June 11, 2007
From staff reports
Newly named Presidential Teachers Connie Esmond-Kiger and Sarah Wyatt share not only a love for teaching, but a love for doing it at Ohio University.
Esmond-Kiger, an associate professor of accounting, was recognized at Saturday morning's undergraduate commencement exercises, and Wyatt, an associate professor of environmental and plant biology, was singled out at the afternoon ceremony.
The award honors faculty members for their excellence as teachers inside and outside the classroom. Each recipient receives a $15,000 stipend over three years and holds the title "Presidential Teacher" during that time.
"I am honored to teach here," Esmond-Kiger said. "This is a fantastic experience for our students (the School of Accountancy), and I'm very proud to be part of it."
The Presidential Teacher Award, she added, caught her off guard.
"I was incredibly surprised to have been nominated," Esmond-Kiger said. "It's a great honor because I know in part if comes from my students. My students are absolutely incredible people. Their workload is probably more than it should be, but still, I feel I have their respect. It feels really good that I can be demanding and still be honored in this way."
One of Esmond-Kiger's greatest rewards outside the classroom comes with her adviser role for the local Beta Alpha Psi chapter, the international accounting honors fraternity, which provides another window through which to watch students' academic evolution.
"I see them walk in here as very young sophomores, and I watch them strut out of here with an accounting degree ready to the take the CPA exam," she said. "I feel I have an empty nest every year at this time. It's hard to say good-bye."
Esmond-Kiger joined Ohio University in 1999. She earned the University Professor award in 2005 and is a two-time winner of the College of Business Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award. She also has won a College of Business Senior Class Faculty Recognition Award and the 2004 Faculty Innovation/Activity Award from the School of Accountancy's Advisory Council.
Wyatt said she was similarly surprised to learn she'd been chosen as a Presidential Teacher.
"It's overwhelming, actually," she said. "I never dreamed I would be chosen. There are so many outstanding faculty on this campus."
Wyatt teaches six courses, which are largely custom-designed, even the basic Foundations in Plant Biology Tier II course.
"Most are derived out of student needs," Wyatt said, noting that course content is problem- and skill based and designed to stimulate critical thinking. "Everyone should understand how science is done, not just learn facts. I teach them skills they are going to need in their lives."
Her classes can take unexpected directions. One quarter she'll teach Bioinformatics Tools, where students learn to solve problems using mathematical, scientific and computational tools. Another quarter, it's Writing in the Life Sciences, and the tool is a dictionary. Students draft poster abstracts, journal submissions, job applications and other documents they'll encounter professionally but wouldn't otherwise learn how to write.
Wyatt said she was drawn to academia as a profession because of her love for learning and knowledge. "The German word for science is 'wissenschaft.' It means 'create your own new knowledge.' How could you not be drawn to that?!"
She chose Ohio University because of the balance it affords.
"I'm a researcher -- I was raised in research -- but the reason I came to Ohio University is that I could also teach," she said. "At OU, and in my department in particular, they really appreciate both, and I get to do them equally."
Wyatt has been with Ohio University since 2000 and in 2004 earned the College of Arts and Sciences' Dean's Outstanding Teacher Award. Within her department, she has served on two curriculum committees and the promotion and tenure committee.
Nominations for the Presidential Teacher Awards are submitted from university faculty, students and alumni to the Presidential Teaching Award Selection Committee. The committee -- which consists of six faculty members, one graduate student and one undergraduate student -- recommends awardees to the president after an extensive evaluation process.
"The Presidential Teacher Award is widely considered the most prestigious teaching award on campus," said Martin Tuck, associate provost for academic affairs. "It requires candidates to go through a very rigorous selection process that recognizes our most exceptional teachers among the faculty."