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History Department Wins Top Teaching Award at Utah State University

Thursday, Apr. 26, 2012

USU History Department Head Norm Jones with USU President Stan Albrecht

History Department Head Norm Jones with Utah State University President Stan Albrecht. The History Department received the 2012 Department Teaching Excellence Award.

USU History Department faculty on steps of Old Main with award

Faculty members from USU's History Department gathered on the steps of Old Main to following the surprise announcement that recognizes the department for excellent teaching department wide.

The Utah State University history department is a national leader of higher education reform. The American Historical Association recently recognized it as one of 12 outstanding departments in the United States and Canada for its “brilliant teaching and leadership.” Two of its faculty members have been named Carnegie Professors of the Year. It seems fitting that the department is honored with the university’s 2012 Department Teaching Excellence Award.

“The Department of History’s recognition with the Department Teaching Excellence Award is long overdue,” said John C. Allen, dean of USU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “They make it a collective decision to place students first in their work to teach the citizens of tomorrow.”

The department is committed to curriculum review and revision in order to enhance the education for its students, he said.

“The recognition of the History Department again, illustrates the strength of the teaching responsibilities of our faculty and the dedication to our students,” Allen said. “I couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishment.”

The annual award was established in 2002-03 to honor department cultures that meaningfully value learning excellence. The selection committee is comprised of faculty from departments previously recognized, members of the Faculty Senate, university administrators, a member of the Board of Trustees and USU students. The honor comes with a one-time $20,000 addition to the department’s budget.

Those under consideration for the award undergo a rigorous two-tiered review process. They must first submit a proposal summarizing their commitment to learning excellence demonstrated through ongoing teaching and learning assessment, professional development and allocation of resources to student engagement. Departments judged favorably are then invited to submit a more comprehensive portfolio. During this phase, members of the award selection committee participate in unannounced class observations in departments identified as finalists.

USU President Stan L. Albrecht and Provost Raymond T. Coward surprised history faculty members earlier this month during a departmental meeting. They presented the award and citation, crediting the history department for its quality teaching, high-impact learning experiences, and comprehensive teaching and learning assessment.

“Since the department’s founding, it has instilled in its students a passion for understanding the complexities and significance of human actions that are the basis of history,” the citation reads. “The Department of History has demonstrated through actions and deeds an unparalleled dedication to uphold the highest standards of teaching excellence for all students, regardless of major or motivation, who find themselves in a history class. As a leader in the national and world-wide debate and discovery about teaching and learning best practices, the Department of History has proven why it is deserving of this prestigious honor.”

The recognition comes with bittersweet timing. After serving as department head for the past 19 years, professor Norm Jones is stepping down to serve as the university’s director of general education. Jones chairs the Regents’ General Education Task Force and a Fulbright Special Consultant, helping universities in Hong Kong transition to a liberal arts education. He is a natural fit to lead the university in its efforts to improve general education.

Jones and Dan McInerney, professor of history, have led the department’s effort of ‘degree tuning’ to establish meaningful criteria for evaluating degree worth and student achievement. In 2009, the Lumina Foundation for Education and the Utah System of Higher Education invited the USU history department to join a national degree tuning experiment that looks beyond a students’ GPA and focuses more on the knowledge, understanding, and abilities they gain.

“The award means a great deal to me, and to the department,” said Jones. “Since 2009 we have been working to create the most effective curriculum we can. Thanks to our engagement with the curriculum, and the opportunities we have had to work on the national and international level, we have made important changes that have brought us national and international attention as a department that is modeling good practice.”

The USU history department has emerged as a national leader in this movement and helped construct a set of learning outcomes appropriate to the discipline. In 2011, Jones and McInerney were asked to join the Tuning USU Advisory Board of the Institute for Evidence Based Change to develop recommendations for transformational changes in education. However, Jones believes the department would not have won the award without dedication to the individuals that make it all possible.

“We could not have done this if we were not a group that cares about good teaching, and about our students,” he said. “It is nice to have our own university recognize our commitment.”

Three other departments in the college have won the award over the years: the Department of Languages, Philosophy and Speech Communication in 2006, the Department of English in 2004, and the Department of Political Science shared the honor in 2003 with the Geology department.

Related links:

USU Department of History

USU College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Writer: Kristen Munson, (435) 797-0267,

Contact: Norm Jones, (435) 797-1290,

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