Carnegie Mellon University

Maralee Harrell Receives National Recognition for Excellence in Philosophy Teaching

December 11, 2018

Maralee Harrell Receives National Recognition for Excellence in Philosophy Teaching

By Abby Simmons

Carnegie Mellon University’s Maralee Harrell has won the 2018 Prize for Excellence in Philosophy Teaching, an honor jointly awarded by the American Philosophical Association (APA), the American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT) and the Teaching Philosophy Association (TPA).

The Prize for Excellence in Philosophy Teaching recognizes a philosophy teacher who has had a profound impact on the student learning of philosophy in undergraduate and/or pre-college settings. Selected from 39 nominations across the U.S., Harrell will receive $1,000 and a commemorative plaque at the APA’s Eastern Division Meeting in January.

Harrell is a teaching professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Philosophy based in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“Mara Harrell is one of the rare individuals who is both an outstanding educator, and also an outstanding researcher on philosophical education itself,” said David Danks, the L.L. Thurstone Professor of Philosophy and Psychology and head of CMU’s Department of Philosophy. “She is a highly effective teacher whose classes are innovative and enjoyable, and is an ideal recipient of this prize.”

David Concepcion, chair of the APA Committee on the Teaching of Philosophy, said Harrell’s efforts to enhance the teaching of philosophy are broad and deep.

“Mara Harrell’s contributions to philosophy teaching have improved student learning in her classes, her department, her university and throughout the world,” said Concepcion, professor of philosophy and religious studies at Ball State University. “Harrell uses problem-based learning and other empirically validated pedagogies to help students meet the rigorous goals she sets for them.”

Concepcion cited Harrell’s numerous publications regarding teaching, which refine the key elements of argument mapping, as well as her creation of flexible and useful argument-mapping software. Because it is freely available online and accompanies her textbook, What Is The Argument?: An Introduction to Philosophical Argument and Analysis (MIT Press 2016), her software has helped thousands of students to improve their critical reasoning skills.

Emily LaRosa (DC 2015), was one of Harrell’s students and now works as a research and project manager in the Philosophy Department.

“Dr. Harrell displayed a patience and kindness in her classroom that was quite literally unmatched during my academic career. She never failed to look me in the eyes and say, ‘If this is something you want to learn, we’re going to make sure you can do it,’” LaRosa said. “Maralee Harrell is a fantastic teacher, as evidenced not only by her sheer mastery of the subjects she teaches — which are deeply researched and patiently unpacked to the novice — but also by the enthusiasm she passes along to her students.”

This fall, Harrell introduced a Grand Challenge Seminar for first-year students on political rhetoric with three fellow Dietrich College faculty members.

“It’s been a really fun class to teach, and the students are great,” Harrell said. “I’ve learned so much from creating and teaching this course with Mandy Simons, John Oddo and Daniel Oppenheimer.”

Launching the course during an election year had real-time benefits. Harrell and fellow instructors invited Pennsylvania Democratic and Republican campaign managers to speak with the class about their roles and strategies.

Harrell’s teaching also reaches beyond students focused on the humanities and social sciences. In collaboration with the College of Engineering, she developed a course to teach ethics to engineering students. As part of the class, she hosted a mock trial focused on the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Harrell is actively engaged with CMU’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and was one of three recipients of its inaugural Teaching Innovation Awards in 2016. In addition to her teaching at CMU, she directs teacher training programs and serves as the editor-in-chief of the journal Teaching Philosophy.

“I fell in love with teaching as a TA for a physics lab my sophomore year at Pomona College,” Harrell said. “The ‘aha’ moments students have are the coolest thing in the world.”

Following graduation from Pomona with a B.A. in physics in 1992, Harrell earned an M.S. in physics in 1996 and a Ph.D. in philosophy and science studies in 2000 from the University of California, San Diego. She was the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Colorado College before joining CMU’s faculty in 2003.

In addition to education and educational technology, Harrell’s research interests include philosophy of science, philosophy of physics and epistemology.

Pictured above: Maralee Harrell interacts with first-year students in the Political Rhetoric Grand Challenge Seminar.