LEXINGTON, Ky.—Exercise science professor Kirk Abraham, biology professor Belinda Sly and writing, rhetoric, and communication professor Scott Whiddon have received Transylvania’s highest teaching honor—The Bingham Award for Excellence in Teaching.
The recipients are selected by a committee composed of distinguished professors from leading liberal arts colleges and universities across the country.
The Bingham Program is unique among faculty incentive programs in that it rewards superior teaching rather than research and its awards are substantial. Recipients receive annual salary supplements for five years and are then reevaluated for annual fellowships for up to 20 years.
Abraham, who was also granted tenure and promoted to associate professor, joined the Transylvania faculty in 2004 and holds a Ph.D. in physiology form the University of Missouri. He employs a hands-on method of teaching that is designed to keep the students involved. He said he’s learned today’s students expect more interaction with their professors to stay engaged.
“I try to put myself back in the students’ shoes, which is getting harder to do all the time as I’m getting older, and help them walk through the stages of learning the material,” he said. “They tend to expect a lot of feedback, and that’s something I’ve learned to give more of as the years go by.”
Sly, who was also granted tenure and promoted to associate professor, has been at Transy since 2004. She came to Lexington after getting her Ph.D. in molecular, cellular and developmental biology from Indiana University. She described her teaching style as more relaxed with an emphasis on student involvement in lectures. She strives to promote the liberal arts education by practically applying what the students are learning.
“I like to create a relaxed environment that hopefully makes students feel comfortable to speak up, but also keeps them engaged,” she said. “Some level of applying concepts for current events is really important and helps them learn the material better. They’re not surprised at all if I say, ‘Let’s talk about bioethics for a bit.’ They know that’s something we do here.”
Whiddon came to Transylvania in 2006 after earning his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University. He said his goal in teaching students to write is to emphasize the process of writing instead of the final result.
“Writing is a way not only to help see the product of your thinking, but it’s also a process of your thinking; it’s a way of sorting out problems and challenges and structures and figuring out how to respond to them,” Whiddon said. “If you can get students to stop thinking about the end product and start to think about the stages along the way, then they begin to see themselves as writers.”
The Bingham Program for Excellence in Teaching was established in 1987 to attract, inspire and reward faculty members in their efforts to make the classroom an imaginative place of learning and discovery.