For Ameena Batada, associate professor of health and wellness at UNC Asheville, teaching is about connections: connections between them and the material, between her and the students, among students, and between the university and communities in Asheville and beyond. It’s her dedication to creating those connections, and helping others create those connections for themselves, that earned her the prestigious UNC System Board of Governors’ 2019 Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Learning to make those connections has resonated deeply with many of Batada’s students. “Thanks to Ameena, I began to see issues in my community not on a PowerPoint slide but first hand,” said alumna Ella Ferguson ’16, who is finishing up her first year at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. “Health Parity was the most important and influential class I took at UNC Asheville, and I am so thankful to have had Ameena be part of my academic career. Her commitment to student learning is unmatched, and her devoted guidance and approachable manner will not be forgotten.”
“Every week in Ameena’s class I felt myself growing more and more engaged,” said alumna Hillary Murphy ’13, who obtained a Master of Public Health from UNC-Chapel Hill and is now a project officer with JSI Research and Training Institute, Inc. “I was developing new language and making connections about the impacts of policy, race, poverty, and gender, feeling like I was learning a whole new way to conceptualize health… Ameena was the first person in my life who made me feel like I was capable of affecting change. She introduced me not only to the field that is my passion, but also gave me confidence to trust that my voice has value.”
Kevin Rumley ’15 credits Batada with helping him to find his calling as a social worker and coordinator for the Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court. “As a combat wounded Marine veteran, I suffered for years from unaddressed PTSD and addiction to opioids,” Rumley said. “Dr. Batada was the first professor to recognize a ‘light’ within me. Her support and belief in my capacity to generate ‘meaningful change’ in the community ultimately served as the catalyst to my own change-preparedness and recovery.”
For Batada, being an excellent teacher is also about learning from her students. “I believe that students come to the classroom with the knowledge and/or tools they need to learn the material and that it is my role to create a structure for discovery and exploration of course concepts on our own, with each other, and in our communities,” Batada said.
“I care about students’ learning and I care about them. They can, and do, teach me,” she continued. “It is because of what students have taught me that I make time for us to discuss identity and using language intentionally in all my classes. It is because of them that I seek balance in authors and voices in our readings and media. It is because of them that I have acknowledged and practiced a wide range of activities. In my case, I truly feel that the students and I are both teachers and learners.”
Batada’s work beyond the classroom includes work with several community partners to evaluate health and education programs, to conduct research to support policy advocacy, and to implement intervention studies in schools, churches, and other settings. She also researches the content of foods marketed to children, from kids’ meals to food dyes in grocery store products. She holds a Doctor of Public Health degree in health communication from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a Master of Public Health in maternal and child health with a certificate in international health from the UNC-Chapel Hill, and a Bachelor of Arts in international studies with a minor in chemistry from UNC-Chapel Hill.
The UNC System Board of Governors Award is now in its 25th year. Established by the Board in 1993 to highlight the importance of teaching, the award recognizes the extraordinary contributions of faculty members System wide. The recipients, who represent all 16 of North Carolina’s public universities and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, were nominated by special committees at each institution and selected by the Board of Governors Committee on Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs. For more information, see https://www.unca.edu/events-and-news/stories/unc-board-of-governors-2019-awards-excellence-in-teaching-ameena-batada-honored/.
For more of Batada’s community work, see the following local news stories: