By Jennifer Krisch
Each year since 2001, just a few teachers earn the title of Ohio University Presidential Teacher, an honor that recognizes excellence in and out of the classroom. This year's recipients are Athens campus faculty members Debra Henderson, an associate professor of sociology, and Scott Titsworth, an associate professor of communication studies, and Pramod Kanwar, an associate professor of mathematics at Ohio University-Zanesville.
Associate professor of sociology
Director of Sociology, Honors Tutorial College
Associate Professor of Sociology Debra Henderson was having a typical Monday morning, trying to engage a room of yawning students in an 8 a.m. class, when Martin Tuck burst through the door.
"I'm Marty Tuck," the associate provost for academic affairs told the stunned students. "And your professor, Deb Henderson, has just been awarded the 2008 Presidential Teacher Award."
Their yawns stifled, the students erupted into a loud round of applause.
"This is amazing!" Henderson exclaimed at the surprise interruption. "I cannot believe it."
Henderson's approach in the classroom and relationship to students made her an outstanding candidate, said committee member Mary Rogus, 2006 recipient of the award. Rogus and fellow committee member DeLysa Burnier helped Tuck surprise Henderson and present the plaque.
"Deb is spectacular at student engagement," Rogus said. "In her sociology classes, the material could be so theoretical, with the students never experiencing the (world's) problems. But she takes it beyond an educational level. Students go through the problems and (get involved to) help turn them around. It's amazing."
Rogus refers to an innovative program Henderson detailed in her portfolio, called Making A Difference. It allows sociology students who are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of social problems in a community or the world to do their part. Making a Difference challenges students to help facilitate change by identifying a community problem, getting involved and helping to change the outcome -- using only $25.
"What they do is incredible," Rogus said. "But more importantly, what they feel is phenomenal. I have never seen anything like it. To see it happening and to talk with students about how they feel making a difference in the community is just amazing."
By advocating solutions, Henderson is making a difference in her students -- forcing them think creatively and giving them emotional, hands-on experiences that provide a better outlook and could shape their lives and careers after graduation.
"I hope students leave my classes with an increased sense of awareness about themselves and others, more knowledge about the world in which they live and a bit more wisdom with which to experience life," Henderson said.
Obviously, her students give Henderson high marks.
"She is not only extremely knowledgeable about the material, she's enthusiastic and excited to be teaching it," said third-year sports management major Juris Cooper. "When the teacher is excited about the course, then the student tends to be as well. So, even at 8 in the morning, she makes you want to show up and be involved in the class."
Madeline Lavelle, a junior also majoring in sports management, agrees. "She is one of those professors whose class you enjoy going to every day because she actually takes time to get to know your name and know something about you personally," she says. "Her teaching style is one-of-a-kind with the focus on the students and giving them feedback and knowledge that is unmatched by many other teachers. Overall, she is one of the best, bubbliest and most intelligent teachers I have had here at Ohio University."
Henderson said she is humbled to receive the award, as she feels there are so many wonderful teachers across the university. "It is truly an honor and privilege to teach and to receive recognition for doing something that I love," she said.
Before she would even take the plaque from Tuck, Henderson turned and bestowed her gratitude on the students.
"Thank you so much, students. It is because of you that I had this opportunity," she said. "I just have this urge to hug everybody now."
That response, Cooper said, was typical of his favorite teacher. "The fact that she was thanking us, the students, just shows the extent of her altruistic personality," he said.