Second year in a row — three History profs. receive Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award
Wed, August 18, 2010
Professors George Forgie, Tiffany Gill, and Frank Guridy
On August 12, The University of Texas (UT) System Board of Regents revealed the 30 undergraduate faculties from the Austin campus to receive the 2010 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award (ROTA) — a prestigious and competitive award created in 2009.
There are over 2,000 faculty members at UT serving in more than 80 academic departments. Consider the odds of three out of 30 recipients, but there is good reason. The odds are that the department’s talented and committed faculty include three of the finest teachers at this university.
Associate Professor George B. Forgie joined the department in 1974 and quickly gained a reputation as an excellent teacher. By 1979, he earned his first teaching award, the Harry H. Ransom Award for Teaching Excellence in the Liberal Arts.
Since then, he has received seven more teaching awards including induction into the first class of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers (1995), the Silver Spurs Centennial Fellowship (2004) and the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship (2004). Forgie has served the university in many ways including his work from 2004-2010 as associate chair for the department.
Forgie teaches U.S. cultural and political history and the U.S. Constitution. His “Civil War and Reconstruction” course is legendary.
Students, who have taken that class whether one year or 10 years ago, will invariably rave about Forgie’s captivating lectures. The comments that students write on his end-of-semester course evaluations are a thesaurus of superlatives: “excellent,” “superb,” “the best lecturer I’ve ever had."
Forgie carefully constructs his lectures so that students observe him “doing history.” As he explains, “I will evoke a historical setting, present a set of facts, pose questions that arise from the facts, and discuss with students various ways of making sense of historical developments.”
Along the way, Forgie challenges students to consider what they would have done or said in a particular situation. “Given the information that was available to this historical character, how else might he or she have made that point? How do you suppose one might have argued against that position?” This is what makes Forgie a charismatic teacher.
He is not given to dramatic displays or multi-media pyrotechnics. Rather, he guides students to see that though these historical actors are long dead, they were once living and breathing human beings who held opinions and made decisions which later generations praised or deplored.
Engaging his students in these historical events, dilemmas, and arguments, students recognize the wonder and the complexity that comes with the study of the past.
The 2010 Regents’ Award, and the many other teaching awards he has received, recognizes Forgie’s excellence in teaching undergraduates at UT. But, he is also a teacher of teachers. In the more than 30 years that he has been at UT, literally dozens of graduate students have worked with him as teaching assistants.
As one of these students, Kevin Roberts, now Dr. Kevin Roberts, says, “I learned more about teaching from him than I did from any class or other person.”
Forgie has also participated in several of the Humanities Texas Institutes for Teachers as part of the department’s community outreach through its Institute for Historical Studies. Truly, a legend in his own time, George B. Forgie’s teaching will resonate with future generations.
Students often tell Assistant Professor Tiffany M. Gill that her course was the toughest class they have taken at the university. But these same students praise Gill in their course evaluations: “great,” “amazing,” “eloquent,” “phenomenal instructor,” “makes me wish I wasn’t a science major.”
Since joining the department in 2003, and with courtesy appointments in the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies and the Center for Women and Gender Studies, Gill teaches large lower-division lecture classes like “United States History Since 1865” and “Introduction to African American History."
She also teaches upper-division seminars like “Race and Beauty in American Culture” and “Black Women in America.” She has taught the history unit for the Free Minds Project — a program created by UT’s Humanities Institute in 2006 and now administered by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement that serves low-income adults.
One of the most exceptional aspects of Gill’s teaching is that she manages to draw students into discussion even in large classes of 200 or 300. Knowing that these large classes are often the first — and sometimes the only — college history course that students take, Gill asks her students to “interrogate the American historical narrative in a way that takes the experience of women, people of color, and the economically disadvantaged seriously” and to understand history as an “ongoing process of inquiry.”
Because this approach is not standard in high school history classes, Gill takes care to ”establish a classroom environment where students feel safe to explore the sometimes contentious and personal issues surrounding American identity.” Chair Alan Tully has commented on Gill’s ability to get students “to take intellectual risks in their discussions.”
In upper-division seminar classes, Gill ensures that discussions remain lively and substantive by posting thought-provocative questions on the class website the day before class. These seminars also help students improve their writing skills. Gill uses class time to talk about writing techniques, and assigns a variety of writing projects that she critiques carefully and thoroughly.
Gill’s teaching and mentorship continues beyond the final exam or the last paper. She has said, “Once my student, always my student” to explain her generous availability to students as they move on toward graduation, to graduate or professional schools, and to their careers which, not surprisingly, sometimes include teaching. Gill teaches with creativity and passion, but she also inspires.
Assistant Professor Frank A. Guridy joined the department in 2004, and the Department of History shares him with the newly created Department of African and African Diaspora Studies. He is also an affiliate with UT’s Warfield Center for African and African American Studies and the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.
Students are impressed with Guridy as an affable and easy-going guy, but he has a challenge for them. He explains that his teaching philosophy is “informed by a deep desire to prepare students to be global citizens” and “[t]his objective entails countering discourses of provincialism and xenophobia that have been prevalent in the U.S. culture, particularly since Sept. 11, 2001.”
So, in between rooting for their beloved Longhorns and pursuing the normal adventures of being a young adult in Austin, Texas, students who study with Guridy learn to look at less laudable aspects of their history. How is it that Guridy is so effective and appreciated by his students for this? One of his students commented that “Professor Guridy really cares about teaching and it shows.” Another wrote that he “made students feel comfortable interacting,” and still another praised Guridy for “academic encouragement and support beyond any of my other professors.”
In his Teaching Philosophy Statement, Guridy states he “teaches a version of African-American history from a [western] hemispheric perspective.” This means, in part, that he invites students to think about what “black” and “blackness” mean.
By showing students the complex cultural heritage of people that we call “African American” — Africa, Cuba, the Caribbean, the American South, the United States — Guridy helps students understand something new about the limitations of nation-based understandings of the history of African descendants.
He uses academic texts, fiction, music, and images from popular culture. As Chair Tully observed, Guridy “incorporates visual images into his lectures in provocative ways,… uses [Caribbean and South American music] to highlight, punctuate and distill insights into the cultures he is exploring, and he uses ‘PowerPoint’ like the prop it should be rather than as a continuous, detailed prompt for a fixed script.”
But, Guridy’s classes are not simply visual and auditory feasts. As students and faculty observers have seen, he “is sincere in the joy he exhibits and shares in his contact with students. He is sincere in his response to the dilemmas they face and the questions they ask,” Tully says. He is an outstanding example and teacher.
Story by: Dr. Megan Seaholm, History Dept. Lecturer & Alumni Newsletter Editor (adapted from newsletter article by M.G. Moore for website)