Your Ultimate Class Schedule

By Hannah Epperson '11 MLAS '18

Photos by Adam Taylor​

It's 8 a.m. on registration day, and you’re already hitting “refresh” on OnePort, with your list of class RAN numbers in hand, ready to sign up for your next semester of courses. You’ve got your Humanities class, a few courses for your major, maybe even a class or two just for fun—but what you’re really excited about are your professors. Will you manage to snag a seat in the class with that professor everyone loves? Or will you end up finding a new favorite? Each year exceptional professors are honored by their peers with UNC Asheville’s Excellence in Teaching Awards. They are educators from every discipline, each with their own particular teaching method. Here’s a look at what your ideal schedule might look like with each of these award-winning professors: 

Foundations of Physical Chemistry - Monday, 8 a.m.

Bert Holmes, Board of Governors’ 2018 Award for Excellence in Teaching

Bert HolmesBert Holmes, UNC Asheville’s Carson Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, has a warning about his physical chemistry class. “No one takes this course for fun.”

The advanced chemistry class is tough, that’s no exaggeration. Between the complicated concepts and equations and Holmes’ booming voice, it’s easy to see how the course could be intimidating. But Holmes can’t help but make the class at least a little fun.

“He’s a big teddy bear,” says senior chemistry major David Chen. “He seems very intimidating, but he’s very helpful, and he’s very, very nice.”

Holmes jokes with his students throughout the class, throwing out questions, helping his students work through the challenging material without fear of giving the wrong answer. He works through a chemical equation on the board, asking his students to fill in the information and solve the steps together, even when they get stumped.

“Say something, even if it’s wrong or stupid,” Holmes teases. “I won’t make fun of you.”

Outside of the classroom, Holmes is known for his work with students and undergraduate research. In the last 20 years he’s worked with dozens of undergraduate researchers, and published 40 papers with 76 undergraduate students as co-authors. He’s received numerous awards for this work, including the American Chemical Society Award for Undergraduate Researchers and the Catalyst Award for the teaching of chemistry and the 2018 Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) Fellows Award.

“You learn science by doing science. And you learn it best when you don’t know the answer. And that’s why undergraduate research is so critical,” Holmes said. “You do it to help students achieve their dreams, their aspirations, their goals in life.”

Humanities 414: The Individual in the Contemporary
World - Monday, 2 p.m.

Marcus Harvey, Award for Teaching Excellence in Humanities

At the beginning of one of his classes, you might think that Marcus Harvey, assistant professor of religious studies, is one of those soft-spoken professors that you almost have to lean in to hear.

Do not be fooled.

Marcus HarveyIt’s only a matter of time before the class discussion gets going—today on the global Cold War—and Harvey really gets into it. Nothing makes him smile like a student arriving on a particularly good point. Nothing animates him like the excitement of explaining a particularly fascinating point of American history. Halfway into the class and Harvey is nearly shouting, waving his arms, and you can’t help but get excited, too.

These students are seasoned in the Humanities courses, and they aren’t shy to engage in conversation. Today they’re discussing anti-Communist propaganda, debating whether or not it can still be called “propaganda” if there’s truth to it. Ideas bounce around, hands go in the air, and the clock runs out before the discussion is over. Not to worry, though. They’ll continue on Wednesday.

Genetic and Evolutionary Principles of Health - Tuesday, 3:15 p.m. 

Jason Wingert, Award for Teaching Excellence in Social Sciences

Are humans more “successful” in terms of evolution because we’ve changed so much, or are sharks, because they’ve changed so little?

Jason WingertIs the drop in human birthrates cultural, or biological?

Could there be adaptive advantages to a smaller brain?

These are just a few of the questions that come up in the course of an afternoon in Jason Wingert’s class. Wingert, associate professor of health and wellness, doesn’t stand at the front of the classroom and pose these questions. He sits in a circle with the class, and the questions come from both him, and from the students.

Wingert doesn’t expect his students to have a full answer. Some of the questions don’t have just one answer. Instead, Wingert is interested in having his students ask the right questions, in bringing them deeper into the discussion. It’s the trademark of a professor who doesn’t just want his students to learn material—he wants them to think. 

Cherokee I - Tuesday, 7 p.m. 

Barbara Duncan, Award for Excellent Teaching by Part-Time Faculty 

Co-taught by Gilliam Jackson

Barbara DuncanBarbara Duncan, adjunct assistant professor of Cherokee, and Gil Jackson, adjunct lecturer of Cherokee, usually end up meeting with their students out in the hallway before class—the previous class typically runs a little late. It’s a chance for the students to chat with their professors, and get clarification on pronunciation of tricky words before the class begins. Today Duncan has brought a bag of green apples to share; she asks each student in Cherokee if they would like one, and they answer, “wado,” thank you. 

Duncan is the co-creator of “Your Grandmother’s Cherokee,” a unique Cherokee language learning course, which she teaches with Jackson, a native Cherokee speaker.

The course is a new way of understanding how the Cherokee language works, which can be particularly challenging for English speakers. Duncan helps her students understand the language’s pattern, and Jackson, who was raised in Cherokee’s Snowbird community, offers the pronunciation and perspective of a native speaker. 

“This is probably one of the very few universities that is able to offer a sequence of four Cherokee courses that take you from being a total beginner to a level where you can converse, and also read and translate old documents,” Duncan said. 

In this class, students are practicing their introductions, which include not only their name, but where they are from, who their parents are, and even who their grandparents are. “When Cherokee people meet, it’s important to say where you are from and who your people are,” Duncan explains. 

Students have various reasons for taking this course; some of them are Cherokee themselves, and want to take advantage of the opportunity to learn their family’s language, or be able to communicate better with their grandparents. Some students simply want to understand the native language of the place they call home, or want to help keep the endangered language from dying. The students have found that Duncan and Jackson have made their class an inviting and warm place, where they’re not afraid to make mistakes, try again, and learn. 

Humanities 324: The Modern World - Wednesday, 2 p.m.

Renuka Gusain, Award for Teaching Excellence in University Programs

The topic on hand in Renuka Gusain’s Humanities class is sati, or the nowbanned and discontinued practice of widow burning in India. Gusain, a humanities lecturer who is from India herself, offers her students a unique opportunity: to ask her anything they want to know about India, or Indian culture, without fear.

“I’d rather you ask me the question, even if you think it’s offensive,” Gusain says.

Renuka GusainThe students do have lots of questions: did the reverse ever happen, where a widowed husband would self-immolate after the death of his wife? Wasn’t the point to keep the widow from speaking ill of or shaming her dead husband?

Gusain has questions for her students, too: when do you think sati was formally outlawed in India? If we are saying that colonization by the British led to the demise of sati, then can it also be argued that imperialism had its positive impacts?

One student asks Gusain whether imperialism would be possible if the overthrowing culture was atheist. “That’s worth thinking about,” Gusain says, and opens it up to the class, resulting in ideas bouncing between perspectives. Though the conversation could clearly go on all day, Gusain can tell her students are nervous about their upcoming midterms, so she switches gears. The students are at least a little anxious, but Gusain has confidence in them.

“Take the exam, give it your best,” Gusain says. “Then go on fall break and rest!” 

(Re)Constructing the Past, or, How Do We Remember? - Wednesday, 5:15 p.m.

Regine Criser, Award for Excellent Teaching by Untenured Faculty

Regine Criser

Not many courses use graphic novels as their textbook. In Assistant Professor of German Regine Criser’s class, though, students are using the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic memoir, Maus, to examine ideas of memory and remembering. Though the characters are mice, cats, and pigs, it’s a heavy novel dealing with the Holocaust, suicide, and how traumatic experiences pass down through generations.

Criser has her students talk about their discussion questions in small groups before opening up the conversation to the whole class, helping them formulate their ideas together. The class gathers in the Laurel Forum in a circle of soft chairs and sofas; one student knits while she listens. It’s a comfortable environment where they take on heavy topics. Midterms are coming up, where students will turn from examining cultural memory to their own memories, bringing in six objects that represent them. And every day students post one picture to Instagram with the hashtag #germ374fall18 to create a log of their semester. At the end of the year they’ll design their own memorials, and explain their design, what it would represent and why and how. Criser has created a course that allows students to show their understanding of the material and their talents in ways other than taking exams or turning in papers. And while she’s excited that her work as a professor has earned her an excellence in teaching award, she says she’s humbled by the company she is in with her fellow award-winning professors.

“It’s one of those situations where you look around and say, ‘how am I in a group with these people?’”

Introduction to Education Teacher Performance Assessment - Thursday, 1:20 p.m.

Nancy Ruppert, UNC Asheville’s Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award

Nancy RuppertNancy Ruppert’s career has led her to many classrooms—the classrooms where she sat at a desk as a student, the middle school classrooms where she took to the front of the room as a teacher, and the UNC Asheville classrooms where she helps usher in the next generation of teachers as a professor of education.

In her Thursday afternoon class, Ruppert, chair and professor of education, helps her students understand lesson plans, rubrics, portfolio assessments, standard courses of study, and more—the very beginnings of what they’ll need when they take on the role of teacher one day. Today they’re in the computer lab, where Ruppert helps students figure out where to find the answers to their own questions.

“This is setting the stage for when they go to the next level,” Ruppert said. But teaching is about more than paperwork and evaluations, and Ruppert works hard to make sure students know what’s really important in becoming a successful teacher.

“Building relationships, taking care of yourself, and giving 110 percent for 180 days—that’s what we need from our teachers,” Ruppert said. “Don’t go into teaching thinking that it’s going to be easy. Some days are better than others. You’re going to make mistakes.”

But Ruppert’s career is all about preparing for whatever lies ahead for these soon-to-be educators, and this class is all about helping students take those first steps into their lives as teachers.

“This is a really fun journey,” says Ruppert. 

Physics I - Friday, 9 a.m.

James Perkins, Award for Teaching Excellence in Natural Sciences

James PerkinsA 9 a.m. physics class in a lecture hall on a Friday sounds pretty rough, honestly, and atypical for UNC Asheville. But this isn’t that stereotypical college course with the lights down, the students sitting as far back in the room as possible, with the professor droning from behind a podium. James Perkins, assistant professor of physics, rolls into the class with a cart, bearing a large model of a ramp. A small cart hangs off the edge of the ramp, attached to a weight. He’s at the board, drawing out diagrams and illustrations, and then he’s on the lecture hall stairs, halfway into the seats, directing questions to his students, and then he’s at the computer to show a quick video of a person being slung off a sled spinning in a circle.

Students freely interject with questions, and Perkins encourages them to work together on solving equations—he even introduces them to each other if he sees they don’t know each other yet. He’s not just showing the students how to solve a physics equation, he’s showing them how to unpack the problem for themselves. One student raises her hand to ask for help, and then changes her mind—she understands it, after all.

“That’s my favorite way to teach,” Perkins jokes. “Just wait for you to figure it out.”

You’ll have to figure out for yourself your own perfect class schedule at UNC Asheville—though, with a university full of professors dedicated to teaching and with a passion for their subjects, you can’t really go wrong.