2021 SCS Award for Excellence in Teaching Classics at the College and University Level: Award Citations

Congratulations to our 2021 award winners again! You can view the full award citations by clicking on the links below:

Deborah Beck

Richard Ellis

Wilfred Major

Brett Rogers 


Deborah Beck, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin

The sound of a recorder introduces a student created podcast, Sophocles’ Antigone, in 2019. The host deftly introduces herself, credits the composer and musician, and then goes on to recap what has already happened in the Sophocles’ tragedy. The host gracefully alternates between delivering the Greek and a running translation and interpretation. Along the way, she references Bertolt Brecht’s 1948 Nazi-inspired Creon, reflects on her initial reading of Creon’s speech as “Teacher of the Day,” and offers a new more complex and nuanced reading of the speech.

This podcast project is just one example of Professor Deborah Beck’s creativity in designing engaging assignments with authentic audiences and issues. As part of the same course, each student is assigned to lead the class as “Teacher of the Day,” in which they choose what to focus on, lead the class in translating the text, and devise discussion questions and classroom activities. Her Classical Mythology course focuses on ethics and leadership, and she uses discussion boards, iClickers, and response papers to ask students to apply the ethics concepts from class to a modern or personal problem.

The podcast project also reveals her care in constructing each assignment so that students have a clear framework and model how to produce an elegant podcast. Her syllabus for upper-level Greek also organizes a series of papers—a close reading of a passage, a response to a scholarly article—that prepare her students to produce a final research paper.

Besides the creativity, engagement, and scaffolding that are so evident in her syllabi and in student comments, Professor Beck is known for her “laser focus on self-reflection in her teaching.” When a colleague was asked to teach the graduate level Greek survey for the first time, Professor Beck not only shared her syllabus, assignments, glossed passages, and in-class activities, but she also shared the notes she had left for herself how to revise each aspect of the course the next time she taught it. Similarly, she asks students to give feedback to the professor and to articulate goals for themselves. And after her grad students have presented a scholarly article to the class, she asks them “what can you learn from this for your own work?”

Finally, it is clear that Professor Beck cares about the big picture, how to be comfortable with shades of gray, how to have dialogue with those whose opinions differ from yours, how to change your mind in light of new information, and how to admit you are wrong without being defensive. Her August op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman reminds us that we may experience a “rush of feelings” as we return to school during a pandemic and the importance of relying on each other to understand the material we are studying together. One student comment sums up Professor Beck’s impact: “I appreciate the space you’ve created for discussions but also the manner that you place your reasoning and [show your] understanding for everyone’s point of view, and really what it means to be human.

We are honored to recognize Deborah Beck for her outstanding teaching with the SCS’s 2021 Award for Excellence in Teaching of the Classics at the College and University Level.

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Richard Ellis, Continuing Lecturer at the University of California at Los Angeles

What sets Richard Ellis apart is his ability to care for his students, whether first generation or students of color, and to recruit students into Classics – not just as a major or minor, but as a way to enhance and integrate into other fields the student cares about. Professor Ellis connects with his students through comparative material, such as Walcott’s Omeros or The Warriors (1979) (paired with the Anabasis). He reaches out to his students. He will prepare his classroom with images of athletes on the walls for the first day of “Ancient Athletics”, throw a pizza party for a Xenophon class, take students to a Greek play, or meet for a weekly Sunday “Zoom brunch” during lockdown. When he knew that lockdown alienation was keenly felt, he designed collaborative assignments that required students to meet online. He is the kind of person who remembers every student’s sports team. One alumna, a first-generation college student, remembers his unstinting support: “People judge me based on looks, and when I speak Spanish, they automatically assume that I was not ‘good enough’ to be a student at UCLA. Professor Ellis helped me squash that fear of mine because he believed in me…He told me that I have no reason to be afraid of failure because I am successful. It is rare for a professor to make an effort to get to know their students and ensure that they are thriving.”

Professor Ellis works hard to help his students thrive. He is known for his engaging classes. His lectures have been described as “transfixing, hypnotic, and captivating”. One student remembers “his courses [made] me feel like I was 12 years old again, pouring over a family tree of the Greek gods and wishing I could sink fully into that world. All of a sudden, Greek was not an incomprehensible wall that barred that world, but an opening.” One of Professor Ellis’s many innovative assignments asks to write a Pindaric ode to a modern athlete: “hymn their victories and triumphs over fate with poetic grandeur! But don’t invite phthonos!” Students receive a list of Pindaric elements to mimic, from personification to “gnomic, proverbial statements about the nature of existence” and even a modest sample ode composed by Professor Ellis himself, in honor of David Beckham (“curler of balls, feigner of injuries…never was your hair out of place. May the withering/nemesis of the boastful, Alopecia, stay far away”). Not only was this assignment fun and engaging, it also had a high impact on student learning, as he notes: “Their creative ventriloquizing of Pindar played as important a part in preparing the sophistication of their final papers.” It is no surprise that students frequently comment that his classes drew them towards Classics.

We are honored to recognize Richard Ellis for his outstanding teaching with the SCS’s 2021 Award for Excellence in Teaching of the Classics at the College and University Level.

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Wilfred Major, Associate Professor at Louisiana State University

Three simple goals define Professor Wilfred Major’s teaching and pedagogy: digital materials, accessibility, a willingness not just to tinker with his courses, but a full-throated openness to revision to expand the canon to the entire history of the Greek speaking world. Professor Major engages students where they are at, including texts that appeal to the entire range of human experience, giving them space to articulate their ideas, and regularly asking them to tackle research topics that have not been covered in the course. Two pedagogical projects are especially noteworthy, each inspired by a simple question.

The first question was by a student: “What happened to the Greeks? Did they become extinct?” We may laugh at such a question, or cry, but our profession frequently discontinues the story of Greek history and culture after the rise of Alexander, or at best with the Second Sophistic. Professor Major decided to take this student’s question seriously and rebuilt his Greek Civilization course in a brilliant and daring fashion. He extended the chronological parameters of the course into late antiquity and the Byzantine world to the Ottoman empire and independence. He expanded the topics covered to include texts that would appeal to doctors, engineers, filmmakers, scientists, and theologians. By opening up the chronological and generic parameters of the course, he reaches students with many varied interests and majors. As a result, his Greek Civ course surpasses Classical Mythology in enrollment.

The second question we have all heard, “Why is Greek so hard?” In response to this question, Professor Major has written an online Open Educational Resource, Ancient Greek for Everyone, that introduces Greek for a 21st century audience and makes it affordable and accessible for everyone. Beginning with the most frequently encountered vocabulary and grammar (e.g., -mi verbs and 3rd declension nouns), he has crafted an online textbook with an easy-to-read format, lucid explanations, illustrative examples, straightforward exercises, and readings from classical and biblical texts, with plans to add readings from other eras and genres as well. He has published a series of articles outlining the pedagogical principles of his approach to beginning Greek. And he has organized countless workshops at both national and regional classics conferences, opening up the conversation for many others to consider new ways to teach Greek.

 Professor Major’s students regularly praise his openness to listen to their ideas, his commitment to ask “impossible questions” (questions that have no answer), his skill at prompting small group discussion to let students to work out their position prior to full class discussion, and his willingness to guide student research on an immense range of topics—from the divine liturgy of John Chrysostom and Aristotle’s Categories and Prior Analytics to military manuals and Dante’s idea of allegory. As one student explains, “Dr. Major’s personality is open and lively which contributes to the fun and [the] relaxed classroom environment, but the biggest factor is his respect and empathy for students.”

We are honored to recognize Wilfred Major for his outstanding teaching with the SCS’s 2021 Award for Excellence in Teaching of the Classics at the College and University Level.

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Brett Rogers, Professor at the University of Puget Sound

Brett Rogers believes that Plato’s Academy sought to accomplish something fundamental that we still value in the university today: to help students cultivate the critical tools for becoming responsible members of their community. His style of teaching encourages students not to opt out of the world, but to live more intensely in it, as he challenges them to become a better version of themselves. He actively seeks out relevant personal experiences, knowledge from other disciplines, and connections to students’ daily lives. Students remark on his masterly discussion leading. “He often pushed discussions,” notes an alumnus, “to more meaningful places with succinct Socratic questions, involved students by connecting the current topic to their own major and asked us to consider how the ancient text might apply to contemporary concerns”. Professor Rogers provides a safe space to discuss complex and challenging issues, treating sensitive topics with care and concern, and showing, as another student writes, that he “cared about our mental and emotional needs as students.”

One of Professor Rogers’ high impact techniques is to ask students to imagine themselves back in antiquity and think about course themes like “freedom,” timê, kleos or parrhesia. The essay prompts for his first-year seminar “Athens: Freedom and the Liberal Arts” include taking the role of a fictional Athenian woman and responding to Pericles’ exhortation to women in Thucydides 2.45 or reflecting on whether Plato’s Republic could be both free and just. Students role play as they perform their own Dionysia as a class, act out books 9-12 of the Odyssey, or create their own version of a Greek tragedy. Many comment on the two weeks they spend playing “Athens in 403,” a Reacting to the Past game. One writes about what he noticed as a writing advisor in the university writing center: “I watched [his students] write and deliver speeches, conspire with each other to effect in-game political change, and think critically about the role and power of rhetoric”. Another notes simply, “I learned how to write at the college level” from Professor Rogers.

Professor Rogers is dedicated to his students. At the start of his courses, he makes it clear that he will work as hard as he asks them to, and students notice. “The more energy you put into class the more energy he puts into you.” “Never have I met a professor more invested in student growth!” “He was intentional about connecting me to resources, validating my experiences as a first-generation student, and encouraging me to pursue my own research interests”. These efforts extend far beyond the classroom. Professor Rogers has directed several dozen senior theses and half a dozen summer projects, led a study abroad trip to Greece (described by a student as “one of the most impactful and challenging experiences of my time as an undergrad”) and served as advisor for board game clubs and role-playing clubs focused on Classical Reception. And everything is done with good humor, including his famous “fun outfits” on Fridays.

We are honored to recognize Brett Rogers or his outstanding teaching with the SCS’s 2021 Award for Excellence in Teaching of the Classics at the College and University Level.

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