‘Everyone won this’: 2022 Excellence in Teaching Award winners announced

By Robin Sluzas and Irvin Ibarra

Elias Gonzalez

Senior Vice President and Provost Marcella David announced the four winners of Columbia’s 2022 Excellence in Teaching Award earlier this month.

She also noted 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, Cinema and Television Arts

An Iowa native, Kerns wanted to teach ever since she was little. Kerns said she has a deep-rooted recollection of a teacher who gave her unused worksheets she used to play “school” with during the summer.

“It seemed weirdly magical,” said Kerns, who also serves as the associate chair in her department. “It was something that stuck with me that education could be exciting and it could be fun and it could be play. It didn’t just have to take place in a classroom proper.”

Today in Kerns’ classroom, she said students have helped her view professionalism in the film industry differently.

“Filmmaking can be kind of a dream job; there tends to be some bad behavior that people [in the industry] let go and the next generation is not having it, and I think that’s great. It’s been awesome to work with younger people because they keep me on my toes in terms of my assumptions about what professionalism is,” Kerns said.

Kerns also teaches cinema and media theory at Columbia.

“I like teaching theory,” Kerns said. “It opens students’ eyes to seeing movies and what content they deal with, the way they’re shot, the way that they’re put together and how they relate to society.”

Tasha Oren was Kerns’ Ph.D. adviser from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and Catherine MacGillivray was Kerns’ master’s adviser at the University of Northern Iowa. Kerns said she credits both mentors for why she received the Excellence in Teaching Award.

Being recognized as one of the Excellence in Teaching Award recipients feels great, Kerns said. She said she bought a new dress as a reward for winning because she thinks it is important to celebrate accomplishments.

Jackie Spinner, Associate Professor, Communication

“I am grateful for the recognition,” Spinner said. “Especially coming through the past two years of the pandemic.”

Spinner said her three children, ages 3, 7 and 9, have influenced her growth as a teacher during “incredibly challenging times” for students and professors.

Spinner said humanity is a two-way street between her and her students, and it is central to her teaching style.

“I’ve tried to be compassionate about these difficulties, but I’ve also had to ask for grace from my students as I’ve juggled work and life in a pandemic,” Spinner said. “All of that makes the award more meaningful.”

Spinner said Neil Henry, one of her graduate professors at the University of California-Berkeley, is a mentor to her.

“Neil was one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had,” Spinner said. “Neil’s passion for journalism was infectious, and I hope mine is too.”

Spinner emphasizes journalistic credibility, an ideology that pushes students to think past their personal experiences and relate to the experiences of others, saying if a journalist loses credibility, they can never get it back.

“This is the one area in which I am inflexible. You cannot cut corners in journalism when it comes to trust,” Spinner said.

Terri Griffith, Adjunct Faculty Member, Humanities, History and Social Sciences

Since teaching for roughly 20 years, adjunct professor Terri Griffith said she was surprised when she received the Excellence in Teaching Award – the first time she ever received an award from the college.

“In some ways, I don’t feel like it’s fair that I got this award when I did because everybody worked so hard during the pandemic,” Griffith said.

Griffith, who also teaches in the Art and Art History Department, noted the support of the department’s associate chair, Joan Giroux, for helping her expand her teaching throughout the college. Griffith planned theQueer Visual Culture” class during the pandemic and also worked to develop courses around LGBTQ+ activism and history in discussion-based classes.

“I learned that for a lot of [my] students, the classroom might be the only place that they’re out,” Griffith said. “This is their only safe space … I had more than one student who didn’t talk during Zoom and only participated in the chat because they were in a home where they couldn’t discuss these things out loud.”

Although Griffith said being recognized now is meaningful, she also said “everybody won this trophy” for their work over the pandemic.

Chris Eliopoulos, Associate Professor of Instruction, Design

Associate Professor Chris Eliopoulos is a professional illustrator and cartoonist. He provides instruction in illustration, digital illustration, children’s books and cartooning at the college.

The award committee said Eliopoulos’ encouragement of the importance of students’ mental health combined with positive reinforcement through creative engagement was key to being chosen as a recipient.

Eliopoulos, a 2007 alum who studied fine arts, previously worked as an editor for The Columbia Chronicle from 2012 to 2014.

Eliopoulos’ clients and publishers include Disney Animation Studios, Nickelodeon and Simon and Schuster.

The teaching award committee consists of 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.