Professor Richards receives national award for teaching excellence

by University Communications,

The civic communication and media professor was lauded for using civic engagement and experiential projects to help students learn.

Professor Cindy Richard

Cindy Koenig Richards ’01, associate professor in the Department of Civic Communication and Media, has received a national award in recognition of her teaching, especially her use of experiential learning projects that enable students to connect theoretical knowledge to practical application beyond the classroom.

The National Communication Association (NCA) named Richards the 2018 recipient of the Donald H. Ecroyd Award for Outstanding Teaching in Higher Education, which honors superlative teaching of communication at the postsecondary level and is the highest honor for college professors in her field. Richards’ award will be presented Nov. 10 at the NCA 104th Annual Convention in Salt Lake City.

The NCA — the largest communication association in the U.S. — praised Richards as an effective teacher who consistently earns near-perfect scores in students’ assessments of her instruction. Students also appreciate her rigor, clarity and ability to balance high expectations and compassion.

According to one former student, “Professor Richards is a brilliant teacher whose forward-thinking blend of rigorous communication theory and community-engaged skill-building is transformative.”

Learning through engagement

The NCA also noted Richards’ “remarkable” use of civic engagement as a tool for learning, as well as her emphasis on critical understanding and ethical use of technology in the 21st century. It cited the Debate Watch program Richards created, which in 2016 attracted some 800 participants to campus for student-led small group discussions about the televised U.S. presidential debates. During and after the debates, students also used social media to connect with journalists, scholars, civic leaders, alumni and students at more than 25 campuses across the country.

“Through project-based pedagogy like Debate Watch,” said the NCA, “Richards guides students to a deeper understanding of rhetorical theory and a more sophisticated use of the digital media that surround and shape their lives.”

Richards says, “I’m honored and humbled to be recognized by my peers, especially because there are so many talented educators in my discipline and in the Willamette community. I love working with students and colleagues to understand the power of communication and address challenging issues.”

A tradition of faculty excellence

Richards is the third Willamette faculty member in three years to receive a national award for teaching excellence. In October 2017, Joyce Millen, associate professor of anthropology, received the American Anthropological Association/Oxford University Press Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching of Anthropology, and in December 2015 Courtney Stevens, associate professor of psychology, received the Jane S. Halonen Teaching Excellence Award from the American Psychological Association.

Willamette President Stephen Thorsett says, “To have three of our mid-career faculty honored at a national level for their teaching in the last three years is a great reminder that Willamette continues to be a university defined, first and foremost, by an extraordinary commitment to teaching and learning at the very highest level.”

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