Teaching Beyond the Syllabus

(L-R) Associate Provost for Faculty Research and Development Ames Hawkins, Kristi Bramlett, Ann Gunkel, and finalist Meghann Wilkinson. Not pictured: finalist Nicole Spigner. Photo: Phil Dembinski '08
2017 Excellence in Teaching Award winners Ann Gunkel and Kristi Bramlett present on what makes their pedagogies unique.

After a months-long review process that included student nominations, classroom observations, and presentations evaluated by the Excellence in Teaching Award Committee, the Provost selected Theatre part-time faculty member Kristi Bramlett and Humanities, History, and Social Sciences Associate Professor Ann Gunkel as the 2017 Excellence in Teaching Award winners. While the educators teach vastly different subject matter, both teachers used their presentations to consider the student as much as the content.

When teaching her acting students, Bramlett needs them to empathetically embody their characters, as well as treat each other with empathy in the classroom. “I model that behavior with my students, working alongside them as they discover who they are, striving to empathically embody their characters with a generous heart, and without judgment,” she says.

To show how empathy affects craft, Bramlett invited a student on stage to deliver a series of monologues illustrating the transformation that occurs when an actor connects with themselves, their character, and other characters in the scene. “The special sauce,” Bramlett says, “is making it about the other.”

In Gunkel’s presentation, she outlined and supported her core teaching values–rigor, passion, engagement, and mentoring–through curricular details. “Students examine Plato’s arguments about justice, education, and tyranny, while considering the ethical landscape of Scorsese’s Goodfellas,” Gunkel says of her Philosophical Issues in Film course. “They unpack the modernity and epistemology in Descartes’ Meditations and place this in conversation with The Matrix.”

Woven into Gunkel’s presentation was a chorus of student perspectives complementing her methodologies and theoretical approaches. “She has always shown interest, concern, and support for not only my development as a student, as a researcher, as a future scholar, but for me as a human,” says Cultural Studies alumnus Phil Bratta ’08.

Gunkel’s pedagogy aims to engage students in the radical idea that learning has radical potential. “Ideas mean something not only in our classroom, but in our work and in our everyday lives,” she says. “If students do not connect their learning to their own worlds, they will not be engaged in anything more than a formal exercise… Without energy, without excitement, without the sincere conviction that thinking matters and that our shared enterprise is important, my pedagogy would fall flat.”