Six faculty members at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) have been named winners of Excellence in Teaching Awards for 2021-22, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Patrick J. Sims has announced.
They are alumna Jamie Call Blankinship, School of Design and Production; Allison Gagnon, School of Music; Carrie Hart, High School Academic Program; alumnus Chris Heckman, School of Filmmaking; alumnus Jared Redick, School of Dance; and Allen Smith, High School Academic Program.
“The faculty represent the heart of our conservatory,” Provost Sims said. "It is their knowledge, expertise and experience – and, for our arts professors, experience in the arts and entertainment industry – that make them unsurpassed in the teaching environment.
“I especially want to commend these six faculty members for their outstanding service, their dedication to our students, and their devotion to fulfilling the mission of UNCSA as we continue to persevere in the face of the pandemic,” Sims added.
In 1994, the Board of Governors of the multicampus University of North Carolina System established a series of Excellence in Teaching Awards at each of its 17 constituent institutions to “encourage, identify, recognize, reward and support good teaching within the University.” Recipients are chosen each year from those current, full-time faculty members who are nominated by students, former students and colleagues. One name per institution is then forwarded on to the UNC Board of Governors to receive a systemwide teaching award, a stipend of $12,500, and a commemorative bronze medallion.
The nominations of this year’s awardees share common themes: connection, inclusion, wellness and community.
Alumna Jamie Call Blankinship earned her undergraduate degree from the UNCSA School of Design and Production (D&P), where she joined the stage management faculty in 2009 and has served as director of the program since 2016. She has been a key adviser for the annual production of “The Nutcracker” at the Stevens Center in production and stage management.
Call Blankinship carries goals of fostering open communication, healthy collaboration and wellness into her classroom and into mentoring her students. She introduced a stage management wellness curriculum to increase students’ stress hardiness by teaching mindfulness, raising awareness of emotional intelligence, and helping students value the importance of seeking balance between their personal and professional lives. One student said, “What she has taught me has pushed me in countless ways as not just a stage manager, but also as a human being. When I fall into a thought pattern of workaholism or I let myself be absorbed by my work, Jamie reminds me to be a human being first. Jamie has been transparent in how she has gotten to where she is today and reminds us that we each have our own unique path ahead, which is extremely empowering when the future can be so intimidating. There isn’t a single path to success, and Jamie reminding us of that is a testament to how she is supporting us all in our own journeys as individuals.”
Prior to joining the School of the Arts faculty, Call Blankinship maintained a decades-long career as stage manager for noted arts institutions including the San Francisco Opera, the Washington Opera and Spoleto Festival USA, among others. Her students have a nearly 100% employment rate, including work on Broadway, national/international tours, special events, cruise ships, themed entertainment, regional theater, dance, and in project management. In addition, she has produced the annual D&P Job Fair – an event that contributes to the nearly 98% employment rate of all D&P graduates – for more than a decade.
Allison Gagnon joined the School of Music faculty in 1998, progressing from her initial position as instructor to her current role as professor of music and chair of collaborative piano. Her work encompasses teaching undergraduate and high school collaborative piano skills courses for piano majors; directing all aspects of the graduate collaborative piano degree; and managing all piano staff activities for the School of Music. Since 2019, she has been faculty mentor for a program with ArtistCorps at UNCSA, providing interactive music making in dementia care.
Gagnon works consistently to create an environment where her collaborative students can master their craft and function as professionals-in-training, while simultaneously providing the space where issues can be discussed and resolved. One student noted: “Dr. Gagnon cares not only about excellence in student performance, but excellence in student health. She has been supportive through difficulties my classmates and I have experienced.” Another student said: “Allison is completely devoted to the students and ready to work out any situation in order to create a learning opportunity, positive experience and music making.”
Gagnon completed her Doctor of Musical Arts with Anne Epperson at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Her earlier teachers include Dale Bartlett (McGill), Michael Krist (Vienna Hochschule für Musik), Pierre Jasmin and Margaret McLellan (Queen’s University), and her mother, Marjorie Gagnon. Previous appointments include positions with Queen’s and McGill universities in Canada and the Meadowmount School of Music in New York.
Carrie Hart (she/they) joined the High School English faculty in fall 2020. In their second year on the faculty of UNCSA, Hart is making important contributions to the program, where their curriculum encourages students to exercise original expression and envision more compassionate futures. As they explain in their teaching philosophy: “In my classroom, I aim to show up in ways that model for students what it can mean to pursue reading and writing as liberatory, healing, challenging and humanizing. It is always my hope that, as a result of the time we have spent together, my students will emerge more compassionate, more mindful of words and worlds within and beyond themselves, more confident that their voices matter, and more knowledgeable and trusting of the ways in which they have the capacity to change the world.”
One student’s nomination confirms the success of this method: “Dr. Hart is very experienced in all sorts of literature but they make sure to choose books and sources that are relevant to this day and age and will keep us engaged, and that relate to us and our various demographics.” Another student described the lasting nature of this teaching: “Dr. Hart’s class has been consistently eye-opening and engaging. I truly feel like I am being prepared to be an educated, conscious member of society.”
Hart is an educator who works in the overlaps of queer and feminist thinking. They hold a Master of Arts in women’s and gender studies and a Ph.D. in educational and cultural studies from the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG). Academic appointments include university faculty roles at UNCG and Appalachian State University and high school faculty positions at New Garden Friends School and the North Carolina Governor’s School West.
Alumnus Chris Heckman is assistant professor and chair of film music composition in the School of Filmmaking at UNCSA, a role that he has held since 2011. During his tenure, he has conducted a major curriculum redesign, adding responsive courses that reflect current industry demands. He not only strives to prepare his students for the work of their choice, but also to provide connections that create a pathway to it. As he says in his philosophy of teaching statement: “It is important that students are well-trained and then well-connected to feel confident that they know how to find work in the industry. As composers, the vast majority of work they will find will come from social connections. These connections are fostered in three ways: by developing relationships with their student peers, by meeting professional guest artists who visit classes and speak with students, and by introducing students to the ever-growing network of alumni in the industry.”
One alumnus’ nominating statement addressed how his professor’s personal mentorship supported him in his own success: “Dr. Chris Heckman truly values and respects the faculty-student relationship. As an African American student aspiring to be a film composer, I was very nervous about what the future may hold in an industry that doesn't possess an abundance of Black composers. Dr. Heckman demonstrated true concern toward this topic when I spoke to him about it and he always motivated me to let my music speak and be the change this industry needs. … Dr. Heckman always made me feel like I could be successful in this industry.”
Heckman is a composer for film, commercials, video games, ballet and contemporary dance. He holds a Bachelor of Music in music composition from Florida State University, a Master of Fine Arts in film music composition from UNCSA, and a Ph.D. in music composition for visual media – the first and only degree of its kind – from the University of California, Los Angeles. Alumni of his graduate program currently work across the U.S. and around the world as composers for film, TV, video games and music libraries; as orchestrators, copyists, arrangers, music editors and music supervisors; and as college professors running their own composition programs.
Alumnus Jared Redick joined the ballet faculty of the School of Dance in the fall of 2013 and currently serves as associate professor and assistant dean. His service includes leadership of the School of Dance as interim dean during the challenging 2020-21 academic year. As artistic director of “The Nutcracker” at UNCSA, he expanded the production to include free curated productions for Title I schools and shepherded last year’s film version, which was broadcast on PBS North Carolina and has been viewed more than 150,000 times.
Acknowledging each student and knowing how to encourage their best while creating a healthy environment is a hallmark of his studio. As one student wrote, “Mr. Redick is far and above the most dedicated faculty member I have encountered at UNCSA in regard to connecting with students and caring for them both as artists and as individuals. … In class, (he) is one of very few teachers I've had in 14 years of dancing that does not single out favorites in class and fairly corrects everyone. The atmosphere he creates in the studio is much healthier than any atmosphere I've ever experienced.”
Redick’s professional training as a dancer began at age 15 with his merit scholarship- supported admission to the UNCSA high school program under Founding School of Dance Dean Robert Lindgren. After additional training, he went on to embark on a 20-year professional ballet career, dancing for companies across the country including San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Boston Ballet, where he was a soloist. He is a longtime juror with the Youth America Grand Prix and has coached UNCSA students to high placement at the Prix de Lausanne, the most prestigious ballet competition in the world. He is a frequent guest ballet master and faculty member for companies and summer programs in the U.S. and internationally.
Allen Smith joined the history faculty in the High School Academic Program in the fall of 2013 and is currently teaching U.S. History, World History and World Cultures courses. Along with teaching, his longstanding appointment as adviser to the High School Student Leadership Board provides consistent opportunities to foster collaboration and change on the UNCSA campus.
Smith explains his work with students, saying, “My philosophy of education is centered upon this vocation of care: a calling that supports, facilitates and reimagines spaces for all learners that engages them in rigorous academic work that incorporates diverse voices, expressive arts and reflections, and provides student choice with opportunities for collaboration both in and outside the classroom.” This philosophy is reflected by his students. As one wrote, “Mr. Smith is one of the most caring, energetic and supportive people within UNCSA. He knows every student’s name, goes out of his way to make everyone feel welcomed and happy, and is one of the best teachers … (and) one of the most understanding and supportive faculty members out there.”
Smith earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history and secondary education from Appalachian State University and is a current doctoral candidate in educational leadership there. Before he joined the UNCSA faculty, he held positions in the Guilford and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools. From 2017-19, he led AP World History curriculum design and evaluation for the North Carolina Virtual Public Schools. His community engagement includes author panel moderator and leader of community book club discussions for Bookmarks, a local independent bookstore, and service as host and curator for a monthlong international film series at a/perture Cinema in 2019.
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February 10, 2022