Prof Ferguson Receives SGO's Teaching Award
By by KAREN WANG, Managing Features Editor
The College has long sought student input when considering appointments and tenure, but these decisions have ultimately remained in the hands of the administration.

Recently, Amherst's Student Government Organization (SGO) found a way to bridge the gap between student opinion and official recognition with the creation of their Distinguished Teaching Award. Soon, the student-chosen winners will be listed on a permanent plaque displayed in a prominent position on campus.

Last year, the SGO presented the first annual award to Assistant Professor of Black Studies and American Studies Jeffrey Ferguson. He teaches Black Studies 11: "Introduction to Black Studies," Black Studies 61: "Harlem Renaissance" and Black Studies 66/English 66: "African-American Literature II," among other courses.

"Professor Ferguson was chosen for the outstanding quality of his teaching and for his deep commitment to Amherst students, both inside and outside the classroom," explained SGO President Steve Ruckman '01. He added that the SGO was particularly impressed with the number of students who wrote in to nominate Ferguson for the award.

Sorting through the student body's nominations is the first step in the process of choosing which professor should receive the award. The SGO Executive Board then submits a list of five finalists to the rest of the Student Senate for consideration.

Senior class president Dan Cooper '01 came up with the idea for the award last year when he saw that Lafayette College had a similar award for professors. "I thought, 'Wow, that sounds like a good idea because there are plenty of people here who don't necessarily get recognition but who add a lot to students' lives,'" Cooper said.

Although supportive of these goals, Ferguson warned that student-sponsored awards can be tricky. "One could imagine this becoming a political tool or an award given mostly or only to junior professors or a popularity prize," he explained. "As long as students make choices for solid reasons, the teaching award should become a staple of the Class Day ceremony."

Nevertheless, Ferguson appreciates the distinction, particularly because it indicates his success in relating to his students. "It feels great to get an award signifying the sincere appreciation of my students," he said. "No teacher could ask for more."

For the first Distinguished Teaching Award, the SGO paid special attention to professors' efforts at fostering relationships with students outside the classroom.

"It's the outside-the-classroom dedication to students that I think made Professor Ferguson the most appealing candidate for this award," Ruckman said. "He is often seen in Valentine talking to and eating with students. He pores over his students' papers, and he generally goes out of his way to involve himself in his students' academic progress."

Ferguson's commitment to teaching inspired him to come up with a novel way to critique his students' papers: by reformatting them into Webpages and critiquing them digitally.

"The Web-based grading proved very effective," Ferguson said. "It allowed for great flexibility, increased accountability on both sides and made it possible for me to give more high quality comments. Who could ask for more?"

As indicated by the high number of nominations, Ferguson's students appreciate such efforts to improve their educational experiences. "He's engaging, thought-provoking, challenging and a really great guy," said Peter Colarulli '03. "He's much more approachable outside of class. He's available and friendly and wants to talk."

"He's definitely visible on campus, which I think people like a lot," said Sidne Koenigsberg '03. "He's always eating in Valentine. I always would love to talk to him about movies and relate them to what we were doing in class but also just talk to him in general."

For the SGO, these responses exemplify the need for a student-sponsored distinction like the Distinguished Teaching Award.

"Most awards given to faculty and the entire tenure process are purely academic. They recognize professors for their ability to teach, but this award also looks at their ability to connect with students." Ruckman explained. "That's something that I don't think most professors see in their colleagues so much. This award is from students to show recognition of a professor's ability to be effective for the students."

Issue 03, Submitted 2000-09-19 20:20:43
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