This year the Teaching Resource Center celebrates its 20th year of service to the University community. Together, we look back on two decades of success in providing thousands of UVa professors and graduate students — across every school and virtually all departments — with intellectual, practical, and moral support in their roles as teachers, researchers, and mentors for a generation of young people.
With dozens of specialized workshops and programs each year, scores of confidential consultations, and ongoing collaborations with other UVa programs and offices, the sheer numbers of people served (see page 7) tell much of the story. But not all of it. To fully understand what the Teaching Resource Center is about, it helps to hear some of the real-life stories that have emerged from its flagship program, launched 17 years ago when the Center was still in its infancy.
The University Teaching Fellows (UTF) Program brings together promising faculty members from an array of disciplines with a common goal: to build on each other’s course design ideas and develop a network of scholars who strive to be eminent researchers and inspiring teachers. We recently asked past Fellows to comment on what they got out of the Program. They responded with more than 10,000 words of praise, often saying it marked a turning point in their careers, leading to new courses, new projects, and a renewed sense of purpose.
Paolo D’Odorico, an environmental sciences professor, came to UVa from Italy and completed the Fellowship Program in 2004. Teaching had been “a major source of stress, and sometimes of frustration,” in his first years at UVa, he said. “I did not know how to enhance student learning without diluting the subject matter,” he said. But D’Odorico found that encouraging his students to become “active learners” was not only possible, it fostered critical thinking and made the classroom experience more enjoyable for everyone.
“I have learned,” he said, “that the value of a college education rests in its ability to form a new generation of citizens with strong intellectual curiosity, capable of finding answers to a variety of questions.”
During the course of their Fellowship year, University Teaching Fellows chosen by a committee of award-winning faculty develop or redesign an undergraduate course. They are paired with senior mentors who provide guidance and feedback. In workshops and informal gatherings, they participate in wide-ranging interdisciplinary discussions about integrating teaching and research, and helping their students learn better.
It all starts in early September with an overnight retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “The retreat is key,” says Marva Barnett, the TRC’s founding director, who also created the UTF Program. “It lets the Fellows relax. It helps them get to know each other and begin sharing their thoughts about teaching and students.” Assistant Professor of English Victoria Olwell wrote about last year’s retreat, “What a rare treat it is to take time away from the routines of work and everyday life to really think about something that deserves as much deep thought as teaching does … the retreat permitted rich, meditative, ruminative conversation.”
The UTF Program began with a seed grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. This year, the Center is seeking donations to endow the Program with steady income, renaming it after Randy Pausch, one of its most renowned alumni.
A member of the first Lilly cohort and an engaging computer science professor, Pausch taught at UVa from 1988 to 1997. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Pausch famously turned his impending death into a celebration of life and learning, delivering his “Last Lecture” in 2007 at Carnegie Mellon University, where he had taught for a decade. His lecture became a YouTube sensation, garnered international media attention, and formed the basis of a bestselling autobiography.
Pausch, who died last year at age 47, is among many UTF participants who went on to noteworthy careers. Others have become University chairs and associate deans, received distinguished professorships, teaching grants, and awards, and developed new educational programs at UVa and beyond.
Mitchell Green was recently selected as the NEH Horace W. Goldsmith Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy. He completed the UTF program in 1996, using it to revamp a popular philosophy course called “Know Thyself.” He has helped organize TRC workshops on mentoring, publishing, and managing authority in the classroom.
Building on his UTF course with support from a Mead Endowment grant, Green led a team of students on a two-day, 150-mile bike ride last summer to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. He called this journey, naturally, “Know Thyself on Two Wheels.” “It’s intriguing to think, as I braved the wind chill with my students during our early Sunday morning training rides, that it all started with a University Teaching Fellowship more than a decade ago,” Green said. “On the other hand, not all of us who wander are lost.”