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English Faculty Awarded for Excellence in Teaching

Each year, Dean Theresa Lee and members of her cabinet, with help from department heads, recognize faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences for their excellence in teaching, research and creative activity, and lifetime achievements.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, however, we were unable to host the annual awards banquet in-person. Each faculty member received a plaque and congratulations from the dean. We posted a video to the college YouTube channel here, which features each faculty award winner.

Faculty Academic Outreach Teaching Awards

The academic outreach awards recognize extraordinary contributions of faculty to the public that occur as an outgrowth of academic pursuits and are related to the university’s academic mission. The Academic Outreach Teaching Award recognizes faculty who extend the university’s instructional capacity to provide learning opportunities to public audiences through workshops, public lectures, and other educational activities. Faculty may also perform outreach teaching by extending their classroom beyond the campus to engage their students in service learning.

Katy ChilesThis year, the college awarded an academic outreach teaching award to Katy Chiles, associate professor English. Chiles has developed interconnected initiatives in public-facing teaching and partnership includes Knoxville’s African-American community, English undergraduate students, her colleagues, and future graduate students. She has created a powerful, to-the-moment series of pedagogical workshops about anti-racist teaching and pedagogical practices. She has used her research in critical race theory and early American literature in the context of the Intersectionality Community of Scholars and the English department to create bridges from the best of her research to best practices for UT.

Frederick Douglas Day, under her leadership, has grown into a major event that networks UT students with others all over the country, including Princeton and Howard Universities. She organized this past year’s event with other faculty, as a local part of the National Douglass Day, with the Colored Conventions Project. She hosted Professor Derrick Spires as a plenary speaker and coordinated a day-long transcribe-a-thon wherein participants transcribed the records of Black feminist Anna Julia Cooper. She created programming for young poets at the Phyllis Wheatley Y in conjunction with one of our undergraduate English majors, and then, in collaboration with faculty at the UT Libraries, the office of research, and PWY, brought groups of young poets to UT Special Collections where they were able to look at a 1774 edition of Wheatley’s poems, among other things.

“I have and continued to be honored to work with colleagues in English, Africana studies, history, and the Hodges Library on both UT’s Frederick Douglass Day celebration on campus and the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Project held with the students at the YWCA Phillis Wheatley Center,” Chiles said. “Now more than ever, we need to be teaching and celebrating Black history and literature, both on our campus and out in our community, which is exactly what these two projects allow us to do.”

James R. and Nell W. Cunningham Outstanding Teaching Award

The James R. and Nell W. Cunningham Outstanding Teaching Award recognizes faculty excellence in teaching. The honor is awarded to a tenured faculty member who demonstrates outstanding classroom teaching. This year, the college recognized Edward Schilling and Urmila Seshagiri for their outstanding teaching.

Urmila SeshagiriUrmila Seshagiri, professor of English, is an internationally recognized scholar of modernist literature and one of the department's most successful, transformative teachers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Since she was hired here in 2002, she has received several awards for her teaching, including the 2007 Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching.

In the summer preparations for pandemic teaching, Seshagiri helped to lead the way in a series of conversations with tenure-stream faculty in English about doing less and doing it more thoroughly. In this challenging time, she has become their teacher. Seshagiri is not only an electrifying speaker, she is also one of the most skillful discussion leaders, guiding her students through the complexities of modernist texts without losing track of that literature's dominant themes and historical contexts.

It is easy to document her success in the classroom as well. In a department of very good teachers, she always ranks either first or second on her student evaluations, and her students write glowing letters about the life-changing experiences they have had in her classes. Yet, her accomplishments extend beyond the successes that she has enjoyed in these specific classes. She is a teaching innovator who is always looking for new ways to enhance the learning opportunities to the entire English student community, both in and out of the classroom. She has established a reading program for honors students, for instance, and is working internally to animate our English honors program.

“Teaching is a creative act, and I have always considered it a privilege to prepare young people for the world that awaits them after university,” Seshagiri said. “It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized for my work within and outside the classroom.”

Excellence in Teaching Awards

Each year, the college recognizes tenured and tenure-track faculty excellence in teaching by presenting both junior- and senior-level teaching awards. The lecturer excellence teaching award recognizes lecturers.

Sally HarrisSally Harris received a lecturer excellence teaching award. Harris has pioneered online teaching of technical and professional writing in the English department. Her position as assistant director of undergraduate studies, along with her experience in advising and coordinating course work for the department – as supervisor of GTAs, mentor of lecturers, trainer for online teaching, leader of the First Year Course Academy, OIT Faculty Fellow, and organizer of numerous workshops – put her in a centrally-important position to help the department when the COVID-19 pandemic forced all classes online. She has developed a number of teaching resources for the English department website that can be shared and used by instructors – she is just incredibly collaborative and supportive of our pedagogical enterprise. Despite a very full workload in administration and training, Harris’s teaching has remained a priority, and her record of success as a teacher is clear.

“I am honored to have received the Lecturer Teaching Award from the College of Arts and Sciences,” Harris said. “During my years at UT, my amazing colleagues in English, the College of Arts and Sciences, OIT, and TLI have contributed to my development as a teacher in the classroom and online. I am thankful for the opportunity to recognize their support.”