Professor Benjamin Reiss receives the 2021 LGS Provost Distinguished Teaching Award

By Jerald Butler | May 17, 2021

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The 2021 recipient of the Provost’s Distinguished Teaching Award for Excellence in Graduate Education for the Laney Graduate School is Professor Benjamin Reiss.

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The Laney Graduate School is proud to announce Professor Benjamin Reiss as the 2021 Provost’s Distinguished Teaching Award for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Education. This honor recognizes a faculty member who demonstrates sustained excellence and innovation in teaching.

As Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and chair of the English department, Reiss has fostered interdisciplinary, collaborative, and community-engaged research opportunities for graduate students across the humanities.   His current focus is on building a public humanities initiative that leverages students’ research and critical thinking skills as contributions to the public good. Partnering with leading cultural and civic institutions in Atlanta, Reiss and his group have created pathways for graduate students to learn from professionals whose humanities training led them to important positions beyond the academy and to find connections between their disciplinary training and socially valuable applications. 

Trained in American literary and cultural history, and with research interests in the interdisciplinary fields of health humanities and disability studies, Reiss co-founded Emory’s renowned Disability Studies Initiative, which has fostered research and professional opportunities for humanities students in fields such as bioethics and medical humanities. He also served as co-director of the Mellon Graduate Teaching Fellowship, which provided mentoring and facilitated teaching appointments for advanced graduate students at four partner historically black colleges and universities and one women’s liberal arts college. 

In a nomination letter, one colleague shared experiences with Reiss’ “hands-on” approach to graduate education. “In the years I have known Reiss as a colleague, he has valued his students’ learning, professional achievements, and well-being more than his own. He has taken pride in their work and professional advancement more than in the recognition he has earned himself,” the letter states.

On learning of the award, a PhD student in English noted that Reiss has been “the greatest champion of graduate education I’ve known in my time at Emory” because he succeeded in “changing the conversation about the purpose and value of graduate education.” 

At the core of his teaching and his programming lies a commitment to diversity. During his two terms as Director of Graduate Studies and as chair of English, he has recruited exceptional students and faculty mentors from a wide range of backgrounds.  As the program has become more diverse, it has also risen in stature, ranking as the #4 program in African American literary study nationally.

Recent students he has advised or mentored have assumed faculty positions at the University of Michigan, Clemson University, Union College, Cal State Hayward, Rikkyo University in Tokyo, and post-doctoral positions at Johns Hopkins, Indiana, and Harvard.  He is equally proud of his students who have put their training to use in non-academic settings, including one who became a leader in graduate education reform in her position at the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, DC. 

“Our faculty at the Laney Graduate School are truly invested in the success of students beyond the classroom,” says Lisa Tedesco, Vice Provost and Dean of the Laney Graduate School. “This award recognizes those faculty members that provide our students with advantageous tools and experiences,  making our students some of the best candidates for a variety of professional opportunities.” Tedesco continues, “Through his instruction and guidance, Professor Reiss upholds the ideals of expanded student enrichment that LGS  holds dear. He is richly deserving of this honor.”