Elmhurst University recently presented the annual President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching to Associate Professor of History Karen Benjamin and Professor of Kinesiology Heather Hall.
At the end of each academic year, two faculty members are selected to receive the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, which recognizes exemplary teaching and contributions to the education of Elmhurst students. Groups of current students nominate faculty members for the award and support their nominations, and members of the Faculty Development Committee make the final decision.
“Recipients of this award embody all aspects of our commitment to excellence in teaching and student learning and success, as recognized by their faculty peers and students,” said Dean Pribbenow, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty.
“Karen and Heather are both exemplars of this commitment. They care deeply about their students and how their teaching influences students’ aspirations and ability to connect what they are learning in the classroom to the world around them.”
Karen Benjamin has taught at Elmhurst since the 2018-2019 academic year. Her research and teaching interests include 20th century U.S. history, U.S. race relations, urban and suburban history, and the history of the U.S. South.
“It is such an honor to receive this award, and I am humbled to be recognized,” Dr. Benjamin said. “My colleagues are incredible, and they inspire me every day. One of the reasons I was excited to work at Elmhurst was the reputation of the faculty.
“Even more than that, my students make this job the best job in the world, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
In nominating Dr. Benjamin, students spoke about how she has supported their academic and personal growth, strengthening their self-confidence and helping them reach their goals. They said she creates an exceptional learning experience by “always giving students a platform and the ability to better themselves” through “phenomenal opportunities” for collaboration and research; and exemplifies the compassionate, caring and challenging professor.
“Elmhurst students are curious, passionate and hard-working,” Dr. Benjamin said. “They ask interesting questions, and their participation in class further shapes my thinking about the subject matter, how it is being presented, and what I can do better.”
The fall, she is looking forward to a return to a more normal classroom experience.
“The students did an admirable job stepping up to the challenges we faced during the pandemic, but I missed seeing them every day,” she said. “When I am teaching, I feed off the energy in the room. I’m also able to read my students better when we are all in person. Thus, I am looking forward to getting to know everyone a little better this year.”
Heather Hall has taught at Elmhurst since 1993. A Clinical Exercise Physiologist® certified by the American College of Sports Medicine, Dr. Hall focuses primarily on the scientific aspects of exercise. She said she was “honored and humbled” to receive the award, especially after such a tumultuous academic year.
“As professors, many of us had to quickly learn new ways to teach and deliver our material. I wondered if all the extra time invested and the adjustments I made were actually having a positive impact on student learning and their experience,” she said. “Being nominated by students for this award, this year, provided me with a sense of accomplishment and validation, which means the world to me.”
Students who nominated Dr. Hall said her passion for teaching and her disciplinary expertise inspired them in every class. They praised her for constructing intellectually rigorous courses and for presenting content in ways that engage students, meet their learning needs and challenge them to exceed their own expectations.
They said she ensures that “every student in her classroom is presented an equal opportunity to learn” and possesses “the biggest heart of any professor” on campus. Students said her intellectual integrity and dedication made a lasting impression on them.
Hall said that fostering their growth has been one of the best parts about teaching at Elmhurst.
“The close working relationship we have with our students provides them with a stronger sense of belonging and enhances their engagement in learning as well as their overall experience, both in and out of the classroom,” she said. “It is so rewarding to watch them develop into sophisticated thinkers and responsible adults, and I thoroughly enjoy assisting them along their educational journey.”