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Faculty Who Transformed our Lives: The 2022 Inspiring Learning Awards

Students pay homage to the teachers who actively mentor and inspire growth.

Faculty, teachers, mentors, cheerleaders, supporters, friends. They go by many titles, but it’s what the professors at BYU do that makes college meaningful for students.

Each year students get to prove that their teachers have made a difference by nominating their favorite teachers for the Inspiring Learning Awards. Nominations are limited to those who have participated in some form of experiential learning with their professor—such as mentored research, internships, and field study.

Submitting a nomination is not just checking a box by a teacher's name and hoping they win. For this award, each student had to convince judges by writing about an experience they had with that faculty member that highlights the professor's best qualities. These narrative essays, as well as the number of submissions for each professor, helped determine the award winners. Student-teacher relationships were emphasized at the award ceremony, with the nominating students seated next to their professors.

John Rosenberg (Associate Academic Vice President of Undergraduate Studies) conducted the ceremony, beginning by explaining the difference that experiential learning can make to a student. He said, “There is no learning without experience. Transforming knowledge into wisdom happens only through experience.” The faculty’s efforts to provide real-world applications to a student’s interests are often overlooked; however, these efforts can drastically improve student engagement. The Inspiring Learning Award is intended to honor those efforts.

As Rosenberg began naming the winners, he explained that they were chosen based on a blind review of their nomination essay by two students and two faculty members. He also shared some of the student comments, such as, “[My professor was] a dispenser of hope,” “He was present for people, not just there,” “He manufactured time for me,” “She transformed weak points to strong ones.” After hearing so many similar remarks, it became clear that these faculty members are kind, loving people with a genuine interest in helping their students grow.

From the College of Humanities, some of the professors nominated include Jamie Horrocks (English), Mike Pope (Comparative Arts and Letters), Nancy Turley (Linguistics), Ben Crosby (English), and others. Ultimately Professor Crosby won the award on behalf of the College of Humanities.

Professor Crosby has focused on interaction between students as well as giving students greater responsibilities early in their academic studies to foster learning. He described an inspiring learning environment as a place where “students must know that their views and ideas are respected, and they must know they are expected to step outside of their comfort zone. A good classroom is both safe and rigorous.” To help his students grow, Crosby ensures his students are actively involved in the coursework. He expects his students to either make a presentation or teach a portion of every class period. They also workshop with each other in small groups during class, effectively re-teaching each other the material, which helps them to maintain their high level of academic excellence.

Rosenberg also named the winners for the other colleges on campus. Professor Leonard (Assistant Director of the Kennedy Center), was heralded for inspiring confidence in his students. Kate Monson (Dance), said the two most important factors in a learning environment are “a willingness for everyone, including me, to admit that mistakes will be made. Also, that if it’s not fun at some level it’s not worth doing.”

Students swelled with pride as they watched their professors climb the stage to receive their awards. Many of these students flocked to the base of the stage like seagulls to dropped popcorn and snapped up photos. Their smiles lit up the room and a few professors sneakily wiped their eyes. Elizabeth Baily (Biology) told her nominating student, “This is your award as much as mine.” Professor Bailey’s glass trophy reflected sunlight inside it.

The Inspiring Learning Awards don’t simply honor likeable teachers; they honor the teaching and working relationships professors create with their students.