May 9, 2012. Joseph J. Gonzalez’s education didn’t end when he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. The assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies said he knew very little about freshmen until he was given the opportunity to teach, engage and nurture first-year students at Appalachian State University.
Gonzalez has received the 2012 Harvey R. Durham Freshman Advocate Award, which recognizes a full-time university employee who has contributed significantly to improving the freshman experience on campus. The award includes $1,000, a plaque and a university medallion that will be presented at convocation in September. Also nominated for the award was Diane Beasley, director of teacher education recruitment.
“Thanks to my time here at Appalachian, I understand my freshmen much better,” Gonzalez wrote in a letter accepting his nomination for the award. “In fact, freshmen – how they live, as well as how they learn – have defined my career at Appalachian.”
Gonzalez was the founding director of the university’s Living Learning Center, a combined residential and academic facility, and served in that capacity from 2003-07. He was the faculty coordinator of First Year Seminar from 2009-11. He also taught in the former Watauga College, the university’s interdisciplinary residential learning community, now called Watauga Global Community.
“His passion for the active learning and inquiry-based pedagogy that the First Year Seminar exemplifies promised that the course would successfully engage and educate students,” wrote nominator Dr. Dave Haney. “In designing his classes, he continually thinks about what experience will be the best for the students as they proceed on their learning journey. He shows none of the professorial ego that often places the professor’s display of knowledge first and what the students are actually learning second.”
Former students also praised Gonzalez for his approach to teaching. “So many teachers allow students to slip through the cracks of their own uncertainty, and Joe refuses to accept that,” wrote Lynn Ross Izlar, who also praised her former professor for teaching her to think and write critically. “He is certainly the best mentor, teacher and friend to have in the tumultuous first year of college. As a rising senior, I use the skills and confidence I gained from Joe and I am indebted to him for them.”
The Harvey R. Durham Freshman Advocate Award was created by Susan and Harvey Durham. Harvey Durham served as Appalachian’s chief academic officer for 24 years, and was acting chancellor from May 2003-July 2004.