For students of English Professor Lorena Russell, no word comes to mind more often than “encouraging.” Her supportive and calm demeanor, along with her insightful class discussions and her role as a “teacher of teachers” to her colleagues has earned her special recognition this year: Russell is the recipient of the 2016 Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award, UNC Asheville’s original teaching award.
The award was presented to Russell at the May Commencement Ceremony by Patrick Bahls, associate professor of mathematics, who received the award last year.
“This person works tirelessly for their students outside of the classroom…advising over 30 senior theses in the last five years alone,” Bahls said in his presentation of the award, noting Russell’s 14 years of service to the university leading courses in the Honors program; the Humanities program; the Masters of Liberal Arts and Sciences program; and the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program; as well as her own department.
Russell was nominated for Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award by one of her students, who said Russell “stimulates insightful discussion from everyone in the class, herself included, and is able to do so in an encouraging, not forced, manner.”
Another student recalled a class at the end of the Humanities 324 course, when, after a week of difficult discussions focused on complicated historical events, “she sat with us and acknowledged the weight of the subjects we had encountered. Rather than simply teach, she experienced the class with us.”
“I have taken many of Dr. Russell’s courses throughout my college career not only because her methods have been so effective, but also because she has made incredible efforts to be as inclusive as possible in her classroom,” one of her students said. “Students were never afraid to voice their opinions, and subsequently, there were incredible discussions and learning experiences in every class I had with her.”
“Dr. Russell continues to inspire me and many other students every day,” the student continued, “and has truly been one of the greatest teachers I ever had.”
Russell also is the director of the Inquiry ARC program, designed to help professors incorporate critical thinking skills into their curriculum. As a result, Russell says her classes “tend to have more opportunities for students to engage each other, to work through the texts with some guidance, and then challenges them to communicate orally in class.”
Russell also helps her fellow professors incorporate the critical thinking program into their own classes. “No one else could have brought the same admixture of intelligence, thoughtfulness, rigor, flexibility, planning, poise, and humble humanity that has made the Inquiry ARC program succeed as well as it has at helping students to develop truly reflective critical thinking skills in every discipline,” Bahls said.
“I had the chance to work as the [Inquiry ARC] student intern and I came to respect the way in which she not only championed critical thinking in the classroom, and even more so in our everyday lives, but also allowed her co-workers the space to raise questions, issues, and put forth new strategies,” Russell’s student said. “She is a support system for her colleagues as well as students.”