March 16, 2012. CHAPEL HILL — Dr. Elaine O’Quinn, a professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of English, has received the Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence. O’Quinn is one of 17 faculty members from the multi-campus University of North Carolina to receive the honor. Each award winner will receive a commemorative bronze medallion and a $7,500 cash prize. She also will be recognized during the May commencement for Appalachian’s College of Arts and Sciences.
O’Quinn came to Appalachian in 1999 after receiving her Ph.D. from Virginia Tech. Her journey to the university included work as a high school English, speech and drama teacher, director of an inner city Upward Bound Program, manager of a large dinner theatre and journalist for a regional newspaper. She always knew she wanted to be a university professor someday, but knew too that life was full of other adventures that would enrich that experience.
O’Quinn works hard to understand the complex relationship of teaching and learning. She recognizes that to articulate the depth of what that means is a daunting task. From the outside, it may appear that a teacher’s day is simply about preparing lectures, making assignments, testing for knowledge, grading papers and dialoguing with students. But those engaged in holistic teaching and learning know it is much more. Days spent with students are measured by failures as well as successes and excellence is often found in unlikely places and at the least expected moments.
What O’Quinn has come to know is that reflective, deliberative and active teaching is what engages and motivates students and pushes them and their teachers to their very best selves. To her mind, good teaching yields good students. When student and teacher together move beyond the boundaries of practice and industry into the realm of possibility and discovery, worlds expand rather than shrink. When student and teacher together consider the multiple contexts always available that lead to sound moral perceptions, authenticity of learning occurs. It is in these spaces that both student and teacher thrive and grow.
O’Quinn said that the hardest lesson she had to learn as a teacher was the one that should have been the most obvious: the need to believe in students’ unique potentials rather than their common human frailties. It opened her eyes to the isolating dynamic of power and authority and her heart to the notion that good teaching and learning has always been and will always be just as much about the search for generosity, grace and goodwill as it is knowledge and wisdom.
Established by the Board of Governors in 1994 to underscore the importance of teaching and to reward good teaching across the University, the awards are given annually to a tenured faculty member from each UNC campus. Winners must have taught at their present institutions at least seven years. No one may receive the award more than once.