Health promotion and wellness faculty member Jessica Harris earned this year’s SUNY Oswego President’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

In addition, Kenneth Nichols -- a visiting instructor and Writing Fellow in English and creative writing -- earned the Provost’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

“Jessica cares deeply about the learner experience, exemplary pedagogy and quality teaching/mentoring in and out of the classroom,” wrote Harris’ nominator, fellow health promotion and wellness faculty member Sandra Bargainnier. “As her colleague, I have witnessed the impact of her teaching, advising, and mentoring on our students and graduates.”

Harris had taught, as of spring 2021, 72 courses as well as eight different preps for the health promotion and wellness department, while remaining active developing, revising and modifying the delivery of courses, Bargainnier said. 

“During the spring 2020 pivot to remote learning, Jessica's transition from face-to-face (F2F) classes to remote learning was seamless,” Bargainnier said. 

“Dr. Harris’s compassion to help students during times of distress and uncertainty was evident during the pandemic,” wrote Amy Bidwell, chair of health promotion and wellness. “She regularly scheduled Zoom sessions with her students to ‘check-in’ on them and try to help them navigate the change ... She not only met with students who were seeking her out but emailed all of her students individually to inquire about how they were handling the change.”

Harris also turned that time into a learning opportunity for students, having them gather and analyze data related to health programs. “Students' comments support that putting theory into practice increased their understanding and application of health promotion theories and models. She makes learning relevant and meaningful to her students,” Bidwell said. 

“Jessica also goes beyond the typical workday in order for her students to apply their skills in real-world environments,” Bargainnier noted. “She can be found in a residence hall watching students present to first-year students at 9 p.m., or evaluating students as they educate the campus community on the quad, or present at SUNY Oswego in Syracuse for National Women's Wellness day.”

Harris also spearheaded launching the Eta Sigma Gamma (ESG) health honorary society chapter on Oswego’s campus, inducting more than 55 students while continuing to serve as its advisor. She collaborated with the students from ESG on a research study titled "Prevalence of Food Insecurity among College Students from a Mid-Atlantic University," which they presented at Quest in spring 2020 and submitted for an award with the national ESG organization.

“I cannot say enough about the quality of teaching that Dr. Harris possesses,” Bidwell noted, adding that Harris “continuously has stellar course evaluations with outstanding comments” from students. “Dr. Harris takes student feedback one step further with her online discussion boards by leaving video feedback to each student,” Bidwell explained. “The time commitment to accomplish this is enormous, yet Dr. Harris feels the instructor presence is essential, especially in online courses. It is unusual to see a professor mimic a face-to-face and online class as well as Dr. Harris does.”

Bidwell added that “the dedication, creativity, and resourcefulness Dr. Harris possesses must be commended,” praising her “unwavering commitment and enthusiasm to the education of her students.”

In addition to teaching ability, student nominators praised Harris’ enthusiasm, compassion and accessibility.

Wellness management major Sebastian Lasher said even in virtual classrooms, Harris’ enthusiasm “makes the course more engaging for students, thus making information much easier to grasp, despite being communicated through an online medium.”

“Dr. Harris has ignited my love and passion for the field,” wrote 2021 wellness management graduate Fadi Gaye. “Her class was more than just a letter grade, it was about learning and achieving what you think is impossible. Every morning she was passionate and enthusiastic to teach the next lesson.”

‘Great passion’

Nichols has taught in the English and creative writing department since 2010 as an adjunct and more recently served as the Writing Fellow for the School of Communication, Media and the Arts while continuing to teach writing courses. 

“It is clear that, whatever the venue or genre, Professor Nichols is striving to teach and mentor those who most need it, and he is a professional and polished practitioner of the form he teaches,” wrote nominator Robert O’Connor, English and creative writing faculty member and interim director of the creative writing program.

“He is a man of great passion for all things literary, he is a man who works tirelessly on behalf of our students, and he is a man devoted to the college community in many ways,” O’Connor noted. Oswego students know they are learning from a master of the craft, he added.

“Professor Nichols is a prolific creative writer, constantly at work on his stories, plays and novels, always looking out for emerging writers, whether they are actually in his classrooms or reading his blog or viewing his YouTube channel,” O’Connor wrote. “He has published over two dozen stories in multiple genres both on the web and in paper journals. Likewise he has published dozens of poems and creative nonfiction essays in various journals, literary websites and print magazines.”

Beyond his service to students, O’Connor noted that Nichols generously supports faculty, fellow educators elsewhere and writers in general.

“Professor Nichols is a writer and teacher of immense energy and purpose whose efforts on behalf of students and other faculty has been tireless since the day he returned to campus with his MFA degree,” wrote Distinguished Service Professor Leigh Wilson, chair of the English and creative writing department. 

“He has an incredibly expansive view of what constitutes teaching on our campus, a view that is so large it includes campus-wide committee work, creating informational videos for students and faculty, mentoring students and faculty in online presentation of their scholarly and creative work, visiting classrooms across all of the schools of this college at the request of faculty in order to lecture on particular topics, and creating projects and events which result in larger audiences for our students’ writing efforts,” Wilson added.

Psychology major Melanie Tunkey wrote “his ability to connect with students extends beyond the classroom” with a “compassionate attitude toward both the well-being and intellectual progression of his students” and “an extraordinary ability to nurture student learning, always without failing to exhibit a passion and appreciation for the work at hand.”

“Professor Nichols gets students interested in writing and researching by allowing us to write about what interests us most,” wrote another student nominator, childhood education major Gabriella Allen. “Professor Nichols cares a lot about his students and works hard to help us become better readers, writers and thinkers.”