inhabit a remote Ivory Tower, but is part of the bustling and energetic modern world. Typically, she has been involved in revising this already very successful program whose fine graduates will help ensure the survival of Latin teaching for years to come. In these difficult days, that is no mean feat, and it is hard to conceive of any achievement more significant.
Of our next honorand, a colleague wrote: “I find it nearly impossible to write about Denise without resorting to a list of superlatives, but she really is extraordinary.” Denise McCoskey came to Miami University of Ohio in 1995, and quickly made her mark. She teaches a range of courses that has been characterized as “amazing” and in all of them she displays her trademark juxtaposition of ancient and modern, so that students in Classical Mythology experience sophisticated readings that set myths in a diachronic perspective, moving, for example, from Aeschylus to Eugene O’Neill, Fritz Graf and Elie Wiesel.
In addition to offerings like Classical Mythology, Women in Antiquity, Greek and Roman Tragedy, and Lyric Poetry, she has initiated several specialized courses: Travel and Self-Definition in Antiquity, Race and Ethnicity in Antiquity, Identity and Cultural Difference in Greco-Roman Egypt, The Roman Past in the Making of Modern Europe, Jews among the Greeks and Romans, Conflict in Greco-Roman Egypt. Whatever she teaches, she prompts students “to interrogate and situate notions of identity within their historical, cultural, and social contexts . . . [and] engage rigorously with primary source documents.” Her commitment to diversity in learning is reflected also in her affiliation with the Jewish Studies and Black World Studies Programs. As she herself puts it, her aims are to foster student involvement in learning and a diverse curriculum and disrupt their expectations. To this end she emphasizes participation and discussion, as her students note frequently and with appreciation. An outside observer remarks: “Her classes are noisy, wonderfully noisy, with lively discussion and much excited argument.” Almost all are impressed by her passion, engagement, and theoretical sophistication.
Her demands of her students generate both glowing praise and a deepened awareness of what is involved in the learning experience. “Your breadth of knowledge is amazing,” says one. Another marvels: “The quizzes actually were a help!” Most telling is the following: “Do not take this course if you don’t want to work. You will get out of it precisely as much as you put into it . . . This was probably both my favorite and my hardest course of the semester.” Denise McCoskey, to quote from one last letter, is “one of the most outstanding teachers and mentors I know.” So it is a great pleasure to honor her with the APA's 2009 Award for Excellence in Teaching at the College Level.