Award Finalists Spark Student Learning With Their Teaching Excellence

Creating classrooms that encourage a free exchange of ideas among students connects the six finalists for the 2020 UNC Charlotte Excellence in Teaching Awards.

Five of the six finalists teach in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. They are Paula Connolly, Eric Heberlig, Tonya Bates, Susana Cisneros, and Kathleen Nicolaides.

Paula Connolly, professor, English Department; Eric Heberlig, professor, Department of Political Science and Public Administration; both in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, are finalists for the Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence. Heather Coffey, associate professor, Department of Middle, Secondary and K-12 Education in the Cato College of Education, is the third finalist.

Tonya Bates, senior lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences; Susana Cisneros, senior lecturer of Spanish, Department of Languages and Culture Studies; and Kathleen Nicolaides, teaching professor, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology; are finalists for the UNC Charlotte Teaching Excellence Award.

The Bank of America Teaching Excellence Award, presented since 1968, honors full-time, tenured faculty members who have at least seven years of service to the University; the UNC Charlotte Award for Teaching Excellence, in its second year, is presented to full- or part-time non-tenure track faculty members with at least five years of service.

Bank of America Teaching Excellence Award Honors Tenured Faculty

Paula Connolly is known for development of students’ keen, critical analyses. Her preparation for classes begins with extensive research to help her understand the range of work on a topic and to formulate new arguments on the material. This ultimately models for students how to engage in critical analysis.

Eric Heberlig employs three key principles in his approach to help students be active participants in their own learning. First, engage the student. Second, be rigorous. Third, emphasize analysis, synthesis, research and communication skills. He seeks to apply active learning techniques consistently in a variety of classes, to integrate them with assignments, and to take advantage of opportunities outside of the classroom.

Heather Coffey sets high expectations for her students and models the respect and appreciation for diversity that can lead to rich discussion and impactful learning. She encourages a social justice mindset in her students and gets to know her students so they are comfortable sharing concerns about teaching in environments that do not mirror their own experiences. 

UNC Charlotte Award For Teaching Excellence Taps Non-Tenure Track Faculty

Tonya Bates is considered a pioneer and leader within the Department of Biological Sciences in incorporating active learning, inquiry-based learning and technology in the classroom. Her courses, including high-enrollment, general education classes for non-majors, are strongly student-centered and focus on real-world applications and scientific literacy in an effort to better connect students with the material.

Susana Cisneros creates academic experiences outside of the classroom that students often say are life-changing. Known for her enthusiasm and positive attitude, Cisneros seeks to engage students in learning both the Spanish language and the culture by exposing them to such places as a Latino supermarket, a quinceañera store or an archaeological site in Argentina.

Kathleen Nicolaides has achieved an enviable balance for a classroom instructor – scoring high both in classroom rigor and in student support. Her dedication to teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students led to the adoption of innovative teaching strategies and ground-breaking curricular changes resulting in positive student and peer evaluations and the receipt of several awards. She seeks to train students to become critical thinkers and leaders in their fields, and to provide a learning experience that is inclusive.

The two recipients of UNC Charlotte’s Excellence in Teaching Awards for 2020 will be announced Thursday, Sept. 17.

The Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence and UNC Charlotte Award for Teaching Excellence are two of the most important and prestigious traditions at UNC Charlotte.  These awards honor outstanding teachers on our campus and provide an example of the University’s commitment to excellence in teaching.