Dr. Ken Keffer, professor of modern languages at Centre College, has been named the 2010 Kentucky Professor the Year by The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
The awards program recognizes outstanding instructors across the nation and is the only national program to recognize excellence in undergraduate education. Winners, the organization explains, show “extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching, which is demonstrated by excellence in the following areas: impact on and involvement with undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching and learning; contribution to undergraduate education in the institution, community and profession; and support from colleagues and current and former undergraduate students.”
Upon learning that he had received this prestigious award, Keffer says, “My first reaction was that I don’t truly deserve this award any more than most of my colleagues at Centre. That is, I believe, a provable fact.”
Having taught at Centre since 1979, Keffer says that what he finds most rewarding about working at the College is interacting with his colleagues and students. “Without them,” he says, “I wouldn’t be teaching the miracles called German and French.”
Keffer, H.W. Stodghill Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of French and German, is no stranger to teaching awards. During his first year as a Centre professor, he was named “Rookie of the Year,” and in 1998, he received the David Hughes Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Keffer has also received much media attention from one of his most intriguing courses, “The Art of Walking.” The course, often taught during the College’s three-week January term, is no walk in the park, though its name may indicate otherwise. During the intensive class, students study Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment before engaging in informal “walk and talk” afternoon sessions. While discussing the philosopher’s ideas, Keffer and his students explore nature preserves, battlefields, cemeteries, historic sites and farms around the state.
Last year, Reader’s Digest included “The Art of Walking” in its September “Laughterpedia” section. The course was one of five extraordinary college courses highlighted in the magazine. And earlier in 2009, Keffer’s signature course was featured on Jeopardy! During the 2009 College Week, the course was the highest-paying question in the “Scintillating Syllabus” category. The answer was “Kentucky’s Centre College offered ‘The Art of’ this, a lost mode of transportation; Monty Python likes it silly.” In February 2010, “The Art of Walking” was featured on NBC’s Today as part of a segment on unique college courses. Other schools featured included Yale, Rutgers, Barnard and UC Berkeley.
Laura Pasley ’10, who took “The Art of Walking” in Strasbourg, France, last spring term, says “our class learned to roll with the punches, and not to ask, ‘Why?’ if we were suddenly scaling a mountain covered in ice or were asked to walk in silence and single file for the entirety of our walk—or if we just sat in the classroom for an hour, hashing out a complicated philosophical point.”
And though Pasley says she “can’t do justice to what it was like spending three and a half months with Dr. Keffer, talking in multiple languages and walking in different countries, I can say absolutely that he shows a commitment to creating an environment where every moment is a learning experience.”