5 professors making a difference at Loyola

Meet the 2017 faculty excellence award winners

By Claire Hoffman, '07

Each year, Loyola recognizes the scope of faculty excellence at our University in teaching, scholarship, mentoring, and engaged scholarship.

The winners of the 2017 faculty excellence awards are no exception, bringing a variety of teaching styles and lived experiences to the Loyola community.

Loyola magazine spoke to them about their backgrounds, passions, and what these teaching awards mean to them.

Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching:
Cheryl Moore-Thomas, Ph.D.

This year’s winner of the faculty award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching knows the value of a Loyola education firsthand.

Cheryl Moore-Thomas, Ph.D., associate professor of education in the school counseling department, received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University.

“Loyola informed my work as an elementary classroom teacher,” she said. “It is really a community of learners, and I would not be where I am in my profession if it hadn’t been for a lot of fantastic scholars and teachers who helped nurture and support me—many of whom are still working side-by-side with me at Loyola.”

Moore-Thomas, who previously served as associate dean of the School of Education as well as school counseling program director and co-director of Loyola’s Advising Corps, received her B.A. in elementary education in 1986 and her M.Ed. in school counseling in 1989. She later received a Ph.D. in counselor education from University of Maryland at College Park in 2000.

Moore-Thomas has a particular interest in the areas of multicultural counseling and cultural identity development, and thinks that a school like Loyola has the potential to make a real difference in urban and rural education.

“The unique combination of academic rigor and commitment to social justice is what’s needed if we have any chance of really making a difference for our young learners. And that’s [Loyola’s] specialty.”

She also recognizes the importance of her field on future generations. “What [my students and I] do at one particular moment in time together has repercussions that we can’t even predict—it has the potential to positively affect children’s and adolescents’ lives in generations to come. And that’s just incredible to think about.”

Faculty Award for Excellence in Mentoring:
Chris Thompson, Ph.D.

Chris Thompson, Ph.D., associate professor of biology and this year’s winner of the faculty award for Excellence in Mentoring, centers his teaching style on three things: respect, understanding, and encouragement.

“In every interaction I have with students, I strive to ensure that these three tenets drive me,” he said.

He sees the faculty award as validation that he is reaching these goals both inside and outside of the classroom.

Thompson has been teaching at Loyola since 2007, after earning a B.S. from Eastern Washington University and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. He was drawn to biology because of his fascination with disease and the ways the human body fights it—and he was drawn to teaching by the joy he found in helping students understand such a difficult and complex topic.

“I think mentoring is of critical importance,” he explained. “Until graduation from Loyola, most every aspect of a student’s life has been prescribed. Upon graduation, however, everything changes. Our students are frequently unsure of what their next step should be, how to navigate professional or graduate school, and how to find a suitable career. By building a strong relationship with them while they are at Loyola, faculty are in the unique position to guide, advocate for, and support our students even after graduation. Not only does this build better alumni, but it is also my way of trying to build a better scientific community and society.”

Faculty Award for Excellence in Engaged Scholarship:
David Carey, Ph.D.

David Carey, Ph.D., professor of history and winner of the faculty award for Excellence in Engaged Scholarship, first fell in love with Latin America through a program called the Holy Cross Associates, a Catholic volunteer group that brought him to Chile to live in a rural community for two years.

“All of that really brought to life many different aspects of Latin America—the languages, the ethnic groups, the class struggle that’s really apparent there,” he explained. “[I had] the opportunity to live with working-class people who were born in poverty, and see the effects on global trade on their daily lives. Making those kind of connections made me want to study more deeply and understand how is it that very hard-working and intelligent people are struggling to put food on the table.”

Carey furthered his knowledge with a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame and a Ph.D. in Latin-American Studies from Tulane University. He brought those lived experiences and passion to the history department at Loyola almost three years ago, where he now serves as the Doehler Chair and specializes in Latin-American history.

Carey says that Loyola’s support for service learning and engaged scholarship allows students to learn history and culture directly from Latin-American immigrants.

“The thing about engaged scholarship that I think is so wonderful is that way in which we can engage with the community—with oftentimes marginalized populations,” said Carey. “And you’ve got [students and faculty] who are really thinking deeply about issues and studying hard, and trying to apply some of those lessons to making a better world and a better Baltimore.”

Faculty Award for Excellence in Transformative Teaching:
Nick Miller, Ph.D.

Nick Miller, Ph.D., associate professor of English, is particularly honored to be the inaugural recipient of this year’s faculty award for Excellence in Transformative Teaching.

“If you think about it, the basic work of education is really nothing but transformation,” he said. “So much of learning involves unlearning: old habits, assumptions, misperceptions, mistaken ideas, ideological biases, and so on. At the core of all learning is a confrontation with the self in relation to texts and to others, and that confrontation—if it’s genuine—is frequently uncomfortable and always necessary. One can’t really presume to know whether or how students are transformed by one’s teaching—such things generally don’t show up on course evaluations—but that is absolutely my aim: their transformation and, since genuine teaching is a mode of learning, mine as well.”

Miller joined Loyola’s English department in 1998, after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Harvard and his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. He splits his time between teaching literature and film courses, and is currently writing a book that combines the two topics, exploring the history of metamorphosis as a trope in early animation and modernist literary writing.

One of Miller’s teaching goals is to show students how relevant a humanities degree is in today’s society.

“One hears a lot these days about the disciplines of the humanities being on the decline and about English degrees not being worth very much,” said Miller.

“The irony is that in the professional and working worlds the skills we teach—writing, critical thinking, the capacity to find patterns in complex data, imaginative empathy, and so on—are more in demand than ever.”

Distinguished Scholar of the Year:
David Binkley, Ph.D.

David Binkley, Ph.D., professor of computer science, said he became interested in the field of computer science during his sophomore year of high school.

“My dad, who taught at Cleveland State University, made a deal with me: He’d get me into a computer science class at the university if I wrote him a bibliography reference manager afterwards,” he remembered. “I was hooked.”

Binkley went on to study computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is now in his 26th year of teaching at Loyola. He is currently the director of the Graduate Programs in Computer Science and Software Engineering in addition to teaching a number of courses at the undergraduate level. He is also an active researcher in software engineering and information retrieval, and he was recently awarded a Fulbright for a collaborative research project at the Simula Research Laboratory in Norway.

Binkley sees the Distinguished Scholar of the Year award as a testament to the people he’s worked with over the years—from his parents, who encouraged a love of science and learning, to more than 100 co-authors on his various papers and projects.

“Software is the most complex human construct ever produced, but it fails to be very tangible,” he said.

“In the classroom, the challenge is to help students form rather complex mental models of a largely virtual process. That is not easy to do as a learner, and thus a challenge to teach. But it makes the joy of seeing the light bulb come on all the greater!”

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