Honor Roll

UNC Asheville Honors its Dedicated Professors

For Patrick Foo, associate professor of psychology and UNC Asheville’s 2017 Distinguished Teacher of the Year, teaching is about “improving people’s lives.” And from the letters nominating him for the award, he has certainly improved the lives of his students and colleagues.

Department of Psychology Chair and Associate Professor Pam Laughon spoke to his “absolutely stunning classroom lectures and laboratory exercises, which range from neural analysis of cockroaches to dissection of sheep brains. He enjoys nothing more than taking our students on a journey through the nervous system across species, and students respond with high praise for his teaching and more importantly, a real sense of accomplishment as learners.”

Foo’s deep appreciation for the field of neuroscience and the drive to help students learn comes from an extremely personal place: his own body.

In the sixth grade, Foo woke up one morning completely paralyzed. After suffering from a severe case of the flu, he contracted Guillian-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks the nervous system. He spent two years in a wheelchair. With the help of his mother he was able to continue going to school but could no longer participate in many activities he loved and excelled at, like playing football and running track.

While he made a full recovery, this intense experience ignited a desire in Foo to better understand the human body.

“I became obsessed with trying to figure out what caused nervous system diseases. It’s this passion for learning that I want to pass on to our students. … We have studied concussions in soccer players, balance coordination in seniors, meditation techniques, robotic navigation, and virtual reality here at UNCA. These are not just studies for academic sake, but projects that can potentially improve people’s lives,” he explains.

As the co-founder and former director of UNC Asheville’s neuroscience program, Foo has been instrumental in expanding the curriculum into a minor that attracts increasing numbers of students each year from a range of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, psychology, and health and wellness.

“I try to remind my students of the joy of discovering new ideas and gaining knowledge. My ultimate goal is to empower students so they can fly solo after they graduate from UNCA,” Foo says.

One UNC Asheville alumna, who is now in medical school, attests to Foo’s unwavering commitment to his students’ success. “The truly special thing about Dr. Foo as a professor is not the fact that he is simply a brilliant teacher, not that he creates an engaging and challenging environment to learn, not that he has a wealth of knowledge to share, or that he is a heck of a research advisor, it is simply that he is wholeheartedly invested in the success of his students.”

For Heidi Kelley, teaching isn’t just imparting information to students. Instead, she helps students “discover their knowledge for themselves.”

“I challenge my students to dig deep into both their own experience and our class texts to unlock the meanings of human experience—theirs and those of others,” Kelley says. “Thus my teaching tactic is to gently steer my students to realize their own understanding of the material.

“I feel that the more hard-won the insights are, the more my students treasure this understanding.”

Kelley’s teaching philosophy has earned her the prestigious 2017 Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award for UNC Asheville. Each year, the UNC Board of Governors selects a faculty member from each UNC campus to receive the award; Kelley was nominated for the teaching excellence award by a committee of her colleagues.

Kelley says her teaching pedagogy was impacted by her experiences following a massive stroke in 1998, which left her speechless and unable to walk or stand.

“After a year of intensive physical, speech, and occupational therapy, I returned to the classroom culturally fortified with new insights into the making and unmaking of culture and the capacity of individuals and communities to deal with adversity and social disruption,” Kelley says. “Now my pedagogy is focused on teaching my students to understand not only different cultures but also different ways of being in the world.”

Understanding those cultures and ways of being in the world can require going beyond work in the classroom. As a faculty fellow of UNC Asheville’s Key Center for Community Engaged Learning, Kelley offers regular partnerships between her students and the broader Asheville community, helping them to apply the lessons they’ve discovered in Kelley’s class to the world around them. In 2013, she was a key participant in a community collaboration that brought together undergraduates with a local neighborhood in a series of forums and reading circles designed to prepare for nationally renowned scholar Cornel West’s visit to campus.

“To strive to see the world from another person’s point of view is imperative. This principle of cultural relativism does not mean that students give up their values in my classroom but rather learn to see how their values are constructed and culturally situated,” Kelley says. “I want my students to learn the significance of where they come from while at the same time, recognizing and appreciating the significance of those different from themselves.”

2016-2017 Faculty Awards

Associate Professor and Chair of Classics Lora Holland - Teaching Excellence in the Humanities

Associate Professor and Chair of Chemistry Herman Holt Jr. - Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences

Assistant Professor of Sociology Lyndi Hewitt - Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Amanda Wolfe - Teaching Excellence for Untenured Faculty Award

Adjunct Lecturer of Humanities Chrystal Cook - Teaching Excellence - Non-Full-time Faculty Award

Associate Professor and Chair of Management Micheal Stratton - Distinguished Service Award

Associate Professor of Drama Lise Kloeppel - Distinguished Service Award

Professor of Physics Michael Ruiz - Scholarly and Creative Achievement Award

Assistant Professor of English Amanda Wray - Scholarly and Creative Achievement Award

Professor of Political Science Dwight Mullen - Ruth and Leon Feldman Professor for Service

Professor and Chair of Drama Rob Bowen - Ruth and Leon Feldman Professor for Scholarly and Creative Work