Three Signature Course professors have won the 2018-19 President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Awards. Minette “Meme” Drumwright, Shannon Cavanagh, and James Patton were recognized for their outstanding undergraduate teaching in the core curriculum. This year, all of the nominees put forth by the School of Undergraduate Studies were chosen to receive the award. Each professor receives an honorarium of $5,000, funds contributed by friends of the university dedicated to high-quality educational instruction.
Meme Drumwright fell in love with teaching after teaching four courses per semester at Baylor University. She went on to teach at Harvard Business School and became the first woman hired in a tenure track position in marketing. In 1994, Drumwright and her husband moved to Austin where they both began teaching at UT.
“It has been a long time since I taught my first course at Baylor and was baptized by fire at the Harvard Business School,” Drumwright said. “I have improved a lot as a teacher since then, and I continue to learn how to improve. However, not much has changed in what I felt—that what we do as teachers is immensely important, especially when it is done well.”
Drumwright served on the task force that created the Bridging Disciplines Programs (BDPs) and has chaired or co-chaired the Faculty Panel for the Ethics & Leadership BDP since the program was created in 2002. She led an effort to create an undergraduate degree in leadership and communication that became a reality in fall 2016.
Shannon Cavanagh’s teaching aims to engage students in the classroom and enhance their lives outside the classroom. In her undergraduate courses “Difficult Dialogues: HIV/AIDS” and “Sex, Love, and Relationships in Young Adulthood,” Cavanagh utilizes media like video clips and current newspaper articles to keep students interested in the course material. She also knows from her own experience as a first-generation college graduate that socialization is key, especially as students transition from high school to college.
“Professor Cavanagh was always eager to stay after class or meet in office hours to explain something more thoroughly, and she wouldn’t give up until she was sure you were on the same page,” wrote one former student. “This was going to be more than the average student-teacher relationship where the professor doesn’t remember your name and has the TA assist you with your studies – this was going to be hands-on and individual, and I saw her give that same undivided attention to anyone in the class that was willing to accept it.”
The students in Cavanagh’s Signature Course participate in the annual AIDS walk in downtown Austin. She notes that students usually approach this day with anxiety about what the event will be like, and walk away feeling a greater connection to the community. The class also visits the Blanton Museum of Art to connect the course’s themes to the visual arts.
When it comes to teaching, James Patton asks himself one question: “Would I enjoy how this topic is being presented if I were a student in this class?” He views students as clientele and wants to make sure they find value in their time in his class. Patton fosters an environment where students feel comfortable enough to approach him with issues or problems related to the class or college in general.
“Dr. Patton begins every class by asking students to rank how they are doing on a scale of one to ten, offering any support he can give to help students in the lower range move up,” wrote one former student. “I have never seen a teacher take so much interest in the well-being of his students, and Dr. Patton does so each and every class.”
As a former special education teacher, Patton is aware of the varying needs of students. He builds optional features into his Signature Course “Disability and the Media,” like note-taking services, that are critically needed by some but helpful for all.