Six faculty members are honored with Excellence in Teaching Awards

Six UNCSA faculty members are recipients of Excellence in Teaching Awards for 2020-21, Provost Patrick J. Sims has announced. They are Eva Draw, School of Dance; Cameron Knight, School of Drama; Kjersten Lester-Moratzka, School of Design and Production; Joseph Pecoraro, School of Music; Lauren Vilchik, School of Filmmaking; and Michael Wakeford, Division of Liberal Arts.

“It goes without saying that we have amazing faculty across the board,” Sims said. “The individuals who make up this year's cohort of Excellence in Teaching Award recipients are at the top of their game and we are truly fortunate that they have gone above and beyond in their teaching. They demonstrate a level of commitment to their students and their craft that should be celebrated, especially after a year like 2020. We congratulate them and offer our profound gratitude for their service.”

 In 1994 the Board of Governors of the multicampus University of North Carolina System established a series of awards that reinforced teaching as the primary responsibility and focus of its 17 constituent institutions. At UNCSA, full-time faculty members are nominated by students, former students and colleagues.

One recipient of the UNCSA award will be nominated for the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award, which includes a stipend of $12,500, a commemorative bronze medallion, and recognition at the university’s commencement exercises.

More about the recipients:

Eva Draw, School of Dance

Eva Draw is the recipient of a Teaching Excellence Award
Eva Draw joined the faculty of the School of Dance in 2015 and currently serves as an associate professor in the ballet program. As a child in Irkutsk, Russia, she dreamed of being a ballerina. At age 9 she began studying at Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, the most prestigious ballet school in Russia, where she was awarded a diploma of ballet artist in 1979. She danced for 10 years with Stanislavsky Ballet Theater in Moscow, rising from corps de ballet member to principal dancer. Draw left Russia in 1992, turning her focus to teaching at the National Ballet School of Canada and the Royal Danish Ballet.

Students who nominated Draw noted her devotion. “Ms. Draw was destined to be a teacher and she has helped me overcome so many obstacles in both my dancing and my personal life. I have learned so much from her and I am incredibly grateful for her 110 percent commitment every single day,” one said. Another student said, “She is so clear and direct in her criticisms that her praise is always well deserved and not taken lightly…. Ms. Draw knows how to get the most out of her students, and we have a mutual respect for each other. We want to make her proud.”

Draw earned a B.F.A in pedagogy/choreography from the State University of Theatrical Arts in Moscow. She has served as an international judge for the Japan Grand Prix, Youth America Grand Prix, and Rosetta Mauri International Ballet competitions. She continues her research in the field of ballet pedagogy and in May 2019 she published the first three chapters of her book, “On a personal note…,” available on Amazon Kindle eBooks.

Cameron Knight, School of Drama

Cameron Knight is the recipient of a Teaching Excellence Award
Cameron Knight joined the School of Drama in 2018 as an associate professor of acting and directing and currently holds the Malcolm MacDougal Brown Distinguished Professorship in Drama. He has served the School of Drama and the university in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion; Drama season selection; safety; textbooks; and faculty workload.

In his philosophy of teaching statement, Knight says, “I believe actors perform their best work when they are empowered and confident. I pursue this distinction for the students by having them approach their work as professionals, identifying and fine-tuning their technique  ̶  as opposed to a student, thinking once they acquire these skills, they will then become an actor. Allowing them to find their voice in a subjective art form is crucial to developing actors that are risk-takers, leaders and dynamic in whatever medium they decide to pursue.”

A student who nominated Knight wrote of his devotion: “Cameron makes every room he is in a safer and more inclusive space. In his teaching and directing, he offers enthusiasm as well as professionalism that is inspiring and makes everyone in the room want to do their best. I have felt the most free to grow as an artist in spaces he is in. I feel seen and heard by him.”

Knight earned his M.F.A from the University of Delaware and his B.F.A. from the University of Michigan-Flint. Prior to joining the faculty at UNCSA, he was an assistant professor of acting and head of B.F.A. acting at the Theatre School at DePaul University and an assistant professor in the School Drama at Carnegie Mellon University. He is a member of the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG/AFTRA) and the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) and has an extensive list of professional credits as a stage director and actor for stage, film and television.

Kjersten Lester-Moratzka, School of Design and Production

Kjersten Lester-Moratzka is the recipient of a Teaching Excellence Award
Alumna Kjersten Lester-Moratzka (M.F.A. D&P ’96) joined the School of Design and Production faculty in 2014 and currently serves as an associate professor, teaching undergraduate and graduate costume courses and serving as D&P’s assistant dean of curriculum. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in history with a minor in art from Farmingham State College in Massachusetts. An internship as assistant designer to Desmond Heeley in the costume shop at the Children’s Theatre of Minneapolis inspired her to pursue a master’s degree and career in costume design and technology.

A colleague who nominated Lester-Moratzka said, “Kjersten yearly revamps her classes to stay ahead of what skills the students need and how they need to be given the information. When we went to distance learning last spring, Kjersten was working overtime to repackage and prep send-home kits for her students to be able to continue their studies via Zoom. In order to bring diversity to the classroom she has been a leader in expanding images and content to celebrate the Black, Indigenous, and people of color in our community.”

In her philosophy of teaching statement, Kjersten describes her mentorship style: “I work hard to push students to be effective collaborators and creative problem-solvers. For those that are very linear thinkers, or polar thinkers, these skills can be more challenging than time management. Fortunately, the learning laboratory of our production class puts them in these situations constantly. I find that at times it is hard to sit on my hands and let them taste disaster, but ultimately, we are doing them a disservice if everything always works out. Over 20 years of working with students, I’ve become adept at finding the moments when they need the answer and when they have to find the answer.”

Prior to joining UNCSA, she was an associate professor of costume technology at Ohio University and has been employed as a principals draper for the Santa Fe Opera since 2004. Her current and former students are employed by major opera companies, regional theaters, major live entertainment companies, and Broadway production companies.

Joseph Pecoraro, School of Music

Joseph Pecoraro is the recipient of a Teaching Excellence Award
Alumnus Joseph Pecoraro (M.M. ’99) is professor of guitar and the department/area coordinator for keyboard, collaborative piano and guitar in the School of Music, having joined the faculty in 1998. He serves as the primary instructor of studio and classroom courses for college, graduate and high school guitar performance majors, designing extensive and innovative courses in guitar pedagogy, literature and career development; general pedagogy; and elaborate course support materials for guitar studio.

A former student described Pecoraro’s pedagogical contributions: “Joe’s guitar skills curriculum is quietly the most groundbreaking thing I have seen in guitar pedagogy since Aaron Shearer introduced our modern classical guitar method. There exist other books on techniques for today’s guitarist, but his curriculum is so thorough and clear with exceptionally crafted steps and levels that systematically allow the guitarist to tackle every technical need of the guitar repertoire. I have been unable to find any other method or text in over 15 years of being a private guitar teacher that speaks to the modern students’ needs in such a well thought out and easy to understand way.”

Pecoraro describes his philosophy of teaching: “I believe that successful studio instruction is inherently long term, individual and subtle. Imparting actual ‘hard information’ is only a small fraction of what makes the process effective. I am seeking to build ‘skill.’ Every moment of instruction is filled with significant decisions about what next activity or feedback will best help the student to become a master teacher of themselves in a real and lasting way.”

Pecoraro earned a Bachelor of Music from the University of Colorado-Boulder. In addition to his Master of Music from UNCSA, he engaged in postgraduate performance study at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music on a full scholarship. He recently completed a three-year teacher-training course leading to certification as an Alexander Technique teacher. He also is a registered teacher trainer with the Suzuki Association of the Americas, is active as a workshop presenter and performer, and is a passionate agent for community-level arts development through training, performance and advocacy.

Lauren Vilchik, School of Filmmaking

Lauren Vilchik is the recipient of a Teaching Excellence Award
Lauren Vilchik joined the School of Filmmaking faculty in 2010 and currently serves as professor of filmmaking and assistant dean of graduate studies.

In her teaching statement, she says, “The idea that a ‘bright student knows the answer and a gifted learner asks the question’ is a concept, developed by Janice Szabos, that I believe in whole-heartedly. Asking the question sparks creativity and sets the student off on a quest for originality. It is a gifted learner’s unique and nuanced manipulation of the material that sets that student apart from the herd. In an effort to cultivate gifted learning in all my students, I have developed a four-part strategy: endeavor to inspire every student to take interest in the subject matter; break down the crutch of dependency to instill self-reflection and self-reliance; encourage risk-taking by creating a safe environment for failure; and communicate thorough assessment of a student’s work to foster high achievement.”

A student who nominated Vilchik reflected on the lasting effects of her inspirational teaching and mentorship: “From my first time meeting her, Professor Vilchik has been nothing but helpful to me and my peers. Not only does she excel in the classroom, she’s able to motivate students like no professor I’ve ever seen on a personal level. She remembers your insecurities, your personal problems, your goals, and she goes out of her way to help you develop as a creative. Not only has she made me into the filmmaker I am today, she’s made me into the person I never thought I could be at 20 years old. UNCSA is tough, it asks so much more of you than you feel prepared to give, but Lauren has continuously inspired me to dig deeper, and push harder, all while helping me avoid burnout.”

Vilchik earned a J.D. from Southwestern University School of Law and a B.A. in psychology and philosophy from Tulane University. She has been a member of the California Bar Association for almost 25 years. She is an independent film producer and production attorney acknowledged by the Independent Spirit Awards for “outstanding achievement for a body of work,” and was named by Variety in 2004 as one of “Top 10 Producers to Watch.” Vilchik served as a juror, mentor, speaker and panelist at several film festivals including Cannes, South by Southwest, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s “Movers and Shakers Producer’s Panel."

Michael Wakeford, Division of Liberal Arts

Michael Wakeford is the recipient of a Teaching Excellence Award
Michael “Mike” Wakeford is an associate professor of history and humanities in the Division of Liberal Arts, having joined the faculty in 2007. He currently serves as chair of the Faculty Council.

Nominating Wakeford for the award, a recent alumnus noted, “There are amazing teachers at UNCSA, but what stands out most to me are the teachers willing to evolve and change with the times. While I attended UNCSA, I had multiple classes with Mr. Wakeford, and I still apply the lessons he taught today. I now realize that the lessons that have stuck with me the most are from teachers like Mr. Wakeford who masterfully crafted each lesson to have real-life application and relevance to whatever art form his student was learning.”

Wakeford says in his philosophy of teaching statement, “I am a deeply engaged teacher, personally invested in my students as learners, human beings and future artist-citizens. I am passionate about the material I teach as well as the arts-conservatory context I teach within. Most important, I am committed to growth, innovation and improvement as an instructor.”

Wakeford earned a Ph.D. in history at the University of Chicago, an M.A. in history from the University of Indiana at Bloomington, and a B.A. in history from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He is a trustee of the North Carolina Humanities Council, and sits on the boards of the Winston-Salem children’s science and discovery museum, Kaleideum, and the Creative Corridors Coalition. Previously, he was board chair at the New Winston Museum. Since 2018, he has served as interim executive director of that organization, now operating as MUSE Winston-Salem.

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February 12, 2021