Office of Academic Affairs
2011 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 2011 Kirk Award recipients and their teaching philosophies.
- Lee Jefferson, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion
- Patrick Kagan-Moore, Hazelrigg Professor of Dramatic Arts
- Jason Neiser, Assistant Professor of Physics
- Peggy Richey, Professor of Biology and Biochemistry &
Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion
As a student and a scholar, I have sat through many class lectures and presentations. Some were dry, others mundane, but quite a few were dynamic and influential. The classroom presentations that stood out were fairly simple, as the instructor expounded on a particular subject with expertise, and utilized various recognizable elements to keep the audience on task. For example, one professor lectured on the impact of the discovery of the New World in Europe by showing a painting by Brueghel. Such a method is responsible for placing me on the path that led to the “other side of the desk” in the classroom. Thus, as a professor, I have been particularly devoted to the interdisciplinary nature of the study of religion and the humanities. By emphasizing different aspects of the humanities, utilizing available technology, and stressing student discussion and participation, the teaching of religion can captivate students visually and audibly. When examining the area of religion in particular, I find it quite useful to include elements of other disciplines to paint a more illuminating picture of the historical landscape than the text can provide on its own. In my experiences in the classroom, I have discovered that students respond well to such an approach and are engaged.
Religion is perhaps one of the more useful disciplines that forces students to think critically, to examine preconceived thoughts of history or faith, and ultimately to develop into independent thinkers. For liberal arts students, an examination into the relationship between religion and culture yields larger questions of how religion is expressed in different venues today. This creates a safe, inquisitive environment, filled with many “teaching moments” where students realize interests and abilities that previously may have gone undiscovered.
Finally, my teaching philosophy stresses the importance of the “teacher/scholar” model. I find that my research in the field of religion only informs and strengthens my teaching. Research not only “primes the pump” so to speak, it allows one to consistently return to the roots of one’s passion in academic study. That passion is clearly displayed in the classroom, as the professor can communicate new and exciting discoveries in the field. Moreover, the professor never discards the familiar cloak of being a student, and the pursuit of learning becomes a shared aspiration with the class. Everyday I enter a classroom, I look forward to motivating students by sharing my interests in the field of religion, as well as conveying the crucial tools of judicious thinking. Ultimately, I wish to impart the joy of immersing into the life of the mind, a lifelong vocation that is valuable and worthy. That is why I do what I do.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion
You're driving back to campus with some filled helium balloons for your roommate's birthday party when you stop abruptly. What happens to the balloons as you stop?
Whether they realize it or not, students have spent the better part of two decades constructing mental models of the physical world around them. (For example, when I drop something, I have a pretty good idea where it will go.) But scenarios like the balloon question often expose deficiencies in those models. The primary aim of my class is to coax students into confronting the limitations of their models and to introduce them to better, more consistent models that have been refined over millennia.
A second important goal in my courses is to push each student to develop into a more independent learner. Before class, I ask my students to carefully read and consider new topics, then respond to the reading through a series of open-ended online "warmup" questions. Through their written responses, students begin to gain a fluency in the language of physics, which is an important component in their conceptual development. These detailed responses also allow me to concentrate the class discussion on the intersections between their misconceptions and the difficult parts of the reading. With this approach, I find that each class period is different, dynamic, and more collaborative. I get excited when a student approaches an idea from an angle I have never considered. Students also seem to appreciate the ability to drive the discussion in class. Even better—sometimes they can't wait for a question to be resolved in class. So, if you're driving around campus near the start of a term, keep your eye on the brake lights of any car filled with helium balloons.
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