Senior Vice President and Vice President Marcella David announced the four recipients of Columbia’s 2022 Excellence in Teaching Award earlier this month.
She also noted that all four have fascinating teaching ideologies that have helped students embrace the spirit and passion they each have for their respective subjects.
Susan Kerns, Associate Professor, Film and Television Arts
Originally from Iowa, Kerns wanted to teach since she was little. Kerns said she fondly remembers a teacher who gave her unused worksheets that she used play “school” with during summer.
“It seemed strangely magical,” said Kerns, who is also associate chair of her department. “It was something that stuck with me that education could be exciting and fun and it could be play. It didn’t just have to take place in a proper classroom.
Today in Kerns’ class she said the students helped her see professionalism in the film industry differently.
“Filmmaking can be kind of a dream job; there are usually bad behaviors that people [in the industry] let it go and the next generation won’t have it, and I think that’s great. It was great to work with younger people because they keep me on my toes when it comes to my assumptions about what professionalism is,” Kerns said.
Kerns also teaches film and media theory at Columbia.
“I love teaching theory,” Kerns said. “It opens students’ eyes to seeing films and the content they deal with, the way they are shot, the way they are put together and their relationship to society.”
Tasha Oren was Kerns’ Ph.D. to advise from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and Catherine MacGillivray was Kerns’ master’s advisor at the University of Northern Iowa. Kerns said she credits both mentors for why she received the Excellence in Teaching Award.
Be recognized as one of the Excellence in Teaching Awards recipients feel good, Kerns said. She said she bought a new dress as a reward for her win because she thinks it’s important to celebrate achievements.
Jackie Spinner, Associate Professor, Communications
“I’m grateful for the recognition,” Spinner said. “Especially in the last two years of the pandemic.”
spinner said it three children aged three, seven and nine influenced her growth as a teacher during “incredibly difficult times” for students and teachers.
Spinner said humanity is a two-way street between her and her students and is central to her teaching style.
“I tried to be compassionate in the face of these difficulties, but I also had to ask for grace from my students as I juggled work and life in a pandemic,” Spinner said. “All of this makes the award more meaningful.”
Spinner said Neil Henry, one of them graduate professors at the University of California-Berkeley is a mentor for her.
“Neil was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had,” Spinner said. “Neil’s passion for journalism was contagious, and I hope mine is too.”
Spinner emphasizes journalistic credibility, an ideology that challenges students to think beyond their personal experiences and relate to the experiences of others, arguing that if a journalist loses their credibility, they can never get it back.
“That’s the one area where I’m adamant. You can’t cut corners in journalism when it comes to trust,” Spinner said.
Terri Griffith, Adjunct Faculty Member, Humanities, History and Social Sciences
Since teaching for about 20 years, assistant professor Terri Griffith said she was surprised when she received the Excellence in Teaching Award – the first time she received an award from the college.
“In some ways, I don’t think it’s fair to have received this award when I did because everyone worked so hard during the pandemic,” Griffith said.
Griffith, who also teaches in the Art and art history, noted the support of that of the department Associate President, Joan Giroux, for helping her extend her teaching through the college. Griffith planned for Queer visual culture lessons during the pandemic and also worked to develop classes around LGBTQ+ activism and history in discussion-based classes.
“I learned that for many [my] students, the classroom might be the only place they went out,” Griffith said. “It’s their only safe space…I’ve had more than one student who didn’t speak on Zoom and only participated in the chat because they were in a house where they couldn’t chat these things out loud.”
While Griffith said being recognized now is meaningful, she also said “everyone has won this trophy” for their work on the pandemic.
Chris Eliopoulos, Associate Professor of Education, Design
Associate Professor Chris Eliopoulos is a professional illustrator and cartoonist. He teaches illustration, digital illustration, children’s books and cartooning classes in middle school.
The award committee said Eliopoulos’ encouragement of the importance of student mental health, combined with positive reinforcement through creative engagement, was key to being chosen as the recipient.
Eliopoulos, a 2007 graduate who studied fine arts, previously worked as editor of the Columbia Chronicle from 2012 to 2014.
Eliopoulos clients and publishers include Disney Animation Studios, Nickelodeon and Simon and Schuster.
The Teaching Award Committee is made up of Associate Professor Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin, Professor Elizabeth Davis Berg, Associate Professor Anne Marie Mitchell, Assistant Professor Khalid Long, Assistant Professor Florian Hollerweger and Assistant Professor Onur Ozturk. Adjunct faculty members Kristi Bramlett and Jeffery Christian are also on the committee. Ames Hawkins is an ex officio member.