Carnegie Mellon University

Jamie Smith (left) and William Penman (right) are winners of teaching award.

January 12, 2018

PhD Students Honored with Award for Teaching Excellence

By Daniel Hirsch

Good teaching is more art than science. It requires a special kind of sensitivity, energy, creativity, and rigor. In honor of this indelible, invaluable art, the Department of English annually awards the Graduate Teaching Award to two graduate students who have showcased these great teaching skills. 

This year, Jamie Smith, a PhD candidate in Literary and Cultural Studies, and William Penman, a PhD candidate in Rhetoric, earned Graduate Teaching Awards for their exceptional teaching record.

“Teaching is the most rewarding part of my job as a graduate student,” Smith said recently. “So, winning this award was affirmation that I've been putting as much good out there as I've been getting back.”

Faculty and fellow graduate students nominated Penman and Smith who then applied for the award, which included a review of teaching statements, sample syllabi, course evaluations, letters from former students, and classroom visits by members of the Graduate Committee who ultimately decide the winner.

“While each of the applications this year represented outstanding work, we felt Jamie and Will had particularly distinguished themselves through their impactful, original pedagogy,” said Marian Aguiar director of graduate students upon announcing the award.

“I look up to the people who have won this award in the past and the excellent job they've done, and so I feel honored to be added into their ranks,” Penman said.

Penman, whose research focuses on rhetorical approaches to combatting racism and has taught Writing for the Professions and Interpretation and Argument, explained that he tries to teach more than just content but also learning strategies.

“Part of my approach to teaching is not just teaching content but teaching an approach to learning that engages multiple senses and ways of knowing,” Penman said. “I’ve especially tried to put this into practice while exploring the future of technology with my students, and how we interact with it as citizens.”

In her course on Jane Austen, Smith, who also researches 18th British novels, said the most important thing is keeping students engaged.

“If students are bored, they don't learn (at least not from me),” Smith said. “If they are having a good time, I'm able to sneakily teach them concepts that are more challenging or dull.”