Laney Alums receive Distinguished Teaching Awards

By Laney Graduate School Communications | Feb. 19, 2020

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(l-r) Dr. Ryan Prendergast, ‘03G received the Goergen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the University of Rochester. Dr. Amy Austin, ‘04G, won the Texas Board of Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award from the University of Texas System.

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Two distinguished alumni, from the Laney Graduate School, were recently recognized for their excellence in teaching both inside and outside the classroom.

Dr. Ryan Prendergast, ‘03G received the Goergen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the University of Rochester. Dr. Amy Austin, ‘04G, won the Texas Board of Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award from the University of Texas System. Both professors, who received PhDs in Hispanic Studies, are committed to continually expanding their teaching methodologies and thanked Dr. Donald Tuten, associate professor of Spanish and Linguistics in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, for their success as educators.

“As we all learned in Tuten’s class, it is essential to share ideas, best practices, and success stories related to teaching,” says Prendergast. “I plan to continue teaching with colleagues from other disciplines whenever possible, developing challenging projects that help students process the input they receive, and producing assignments that allow for creativity while demanding intellectual rigor.”

Austin echoed a similar sentiment, saying professor Tuten’s enthusiasm instilled in her, a love for teaching. She also acknowledged other Emory faculty who were instrumental in her approach to teaching.

“I often emulate the wonderful professors I had at Emory with whom I exchanged pedagogical approaches. I aim to embody their passion for teaching and sincere concern for students both inside and outside the classroom,” says Austin, “I follow many models from my professors at Emory in my interactions with students inside and outside the classroom. My best professors taught me the value of being committed, caring, and connected to one’s students. 

The awards acknowledge both recipients’ innovative teaching techniques. Prendergast’s approach cultivates a reciprocal relationship with his students when studying primary documents secondary sources. By helping students facilitate class discussions, they become more active and informed interlocutors over the semester.

“Students are most engaged when they are responsible for at least part of the knowledge-creation process that we undertake,” Prendergast said. “The subject matter takes on an entirely different significance for students when they can make meaningful connections with the material.”

As a Spanish professor, Austin strives to provide students with tools and opportunities to connect with their communities and remain lifelong learners. She does this by focusing on the experiential aspects of learning, implementing hands-on projects with communities on campus and in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area, to foster learning experiences that teach critical analysis and the value of self-reflection to her students.

Among her other accomplishments, Austin has incorporated three service-learning projects in her courses. In the first project, her students help middle school students develop their speaking, reading, and writing abilities in Spanish. In the second project, her students act as editors and writing coaches for the parents of Title 1 school students. These parents write original stories in either English or Spanish and share the stories with their children. The third project allows her students to promote community building and teamwork through the efforts of a local. non-profit organization.

Austin and Prendergast’s accolades demonstrate the pedagogical training, development, and knowledge that future educators receive within the graduate school.