Office of Academic Affairs
2012 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 2012 Kirk Award recipients and their teaching philosophies.
- Ed Montgomery, Professor of Chemistry
- Mike Fabritius, Professor of Economics
- John Kinkade, Assistant Professor of English
Professor of Chemistry
Every class has a unique personality. My challenge as a teacher is to understand that personality and then figure out how to present the course material so that it works with as opposed to against that personality. I am frequently amazed at how an approach that worked well for one class fails miserably when used with another. Sometimes that happens with back-to-back sections of the same course.
I use PowerPoint a lot because it lets me spend most of the class looking at faces as opposed to trying to find the errors in my less-than-perfect handwriting. In a class of thirty students there are usually a few students whose expressions are good indicators of how well the class understands what I’m trying to explain. This provides a great opportunity to clarify a misunderstood point. Since there are probably a half dozen students who have a question for every student with a questioning look, it’s also a good investment of time.
My research is the primary enabler of my teaching. One of my mentors told me that research and teaching are like sin and confession. If you do one, you have more interesting things to talk about when you do the other. Even though my research is very mathematical, I’ve found that working through the details of a concept at a level suitable for publication frequently crystallizes my understanding of concepts that are introduced in introductory courses. Since many introductory textbooks sacrifice scientific accuracy for pedagogic convenience, there’s a degree of comfort in knowing what’s going on even when the book is wrong. Occasionally I encounter a student who wants to really understand the details of a topic and it’s really nice to be able to give a credible answer.
The other aspect of research is that it keeps me in touch with what it feels like to be a student. One of my jobs as a teacher is to challenge the understandings of my students. It seems only fair that I should have my understandings similarly challenged. Serious inquiry requires humility and best way I know to do this is to stay professionally active and to submit my work for peer review. The risk that one of colleagues will say “Sorry Ed, this time you got it wrong” is a great source of humility.
Professor of Economics
Each day, before I enter the classroom, I give a great deal of thought about how to motivate my students to become more actively involved in the world of economics. In reflection, I find that I do the things that I liked to see as a student—the kinds of things that I especially found helpful and engaging in the classrooms of my most captivating professors.
As a student, I was always drawn in by the enthusiasm of my professors. I enjoyed seeing that they had real passion for their discipline. Because of that, I try to be that enthusiastic professor and hope that the passion for my own discipline comes across clearly to my students.
I also appreciated the professors who were able to take complex material and break it down into understandable segments. While I want to help my students tackle difficult material, I work hard to help them think for themselves. I model for them how to break difficult problems or concepts down into smaller components so that they can gain a better understanding of the world of economics, while also taking on their own ownership over learning new, complex material.
Understanding economic models can be exciting as well as challenging, but as a student I wanted to see the real-world applications of these theoretical models, as well. I start all of my economics classes by having students share articles that they have read from the Wall Street Journal, and discussing with my students how these articles apply directly to the economic models we have been discussing in class. This makes tackling the theoretical models more enticing for them.
I’m also someone who, as a student, really wanted quick feedback on my attempts to grasp new material. As a consequence, I was always eager to get back exam and homework problems to see where I had the right ideas and where I had “gone wrong.” As a professor, I have made it a policy, whenever possible, to try and give back homework and exams the next class period. I use exams not only as a testing tool, but also as a learning tool. Giving them back their exams quickly and asking them to correct their missteps on exam questions helps to give my students a better understanding of the material we have previously covered.
So, in the end, I find that my own teaching is a reflection of those teachers I had that I found to be especially effective and motivating when I was a college student. I appreciate that they continue to guide me, even though they are completely unaware of it!
Assistant Professor of English
As a student I much preferred classes that were entirely lecture-based, but that preference came in part because lectures often allowed me to sit passively without taking much responsibility for my learning. Late in my undergraduate career I came to realize that speaking and writing about what we were studying was a far more powerful way for me to take ownership of my own ideas. Therefore, as a professor, even my larger classes tend to be built on a discussion model.
Many of the individual class sessions develop from the students’ think-papers, which are short, informal pieces of writing that require students to form and express their own ideas about what we’ve been reading. (Trying to weave together their ideas, my ideas, and the scholarship that I’ve read into a satisfying whole means that just about every class is, for me, both exhilarating and exhausting.) We learn the most when we have to articulate our thoughts and ideas for ourselves, and my goal is to ensure that my classes offer plenty of opportunity for students to speak, write, and think for themselves.
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