Office of Academic Affairs
2009 Kirk Award Recipients
The Kirk Award was endowed by a gift from a member of the board of trustees in 1995. The endowment has recognized excellent teachers at Centre since 1996. Below are the 2009 Kirk Award recipients and their teaching philosophies.
- Allison Connolly, Assistant Professor of French
- Brian P. Cooney, H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Philosophy
- Alex M. McAllister, Associate Professor of Mathematics
- C. Thomas McCollough, Nelson D. and Mary McDowell Rodes Professor of Religion
Assistant Professor of French
Every day I learn from my students, observe them learning from one another, and strive to share some of my passions with them: the exchange of ideas, the meeting of cultures, and especially my love of French. As I acquaint myself with new groups of students each term, I ask myself, “How can I best help them learn? How can I assist them in acquiring the skills they will need to succeed in my course and in future endeavors?” Rather than adopt a fixed philosophy on teaching, I seek to adapt my techniques according to the needs of my students, the subject matter, and the ever-changing world. As a professor, I consider myself an active and enthusiastic partner in the education of Centre students.
Brian P. Cooney,
H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Philosophy
I find it difficult to generalize about what I’ve learned in decades of teaching because techniques and problems are, in many cases, specific to certain kinds of personalities and also to disciplines. I’m in philosophy—a discipline that thrives on argumentation. So I promote that as much as I can in class, even in the history of philosophy, where I need to do a lot of explaining. I find PowerPoint very useful, and use it in almost all classes. It’s very good for outlining arguments and displaying definitions. After I’m through with the set of slides for a topic, I send them by e-mail to the class. They expect this, and so are a bit more relaxed about taking notes, which gives them more time to think.
For most of my courses I require do a multiplicity of mini-essays rather than longer pieces. The students have to do arguments on very specific points, thereby (I hope) learning to compose a cogent memo—a very valuable liberal arts skill.
Alex M. McAllister,
Associate Professor of Mathematics
My teaching philosophy is a blend of idealism and pragmatism.
On the idealistic side, I approach my classroom as a place of transformation. I am helping our students build better brains and, in doing so, they leave my classes changed in positive ways and more able to make a difference for good in our world. I am hopeful that my students will come to appreciate and respect mathematics, and remain eager to learn more. As Arnold Ostebee and Paul Zorn wrote in the preface of a textbook: “Here's another reason to study calculus: because calculus is among our species' deepest, richest, farthest-reaching, and most beautiful intellectual achievements.” The same can be said of many other areas of mathematics. What a privilege I have to share such wisdom and beauty with my students! I also seek to have fun in the classroom. I believe that my love for math and my own positive, transformational experiences of mathematics enable opportunities for my students loving, playing with, and being changed by mathematics.
On the pragmatic side, I recognize that not all my students share this affection for mathematics (at least not yet!). In fact, many of my students may think of my class as their least favorite, with mathematics stirring up strong emotions of fear, anger, and despair. Or worse yet, apathy. And so, I assign and collect daily homework and quizzes—despite all the time the grading consumes—because such exercises require my students to spend time with mathematics between classes and so enable their learning. Similarly, I always hold study sessions the evening before an exam, because I know that is when many of my students will be studying, and I can help them focus and learn that much more. Finally, I try to encourage the self-doubting students in their successes. I tell them that hard work trumps natural ability and I urge my students to intentionally invest in themselves in their efforts to reap the rewards of learning mathematics.
C. Thomas McCollough, Nelson D. and Mary McDowell Rodes Professor of Religion
I take the description of my position as a Professor of Religion at Centre College seriously. I engaged in graduate work in religious studies because I had a deep and abiding interest in the study of Judaism and Christianity in antiquity. I did not go to graduate school to become a teacher but rather a professor—one who is actively engaged in research and writing and one who is committed to sharing the knowledge I have gained and the deep passion I have for my chosen field of study with my students. If I have become an effective teacher, it is because I listened to students and learned from colleagues. It is imperative, I believe, to maintain one's ties to the academy of scholars and scholarship if one is to expect students to take you seriously and if one is to remain a spirited contributor to an academic community.
I have worked hard at finding the right balance between indulging students’ sense of entitlement and being sure I am reaching students effectively. I do believe it is important to be constantly revising and even reinventing as new generations of students pass through our classrooms. I have a core vision of what I want to achieve in any given class but it is important to recognize that I have to be constantly involved in finding the best methods to engage the students.
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