UNCSA Excellence in Teaching Award winners announced for 2022-23

Six permanent faculty members and one adjunct faculty member at UNCSA have been named winners of Excellence in Teaching Awards for 2022-23, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Patrick J. Sims has announced.

They are Tamara Akinbo, High School Academic Program; Christopher Dorr, School of Filmmaking; Ilya Kozadayev, School of Dance; Eduardo Sicangco, School of Design and Production; Brooks Whitehouse, School of Music; Jennet Zerbe, School of Dance; and adjunct faculty member Ann-Louise Wolf, an alumna, School of Drama.

“When UNCSA was established 60 years ago, the enabling legislation spelled out that the ‘chief criteria’ for faculty members was to be ‘their excellence in the performing arts and their professional standing therein,’” said Provost Sims. “Though many things have changed over the decades, that fact has not.”

“I am pleased to name the recipients of this year’s Excellence in Teaching Awards at UNCSA,” Sims continued. “These faculty members represent the very best of their respective areas of expertise serving as the foundation on which our students will build as they continue that tradition of excellence in the classroom and beyond. We congratulate them and are happy to laud them for their achievements.”

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 have been chosen each year from those current, full-time faculty members who are nominated by students, alumni and colleagues. The criteria for selection includes concern for students, enthusiasm for the subject matter, ability to motivate, ability to critique and communicate that critique, and command of the subject matter.

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. Those selections will be announced in the spring.

“For the first time this year, we included adjunct faculty members in the nomination process to pay homage to the expertise, passion and dedication of our many adjunct faculty,” Sims said. “This inclusion was initiated by our faculty who recognized that excellent teaching is excellent teaching and we should reward it regardless of a job category. While a small gesture, the impacts of it will be profound for our community and I couldn’t wait to endorse the inclusion of adjunct faculty in this process.”

About the winners

Tamara Akinbo

Tamara Akinbo

Tamara Akinbo, High School Academic Program

Tamara Akinbo joined the High School Academic Program faculty teaching Spanish in fall 2021 and added African Diaspora Studies in fall 2022. A proud product of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, she has served on the faculties of Jefferson Middle School, Wiley Middle School, RJR High School and Mount Tabor High School. In addition, she has held appointments as an adjunct professor at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), Wake Forest University (WFU), North Carolina A&T State University and Forsyth Tech.

Akinbo embodies caring along with rigor in her classroom. Her teaching philosophy highlights this: “Teaching, for me, has always been a vehicle for me to operate in my true calling, which is inspiring, uplifting and speaking into the lives of my students. Students, like all human beings, have a need to be seen, heard, appreciated and loved. While mastery of course content is important, students can’t focus on mastery until these basic needs are met.” As one student related: “(She) is committed to the students at UNCSA. … She's doing UNCSA and the greater community a courtesy by teaching us about real world crises to broaden our perspective and shape us into better students, artists and world changers. I know that (she) believes in us (and) wants the best for us…. Her guidance and encouragement have been truly inspiring for me.”

 Akinbo attended WSSU, where she received a bachelor’s degree in both Spanish and English. While enrolled, she studied abroad in Querétaro, Mexico, attending Tec de Monterrey and living with a local family as an exchange student. She went on to attend WFU, where she received a master’s degree in Spanish education via the WFU Master Teacher’s Fellows Program.

Christopher Dorr

Christopher Dorr

Christopher Dorr, School of Filmmaking

Christopher Dorr joined the graduate creative producing faculty in the School of Filmmaking in 2018, bringing with him a long and storied career in the film industry. The depth of his knowledge and industry relevance have already made an indelible mark on his students and alumni. As a current student said: “(He) has a massive knowledge base for academia and the film industry. I found his insights and recommendations to be very useful as of late in finding people to interview for my documentary and to inform how I go about addressing scripts on my project slate. I feel like I am refining my skill set as a writer and budding producer because he tackles the psychological meat and potatoes of storytelling.”

A graduate of the graduate producing program noted that: “He continues to teach and mentor beyond just the class, year or timeframe expected of him. As a recent alumnus, I would argue that perhaps after graduation is the most important time for continued excellence in teaching, and Professor Dorr has demonstrated that to me.”

Dorr grew up in a small town of 5,000 with no stop light and one movie theater. He went on to earn a B.A. in religion from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and currently serves as president of Dorr Media, a role he has held since 2009. Prior work includes leadership positions for Nokia, Inc.; Sony Connect; Intertainer; Scott Free, the production company owned by Ridley Scott; Universal Pictures; and Walt Disney Studio. Producing highlights include “Where the Money Is,” starring Paul Newman and Linda Fiorentino; “Clay Pigeons,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Vince Vaughn; and “The Deal,” starring Christian Slater and Selma Blair.

Ilya Kozadayev

Ilya Kozadayev

Ilya Kozadayev, School of Dance

Born to a family of ballet dancers in St. Petersburg, Russia, Ilya Kozadayev grew up with his twin brother, quite literally, backstage of the Mikhailovsky Theater, a ballet company of 120 professional dancers, including his parents. He started performing and touring with the company at age 5 and, when he turned 9, went through the highly selective process of auditioning for the Academy of Russian Ballet (Vaganova Academy). “At 11, after two years in the academy, my life took a turn; motivated to leave the Soviet Union because of Jewish discrimination and dire economic situation, my family and I escaped to the United States. My parents immediately made us aware of the multiple career paths, choices and opportunities that U.S. freedom provides. With almost no hesitation, I decided then and there that dance is what I truly love. From that point on, I never looked back.”

In addition to Vaganova Ballet Academy, Kozadayev’s ballet studies include work at the School of American Ballet in New York City, Academy of Colorado Ballet, and John Cranko Ballet Academy in Stuttgart, Germany. He holds an M.F.A. in choreography from Jacksonville University. His university appointments include ballet faculty positions on the schools of dance at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Utah. Kozadayev joined the UNCSA School of Dance ballet faculty in 2017. He coaches students annually for Youth America Grand Prix and has prepared students for the Prix de Lausanne. Of particular note is his work as the choreographer and artistic director of UNCSA’s largest annual production, “The Nutcracker.” In 2020, he wrote, choreographed and co-directed a film version of “The Nutcracker” for UNCSA which aired on PBS North Carolina, reaching over 150,000 views. His new choreography for the ballet debuted in December 2022.

Kozadayev’s students are deeply appreciative of his is skill, knowledge and dedication. As a current student said: “Professor Kozadayev uses the phrase ‘I'll never make you do what I have never done.’ He brings with him an expansive wealth of knowledge when it comes to movement. He draws upon lessons and principles he learned throughout his training and career and works to find what steps will best improve the overall performance of his class. He will often demonstrate the movement he hopes for us to complete with stunning speed, timing and accuracy. … He brings so much positive and infectious energy into not just the classroom, but also the rehearsal space. … He lights up the room, gets everyone ready to work, puts us in a great mindset for not just the rest of class or rehearsal, but also for the rest of the day.”

Eduardo Sicangso

Eduardo Sicangco

Eduardo Sicangco, School of Design and Production

Eduardo Sicangco joined the scene design faculty in the School of Design and Production in 2011, after having served as an adjunct professor there starting in 2005. His prolific four-decade career as a set and costume designer serves as a foundation for his love of teaching and his desire to support and challenge his students to grow into their best selves as artists. As he says in his teaching philosophy: “Essentially, I strive to instill in my students, by example, three qualities that I believe a successful artist must have: curiosity, joy and tenacity. ... I prize and aim to develop the student’s individuality in style, sensibility, approach and the formulating of ideas. I believe in a kind, relaxed and collaborative classroom atmosphere, where students can – without hesitation – ask about and critique each other’s work and learn from each other. I stress critical thinking: to always question the text at hand and how it relates to a story being told to a modern audience.”

Sicangco’s nominations include statements from both current and former students who agree in their admiration for their teacher’s artistry and pedagogy. One student said, “(He) has gained mastery over the craft of scenic design. There's no other way to put it. His knowledge is incredibly valuable in an educational setting and he shares his experience through his teaching. He is kind, clearly cares deeply about his students and their success, (and is) honest in critique in order to help his students reach their potential.” An alumnus wrote: “(He) is the embodiment of what UNCSA desires from their faculty. His phenomenal career is only matched by his dedication to pushing his students to create the highest quality work.”

Sicangco holds a B.A. in mass communications from Ateneo de Manila University (Philippines) and an M.F.A. in stage design from the New York University Tisch School of the Arts. Prior to joining the faculty at UNCSA, he held the title of Master Teacher of Design at Tisch for eight years. He is a 2021 recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award from the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology, and has numerous other accolades that highlight the importance of his art. His work has been seen on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in major regional theaters and spaces across the U.S. and around the world, including Radio City Music Hall, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, Madison Square Garden, Las Vegas showrooms and international productions.

Brooks Whitehouse

Brooks Whitehouse

Brooks Whitehouse, School of Music

Cellist Brooks Whitehouse joined the string faculty of the School of Music in 2006. Since that time, his students have garnered accolades in regional and national contests; won competitive scholarships to top schools; and gone on to teaching, chamber music and orchestra careers around the U.S. and the world. He shared the teaching philosophy that has led to his students’ success: “It is my strong belief that music making is first and foremost about building a sense of community through the creation of art. In my studio and master classes, I do my best to foster a sense of comradery and mutual support, encouraging students to play for each other frequently, and modeling how to give and receive constructive criticism with goodwill and good humor. This not only provides the best environment for learning, but it also conveys a vital professional skill that is essential to their success as collaborators, teachers, and lifelong students of the art of making music.”

“With patience and warmth, (Whitehouse) establishes a learning atmosphere that is easygoing but not lax; focused but not pressured; relaxed but still appropriately demanding,” one of his colleagues said. “His teaching style is high in energy, using not only direct practical instruction but also humor and metaphorical imagery. Comments are made in a respectful, clear and articulate manner, going directly to the heart of any issues in question. … The spirit of the studio is immensely positive.” A current cello student concurred: “(He) often shows concern for us and is very understanding but he still pushes us. I often learn a lot even when I’m not having the greatest times and he continues to push me in a way that isn't too harsh but not too easy. He puts a lot of time and effort into everyone in the studio.” 

Whitehouse earned a B.A. from Harvard University and an M.M.A. and D.M.A. from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook. With the Guild Trio he won the U.S. Information Agency Artistic Ambassador and Chamber Music Yellow Springs competitions, and toured extensively in the U.S., Europe, Canada and Australia. Prior to joining the UNCSA faculty, he held professorships at UNC Greensboro and the University of Florida, as well as artist-in-residence positions at SUNY Stony Brook, the Guild Hall, University of Virginia and Tanglewood Music Center. With fellow faculty member Paul Sharpe, Whitehouse is co-creator of the popular cello/bass duo Low & Lower, touring the U.S. with innovative programs of musical storytelling and comedy.

Jennet Zerbe

Jennet Zerbe

Jennet Zerbe, School of Dance

Jennet Zerbe has served on the ballet faculty of the School of Dance since 2014. Her students have become professional dancers in companies including American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Sarasota Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Atlanta Ballet and Northern Ballet. Additionally, she coached two students to become finalists at the prestigious international Prix de Lausanne. “Jennet pushes her students to achieve not out of obligation but out of a passion for the daily challenges and satisfactions of the ballet training and the success of her students,” said a colleague. “She constantly works to deepen her knowledge of the art form through professional development activities such as visiting some of the most respected institutions in the world to learn more about their pedagogical practices and bringing that information to her students for their great benefit. She goes above and beyond in every way and I have a profound respect for her incredible integrity and passion.” 

One student described Zerbe’s unique ability to offer coaching to everyone in the studio, no matter how big the class: “In (her) class, she sees all! There are times when I move to the center or the back of the class because I'm tired. When it seems as though she is looking at someone else and I've gotten away with something, she calls my name and identifies a needed correction, without even looking in my direction! How does she do that?” 

Zerbe trained at the Royal Ballet School in London and was invited to join American Ballet Theatre (ABT), where she danced for eight years under the artistic direction of Mikhail Baryshnikov. While at ABT, Zerbe worked with a variety of choreographers and danced in the American premieres of ballets by Sir Kenneth MacMillan including “Anastasia,” “Sleeping Beauty”  and “Requiem” and also in the premieres of Baryshnikov’s “Swan Lake,” “Cinderella” and “Don Quixote.” Her classical roles included The Lilac Fairy, Dance of the Big Swans and Fairy Godmother. She also danced in many neoclassical ballets by George Balanchine, including the first principal couple in “Bourrée Fantasque,” as well as the postmodern choreography of Merce Cunningham, appearing in his “Duets” on the PBS series “Dance in America.” After her performing career, Zerbe earned her B.A. in art history and English with honors from Wellesley College, became an ABT Certified Teacher at the launch of ABT’s National Training Curriculum, and earned her Maestro Enrico Cecchetti Diploma in London.

Ann-Louise Wolf

Ann-Louise Wolf

Ann-Louise Wolf, School of Drama (inaugural adjunct winner)

Ann-Louise Wolf is in her ninth year as an adjunct faculty member in voice and speech in the School of Drama. Since joining UNCSA, her duties have expanded from an initial three-course assignment to encompass a wider range of teaching opportunities and roles, including stage management adviser in the School of Design and Production; School of Drama public service coordinator; arts research fellow; and founding organizer of last December’s inaugural PickleCon. Her efforts to provide actor training while fostering joy is at the heart of her work, as she explains: “One of the aspects of teaching I love most is to celebrate the constant tiny victories — living through an audition, noticing a habit, solving a problem on their own. No student is helpless, incapable or stupid, and there is so much joy available in that discovery. This is best exemplified through the use of play in the classroom, which requires focus, commitment, precision and accuracy — along with risk and a healthy dose of the ridiculous. Most of all, I strive to model collaboration and community, as a teacher, a co-teacher, a colleague, and a citizen.”

Wolf is an invaluable member of the Drama faculty, as one colleague shared: “She is an unsung hero, and a stunningly skilled educator. ... In a thousand small ways, she has met and anticipated the needs of the School of Drama. She is a trusted resource, an innovative teacher and a treasure.” Another nominator added, "The sensitivity and specificity with which she guides our students is a thing of beauty within the rehearsal room. ... Ann-Louise is simply one of the most respected teachers within our department. The students routinely give her outstanding course evaluations and speak glowingly of not only the content of her classes but the professional and equitable environment that she creates within the classroom."

Wolf grew up in Charlotte and received her B.F.A. from the UNCSA School of Design and Production in stage management, subsequently working as a stage manager for opera companies across the country. Later, she earned her M.F.A. in voice studies with distinction from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London after doing her graduate research on presence and voice for the stage manager. In addition to her teaching and coaching in voice and speech work at UNCSA, Wolf serves with ArtistCorps and has developed The Wolf Method, a pre-kindergarten literacy preparedness program. She presented research on this program at the 2021 International Voice and Speech Trainers Association Virtual Conference. Wolf is currently in the process of becoming a certified movement analyst through the Laban Institute for Movement Studies.

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February 01, 2023