By: Diane Stirling
This year’s School of Information Studies (iSchool) Jeffrey Katzer Professor of the Year awards recognized faculty members Jill Hurst-Wahl and Robert Brenner as full-time and part-time teachers of excellence, respectively.
Presented annually in memory of Katzer, a beloved iSchool professor and iSchool interim dean, the awards reflect students’ perceptions of teaching excellence, engagement, and scholarship. Each year the selection process alternates between undergraduate and graduate students, and in 2012, graduate students made the selections.
Both Hurst-Wahl and Brenner have in common a background as managers and trainers in business environments who joined the iSchool to teach at the college level.
As an Assistant Professor of Practice and now director of the Library and Information Science program, Hurst-Wahl has been teaching in some form since 1983. Her first corporate job was as a trainer of end-user computer systems. Over the years, she has managed a variety of workshops for information and business professionals. She joined the faculty of the iSchool in 2001.
Academic instruction is especially gratifying, Hurst-Wahl said, because she enjoys the involvement with students who are at the formative stages of their profession, where their enthusiasm and energy levels are different than those of working professionals. She also enjoys being able to provide the depth of instruction that a semester offers, far beyond a workshop session, she noted.
“I like teaching people who are at the beginning of their thinking about the profession. I like that I help them think about what the profession is and could be – the breadth of activities in the profession. Once you’re out into the profession, your view sometimes changes about what’s possible. For students, everything is possible, and I like being around them because of that.”
The award is a very nice surprise, and represents great personal and professional validation, according to Hurst-Wahl. It is especially appreciated because she works diligently to be sure she is doing the best teaching she can. “I think anybody who does teaching in all of its different forms, you always worry, “Are you doing it well?’ Part of worrying about it probably makes you a better teacher, and I always worry if I am doing it well, and am I doing the best I could be doing it. So it’s nice to see that students value what I do,” she said.
Hurst-Wahl is a member of SLA’s Board of Directors, Regents Advisory Council on Libraries, and the USNY Technology Policy and Practices Council. A former corporate librarian, she is an advocate for expanding the career opportunities for LIS graduates. She has taught a variety of library and information science courses, including those on copyright in the digital age; library services planning, marketing and assessment; digital libraries, and managing and preserving digital assets. She is an avid blogger and has a keen interest in social media.
As a defense industry professional for 23 years, Brenner began teaching at Columbia College in the mid-1990s and came to the iSchool in the spring of 2009, recruited by Professor David Dischiave. Brenner’s current class is IST 614, “Management Principles for Information Professionals.” He teaches in both classroom and distance formats all three semesters.
The class utilizes his background as a software engineer, the computer science degree he received from SUNY Plattsburgh and the MBA he earned from LeMoyne College, as well as his work as program manager of Lockheed Martin’s MEADS international radar program.
Saying he is “stunned” at the recognition, Brenner added, “There is no higher compliment. Knowing that someone feels you’re adding value, or saying things that will add value to their learning experience, I think that’s what it’s all about, and I’m honored.”
He believes that his students enjoy how he applies real-world business experience immediately to classroom lessons. “I leave a multibillion-dollar company, and I can talk to them about issues that happened to me that day that pertain to the exact subject we’re talking about. I’m not just talking about it, I’ve literally left it just 10 miles down the road the same day,” he observed. ‘I think that’s something the students like.”
Brenner’s Lockheed work involves people and technology in Italy, Germany and the United States, and the integration and development of hardware, software, and the intercultural human dynamics that result in making critical work happen, he notes. Since he is often oversees, the distance education format is a perfect fit, while the international nature of the MEADS/NATO program he works with adds another dimension to his teaching, he believes.
While Brenner never previously considered academics as a career, it’s now an ongoing part of his professional life, including his retirement plan, he said. Before he actually started teaching, he didn’t believe he had the proper training to do it. “I always thought you had to have a teaching degree to teach. I’ve realized that all you have to have is a bucket load of experience and a way to communicate that experience so it gets absorbed by students. I think anybody can find the algorithm for making that happen.”
The awards were presented at the iSchool Convocation on Saturday, May 12. Hurst-Wahl received her presentation from graduate student Sylvie Merlier-Rowen. Brenner’s recognition was offered by student Wyan Smith.