HFA Recognizes Three Faculty Members for Excellence in Teaching

Sarah Cornell
Sarah Cornell
Karen Kurczynski
Karen Kurczynski
Garrett Washington
Garrett Washington

Sarah Cornell, senior lecturer in the department of history; Karen Kurczynski, associate professor in the department of the history of art and architecture; and Garrett Washington, assistant professor in the department of history; have been awarded this year’s UMass Amherst College of Humanities and Fine Arts (HFA) Outstanding Teaching Award. This award celebrates exceptional teaching, mentoring, and curriculum development efforts, and their impact on students.

Sarah Cornell uses documents from the Reconstruction Period to make connections between ideas and events that changed the world. Cornell’s nominator observed how she “skillfully guided the discussion from what at first glance appeared to be small questions about the meaning of particular passages … into much bigger, profound questions about race, land ownership and the meaning of freedom that resonate through today.” To her success, one student commented that, “she goes to great lengths to remind us of the relevance of her material,” and that, “this teaching style is captivating.”

Since coming to UMass Amherst in 2012, Cornell has become more comfortable taking risks in the classroom and offering students a perspective of history, “as an ongoing process of creating interpretations about both cause and meaning of past events.”

Cornell’s passion for her subject is equal to her dedication to the mentoring she provides outside the classroom. “These moments represent a part of my job as an educator that is equally as important as my work in my field and in the classroom,” a sentiment to which students respond enthusiastically and appreciatively

Since 2013, Karen Kurczynski has been teaching students about these often challenging and charged artworks. Observing that such art, “can profoundly shake up students' assumptions about not only the very definition of art, but assumptions about self, community, ideologies, and beliefs,” her nominator highlights the incredible skill and success she has in bringing to her students the context for and an understanding of what they see.

Drawing on the visual thinking srategies approach developed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York where she was a lecturer for six years, Kurczynski strives to create a sense of excitement by encouraging her students to engage with “art physically and with multiple senses in a collective context.” By giving students a sense of historical events and processes when the work was created, she enables them to “see the world in a new way, often through the eyes of a person they may have believed they had little in common with….”

Students appreciate the degree to which she, “emphasized multiple cultural perspectives, or acknowledged when a specific culture or group of people's perspective or story was being underrepresented.”  They admire her extensive knowledge of the subject and her considerable skill in employing a group learning model to consider challenging discussion topics. Those continuing to study art history as well as those pursuing other fields appreciate that Prof. Kurczunski, “gives them the skills they need to develop their own critical perspectives on the history of art.”

Garrett Washington has been teaching at UMass since 2015. He is recognized by colleagues and students for his success in bringing Japanese history and culture to life. One student noted that his knowledge and personal experience, “gave a level of authenticity to his teaching.” 

Noting that he aims, “to teach in a student-centered, highly interactive, challenging manner,” his goal is to give students the ability, “to see holistically, feel deeply, and think critically about the past.” By combining his research interests with a range of resources and teaching techniques, each class session illustrates the wide range of his teaching skills.

Students appreciate the sense of a classroom community spirit he cultivates. This gives them the freedom to voice opinions, share ideas, and it encourages their participation in the conversation. They say Washington creates the same supportive and attentive learning environment whether he is teaching a small seminar or a large lecture course.