Countryman and Fenske Win Annual Awards
This fall, in a tradition reaching back some forty years, the Department of English named two recipients of the Teacher of the Year Award. Assistant Professor Liz Countryman and Associate Professor Mindy Fenske received the honor for their accomplishments in 2020.
Fenske, who specializes in Speech Communication, won accolades for the care she showed to her students during stressful times as well as an innovative pedagogy designed to help them succeed in various contexts and professional futures. An “absolutely amazing teacher,” said one student, summing up the feelings of many. The year “was difficult due to the coronavirus,” observed another member of Fenske’s rigorous Speech 260 course, “but she made sure to have plenty of Zoom calls and genuinely checked in with us during the hard time.” Fenske herself is “thrilled” to receive the award, especially given the necessity of teaching Speech courses in online and hybrid formats. “The fact that the students in my speech classes not only survived but, in some cases, thrived under such challenging conditions enough to praise my performance means everything,” she says.
Countryman, a creative writer who specializes in poetry, was widely praised by students for fostering a “safe space” in which they could build confidence in their own voices and writing. “I absolutely loved having Dr. Countryman as my professor for English 200 [Creative Writing, Voice, and Community],” said one student, who added that “she always was open to class discussion and was eager to hear our ideas.” Workshopping can sometimes be a difficult rite of passage, but Countryman’s students commonly spoke of the experience in glowing terms. “I loved full workshop days,” said one budding poet. “It was always fun to read the class’s work and give helpful critiques.” Like Fenske, Countryman finds special satisfaction in the challenges of the time: “To have won this award for 2020 feels particularly meaningful. The energy my students brought to one another’s creative work during the pandemic was inspiring.”