Campus News

Faculty receive First-Year Odyssey Teaching Awards

From left are award winners Jane McPherson, Amy Trauger and Jason Peake. Leslie Gordon Simons is not pictured. (Submitted photo)

Award recognizes instructors who have creatively connected their seminar to their research

Four University of Georgia faculty members have received a 2019 First-Year Odyssey Teaching Award in recognition of their success as outstanding teachers in the First-Year Odyssey Seminar program. They were honored on Nov. 20 at the First-Year Odyssey Seminar reception thanking all FYOS faculty.

The FYO Teaching Award recognizes outstanding instructors who have creatively connected their seminar to their research and incorporated the FYOS program goals into the seminar. This year’s recipients have been fully engaged with their students, provided them with a strong connection to the university through their research, and tied their curriculum directly to FYOS program goals.

Award recipients and their seminar titles:

Jane McPherson is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work whose research on human rights is the basis for her seminar, “Human Rights in the USA and at UGA.” Students emerge from her course with a deeper understanding of the basics of human rights and an awareness of the historical resources that surround us on campus. Throughout the course, students visit UGA facilities such as the Special Collections Libraries where they can physically hold historic letters, observe original photos and hear scholarly accounts of legendary figures who challenged racism in Georgia.

Jason Peake, professor of agricultural leadership, education and communication in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, uses his research on teaching methodologies in his seminar “Environmental Education in the Wild.” He shows students how to use active learning as a teaching method by taking them outside of the classroom and into nature where they spend time identifying plant and animal specimens. The course culminates with an overnight camping trip in Whitehall Forest where students teach an environmental education lesson.

Leslie Gordon Simons, professor of sociology the in Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, takes topics like eating, sleep and exercise and exposes the scientific research, some of it her own, that supports best practices for each in her seminar, “Come on, Get Happy: The Science of Happiness.” Each week students learn a different strategy on how to be well and are assigned to practice and journal about their personal experiences employing the method.

Amy Trauger is a professor in geography in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and while not an expert in media literacy, uses her background in research in her seminar, “Critical Thinking and Informational Literacy in the Age of ‘Fake News’.” She challenges students to question the information they are fed through social media and other modern forms of news distribution. The seminar requires students to read and share a broad array of articles so that they can build media muscle memory for finding credible and reliable news sources.

The University of Georgia is a leading institution for providing a first-year student engagement experience that promotes student success from start to finish. The FYOS program, administrated by the Office of the Vice President for Instruction and taught by faculty who tie seminar content to their own scholarly research, is unique among other first-year seminars in the nation. UGA’s innovative seminars also help introduce students to the academic culture at UGA through participation in a variety of lectures, campus performances and success workshops, coupled with social events and learning opportunities outside the classroom.

Since its inception in 2011, every first-year student—over 45,000—has completed a First-Year Odyssey Seminar. Each year the program offers more than 400 courses across a vast spectrum, from “Board Game Design” to “Who is Influencing Whom? Exploring Instagram and YouTube Influencers” to “Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Where Are They.”