Eastern Mennonite University’s recipients of the annual Excellence in Teaching Awards for 2021 are:
- in the Tenured Faculty category, Martha Greene Eads, PhD, professor of English,
- in the Pre-tenure Faculty category, Leah Kratz, assistant professor of business and leadership,
- in the Adjunct Instructor category, Robert Curry, adjunct music faculty and director of the jazz ensemble and wind ensemble.
The award honors the gifts of faculty across all the positional categories of employment. Criteria include impact on students, effective teaching practices, subject knowledge and continual growth, including a commitment to professional and pedagogical development.
The selection process began with nominations from the campus community. A committee appointed by the Faculty Senate reviewed the nominations and selected the honorees.
“Much gratitude was expressed by the selection committee to these educators for the ways they go above and beyond in their service to students and this learning community,” said Professor Tim Seidel, who chaired the committee. “It was such a privilege to read through all of the nominations and get just a small glimpse into all of the incredible work our teachers are doing at EMU.”
Tenured Faculty: Martha Greene Eads, PhD
Eads joined the EMU faculty in 2003, after teaching at the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women and at Valparaiso University in Indiana, where she held a Lilly Fellowship in Humanities and the Arts from 2001-03.
She’s introduced a number of innovative literature courses during her time at EMU, getting students out into the community to experience the themes they’re studying, and collaborating across disciplines to co-teach with music and physical education faculty.
(For a few examples, read up on her students’ pilgrimage to a local graveyard of enslaved persons, her sabbatical work studying historic harms and trauma, and a bibliotherapy program Eads started with a nearby retirement community.)
Even through online learning, “she was also so cheery and interactive, encouraging us to speak up and get to know our classmates,” wrote one student-nominator. “I can confidently say that the class which allowed me to build the deepest relationships was Marti’s class. She gave us so many opportunities for group discussions and made sure that none of us felt lonely because of online learning.”
Another noted how much extra effort Eads puts into her students “to make them better readers, writers, and scholars. She leads by example and her enthusiasm for education and literature is infectious.”
Eads earned a doctoral degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a master’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a master’s degree in religion from Wake Forest University, and a bachelor’s degree in English from Wake Forest University.
Pre-tenure Faculty: Leah Kratz
Kratz began teaching accounting courses at EMU in 2007. Previously, she was the assistant fiscal director of Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville, and worked in public accounting.
Both student and faculty nominators noted the deep relationships Kratz forms with her students.
“Before COVID, she regularly had students over to her house for meals, and develops a community, family-like feel to the accounting major,” wrote a colleague. “She arranges visits with people in industry so that her students are set up with internships, ready for graduate school, and for the standardized exams.”
“She makes it so we become an accounting family, not just classmates,” wrote a student.
She’s introduced several specialized accounting courses to the program, including classes on nonprofit and governmental accounting.
“I absolutely love teaching accounting. I feel like God put me on this Earth to spread the good news of accounting,” Kratz said. “Being a small major, we really become a close-knit group. We spend a lot of time together. Watching students from the beginning of the process when they are discovering what accounting is, to seeing them make connections and eventually excel in the major and profession excites me every day. It is why I love coming to class.”
Kratz earned a master of business administration degree from James Madison University and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from EMU.
Adjunct Instructor: Robert Curry
Curry began teaching studio lessons at EMU about eight years ago, but he said the “real work” began in 2016, when he was asked to reinvigorate the Jazz Ensemble that had lay dormant for 12 years. He brought 41 years of experience teaching public school music, as well as performing, conducting, and arranging symphonic, jazz, and orchestra music.
He retired at the end of the spring semester, and was independently nominated by five students and three colleagues for the Excellence in Teaching Award.
“He has gone above and beyond to get us to have the best experience that we can get in our ensemble. He is very knowledgeable in his field as well as in life,” wrote one student.
“He often goes above and beyond the call of duty in mentoring students and helping them gain a practical working knowledge of important information they will need as music teachers … he is in many ways a reliable and tireless ‘utility infielder’ for our department,” wrote a colleague.
“I cannot say enough wonderful things about Robert Curry,” said another student, who also studied under his tutelage in high school before coming to EMU. “He truly cares about the lives and well being of each of his students and wants them to become the best versions of themselves.”
Curry, in turn, had praise for his protegés.
“One thing I always enjoyed at EMU was that the students were willing to try anything I threw at them, whether it be in the Jazz Ensemble or Wind Ensemble,” he said. “With COVID especially, I had to find unusual music for the Wind Ensemble to perform because of how the disease affected enrollment. They rose to the occasion. Students in the Jazz Ensemble were always willing to try a new or different improvisation technique to enhance their performance.”
Curry earned a master’s degree in music education from Brigham Young University and a bachelor’s degree in music education from Butler University.
This year’s Selection Committee members were Carrie Bert, athletics representative; Shannon Cooper, Student Government Association representative; Micah Shristi, Student Life representative); Daniel Showalter, faculty, 2020 awardee; Bonnie Yoder, faculty, 2020 awardee; and Timothy Seidel, committee chair, Faculty Senate representative.
The committee received 74 nominations for 42 different teachers this year, with 75% of nominations coming from students.