The key to Ruth Kershner’s success as a teacher isn’t her mastery of the subject matter. It’s her humanity.
“Honestly, if I had a problem she’d be the first person I’d go to,” said Nancy Oliverio, a former student and senior program director at the WVU Student Recreation Center. “When you talk to her, she’s on your level. A lot of times when you’re talking with a professor, it’s clear you’re the student and they’re the professor – it’s like there’s no inner shell and nothing is human about them. With Ruth, she makes you feel kind of special. She listens and she cares. A lot of professors don’t give that vibe at all.”
To Taylor Jones, a senior multidisciplinary studies major, “She’s like that ‘cool mom,’ that every kid in middle school wanted to have.
“You feel like she’s on the same level as you but she has the authority in the classroom and respect from her students. She makes you want to come to class every day.”
It is these qualities, along of course with her expertise, that led to her being selected Thursday (Nov. 19) as West Virginia’s Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
“It’s exciting to love what you do and be acknowledged for it,” Kershner said. “I’m just thrilled to be able to represent this University and the state of West Virginia. There are so many excellent faculty here at WVU and in the state.”
Kershner is one of 38 U.S. Professors of the Year, a program which salutes the most outstanding undergraduate educators in the country. WVU has had 17 honorees in the 29 years since the program began in 1981.
She was selected from faculty members nominated by colleges and universities throughout the country. Her nomination was considered by three panels of judges who also named four national winners.
Kershner, who earned her master of science and doctor of education degrees at WVU, teaches in the undergraduate, graduate and public health programs within the WVU School of Medicine’s Department of Community Medicine. She is especially interested in women’s health and, specifically, sexual assault prevention and violence against women.
She has presented at local, state, national and international conferences about violence in the lives of women and numerous other health-related topics and has received several awards for her teaching skills and service-related efforts.
Some of her top achievements include twice earning the Robert C. Byrd School of Medicine Distinguished Teacher Award, the West Virginia Health Education Teacher of the Year, and winning professor of the year honors from the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance and the Faculty Merit Foundation of West Virginia.
“This is a wonderful faculty member who is doing very important work,” WVU President James P. Clements said. “Dr. Kershner represents WVU’s commitment to changing lives and expanding minds. She is an award-winning teacher and a health educator whose work reaches well beyond the classroom, into the state, into the region and, literally, across the globe. We are extremely proud that she has been named an elite CASE Professor of the Year—one of only 38 in the country.”
“Ruth Kershner inspires her students to excel in life and to be engaged in the needs of their community. She is a great example of why we teach, and how to teach,” said Dr. Alan Ducatman, chair of Community Medicine.
Kershner has served as an international health mentor for students in foreign countries including Honduras, Tanzania and Guatemala and regularly incorporates the ideas of service learning and charity into her classroom.
“I like practical application and increasing students’ awareness of the opportunities for education outside of the classroom,” Kershner said. “We need to teach students about service learning and helping people who are less fortunate.”
One recent community effort involved donating backpacks and scientific calculators to a school, which gave the supplies to high school students who might not otherwise have been able to afford them. She’s also led student efforts to contribute money and supplies to Scott’s Run Settlement House, a local mission, and Caritas House, a coalition for people with HIV/AIDS.
Former students say she keeps the classroom lively and enlivens her discussions with stories from personal experience.
“She has a very interactive teaching style,” said Donna Monahan, who teaches health education at Morgantown High. Monahan took undergraduate classes from Kershner and graduate level teacher prep courses. “Her class room was structured but she would do a lot of hands-on things and bring in or talk about materials that made her lectures more applicable to the real world. She gave me a lot of ideas for activities you can do with students.”
“She really gets you thinking about the subject matter she’s presenting and her lectures are fun. You’re not only learning but you’re constantly engaging with your classmates,” Oliverio said.
“She’s very spontaneous,” Jones said. “Whenever she comes into the class you know there’s going to be some interesting story she has to tell. And she knows how to probe students’ minds and get information out of them.”
CASE is the largest international association of education institutions, serving nearly 3,400 universities, colleges, schools and related organizations in 59 countries. It is the leading resource for professional development, information, and standards in the fields of educational fundraising, communications, marketing and alumni relations.
“The Carnegie Professorship recognizes passion and dedication not just to teaching, but to innovative teaching and to teaching as service to the state and the nation,” said past Professor of the Year recipient Christine Martin, vice president for University Relations, who was selected in 1998.
“At WVU, the CASE award has traditionally been granted as a testament to our land-grant mission, and so it is more than a privilege for any professor to be recognized as part of this group,” she added. “Ruth Kershner represents the epitome of the spirit of the award. She has dedicated her professional life to building extraordinary opportunities to teach and learn that have changed the landscape of health education across the country.”
WVU speech pathology professor Carolyn Atkins, who won the award in 2005, said, “The CASE Award is particularly meaningful because it honors the professor’s devotion to and allegiance to students.”
Geography professor Ken Martis won the prestigious award in 2007. He said winning the CASE Award was a “tremendous honor,” with the best part being “seeing the letters my former students wrote to the college and WVU that said many wonderful things about my teaching in the past and its effect on their lives.”
WVU’s Professor of the Year honorees over the years: Sophia Peterson, political science (1987), Carl Rotter, physics (1988), Judith Stitzel, English, women’s studies (1989), Robert DiClerico, political science (1990), Pat Rice, anthropology (1991), Jack Hammersmith, history (1992), Richard Turton, chemical engineering (1993), Gail Galloway Adams, English (1994), Bernard Allen, history (WVU Parkersburg, 1996), Christine Martin, journalism (1998), James Harms, English (1999), John “Jack” Renton, geology (2001), Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, history (2002), Laura Brady, English (2004), Carolyn Atkins, speech pathology (2005), and Ken Martis, geography (2007).
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