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Provost Jack Thomas (L) and Dean Sue Martinelli-Fernandez (R) congratulate Assoc. Prof. Jennifer McNabb

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Dr. McNabb with a few of her students at the Awards Reception

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Assoc. Prof. McNabb the Winner of WIU's 2009 Teaching Excellence Award

Oct 14, 2009

Dr. Jennifer L. McNabb, Associate Professor of History, was selected as this year's winner of the Provost's Award of Excellence in Teaching, WIU Provost Jack Thomas announced. Dr. McNabb was honored for her outstanding accomplishments in the realm of teaching at the Provost's Annual Recognition Reception on October 14.

The Provost's Awards Committee concluded that during the period covered by this award (August 1, 2005 through July 31, 2008), her first three years at Western, Dr. McNabb provided inspirational and superbly effective teaching to undergraduate and graduate students alike, took a leadership role in encouraging and mentoring students in conducting historical research, and inspired in her students a tremendous enthusiasm for the study of history. Dr. McNabb has consistently demonstrated an ongoing commitment to and enthusiasm for excellence in teaching and has effectively incorporated her own research findings and materials into her teaching. She has proven to be an engaging and effective educator who inspires in her students, through her enthusiasm and commitment, a tremendous interest in and mastery of whatever she is teaching. Her colleagues in the History Department have noted that she is unmistakably well-prepared, shares her passion for her subject, and energizes her students by her approach to teaching. She has high expectations for her students in her rigorous courses, which challenge her students to work their hardest and do their best. Despite the rigor of her courses, in every single class since arriving at Western almost four years ago, more than three-quarters of Dr. McNabb's students have rated her teaching as "very good" or "excellent." As one of her undergraduate students commented in a letter of support for her nomination for this award that "she is an exceptional teacher in every way. Dr. McNabb stands out because of her combination of enthusiasm, professionalism, proficiency, and some sort of 'X factor' that makes her classes not just informative, but downright fun. Dr. McNabb is the best teacher I have ever met." Another student noted, "After a fifty-minute lecture, other students and I have been shocked and disappointed to see that class is over. We have begged her to continue teaching after class, and we have regularly requested extra lectures so we can learn as much as possible from her."

Dr. McNabb has taught a wide range of courses, from freshmen surveys to graduate research seminars. In all cases, she works effectively with her students to help them enhance their understanding of history, their analytical ability, and their communications skills. One of Dr. McNabb's graduate seminar students commented in a letter of support for her nomination that "while Dr. McNabb was always prepared to suggest improvements, she also provided guidance and assistance on how to make those improvements when it was necessary. At several points during the semester I was able to take feedback from Dr. McNabb and apply it to papers and projects in other classes."

Prof. McNabb has also created a number of classroom activities designed to encourage hands-on learning experiences, problem-solving skills, and cooperative learning/teamwork in her courses. In her Middle Ages course, for example, student groups staged a debate concerning the most influential development of the chaotic period between the years 800 and 1000 A.D., made class presentations on various aspects of the Crusades, and participated in "Survivor: Black Death," a role-playing game about the fourteenth-century plague that Dr. McNabb created. In each instance, students needed to draw on their reading of historical evidence to complete their projects, and they had to learn how to work together to accomplish their assigned task. In her British history course, student projects included presentations evaluating the reign of Richard III ("Historical Villain or Historical Victim?") and a month-long "Virtual Village" exercise, requiring students to adopt individual roles in a sixteenth-century English village, based on primary source materials provided by Dr. McNabb from her own research, in preparation for mock witchcraft trials held at the end of the month of "village" life.

Dr. McNabb also expends significant effort working with undergraduate and graduate students on independent research projects involving original research in archival sources. A number of her students have won undergraduate research awards from the College, including three prestigious Teeter Awards (given to the most outstanding undergraduate research grant applications) and a Summer SCAI Award, for research projects on which she has actively mentored them. A number of her graduate students have won research and professional development grants from the School of Graduate Studies, as well. Quite a few of her students, both graduate and undergraduate, have presented their research papers at off-campus conferences, including a regional professional history conference, a graduate research conference at Loyola of Chicago, an undergraduate research conference at Purdue University in Indiana, and the regional Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society conference. As an accomplished scholar herself, Dr. McNabb has been able to offer valuable mentoring to her students as they work on their own research, whether for presentation at conferences or for the multiple honors theses and in-class honors projects she has mentored.

In addition to her accomplishments in the realm of teaching, during her first four years at Western Dr. McNabb has remained extremely active and productive as both a scholar and a member of the University community. She has presented papers at four international conferences -- three times at the leading international academic conference in her field, the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference (SCSC), and once at the North American Conference on British Studies, an international conference on British history. In addition, her peer-reviewed article on the impact of the Reformation in England was recently published in The Sixteenth Century Journal, the leading peer-reviewed international journal in her field and she has published two other articles in peer-reviewed journals. In addition, Dr. McNabb currently serves as Faculty Advisor for the Associated Students of History, and as a member of WIU's Graduate Council, the University Research Council, WIU's Honors Council, and the WIU Faculty Senate, among others. During the period considered for this award, she also served as Chair of the University's Writing Instruction in the Disciplines Committee.

One of Dr. McNabb's former students, a recent Honors alumnus and now a teacher himself, said in his letter of support for her nomination for this award, "To select her as a recipient . . . does not even begin to illustrate the compassion and dedication that she puts into her pedagogical method in and out of the classroom." He closed by noting that "I would not be the person or teacher that I am today without Dr. McNabb's continual perseverance to push her students to not only do our best, but to push beyond that to reach a position of excellence." She inspires her students "to not only love history but to embrace its every aspect and inject that feeling into our students."

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