UNCSA Excellence in Teaching Award winners announced for 2023-24

Six permanent faculty members and one adjunct faculty member at the UNCSA have been named winners of the Excellence in Teaching Awards for 2023-24, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Patrick J. Sims has announced.

They are: Allison George, High School Academic Program; Michael Miller, School of Filmmaking; Maria Serkin, School of Music; Paul Sharpe, School of Music; Mikhail “Misha” Tchoupakov, School of Dance; Aaron Willey, High School Academic Program; and adjunct faculty member Kim Zubick, School of Filmmaking.

“We are pleased to single out particular faculty who are held in such high esteem that they have been nominated by fellow faculty, students or alumni,” Provost Sims said. “These faculty members represent the very best of their arts disciplines and concentrations. We congratulate them and are happy to celebrate them for their achievements.”

In 1994, the Board of Governors of the multicampus University of North Carolina established a series of “Excellence in Teaching” awards that reinforced teaching as the primary responsibility and focus of its constituent institutions. The policy notes that the awards are to “encourage, identify, recognize, reward and support good teaching within the University.”

At UNCSA, recipients are chosen each year from faculty who are nominated to receive an award. Selection criteria include:

  • Concern for students,
  • Enthusiasm for the subject they teach,
  • Ability to motivate student effort,
  • Ability to fairly critique student effort and communicate that critique to the student,
  • Organization of knowledge for student use, and
  • Command of the subject being taught, among others.

One faculty member’s name is then forwarded on to the UNC Board of Governors to receive a UNC System-wide teaching award. This award-winner receives a stipend of $12,500 and a commemorative bronze medallion and will be honored at a campus event. The Board of Governors will meet in the spring to select the recipients of the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Awards.

The recipients of the UNCSA Excellence in Teaching Awards for 2023-24 are:

Allison George

Allison George

Allison George, High School Academic Program

Allison George joined the High School Academic Program (HSAP) faculty in 2019, teaching 9th- through 12th-grade mathematics. Previously, she served on the faculties of Robert B. Glenn High School and R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, where she was named High School Teacher of the Year at both (2018-19 and 2013-14, respectively). George has worked for the A+ Schools Program since 2016, now serving as an A+ Fellow where she assists with elementary, middle and high schools across North Carolina, teaching the arts integration model and helping each school create its own version of an A+ School.

A colleague reflected in their nomination of George, “Alli is constantly working with and for students. Whether she is helping students during office hours, delivering innovative and relevant instruction, or passing by anyone on the third floor of Gray (Building), she does so with a complete and full acknowledgement of their value, dignity and potential. She is relentlessly kind and thoughtful, always centering the humanity of students in her teaching, evaluation and creation of policy, grading and assessment.”

Similar sentiments were echoed in this student nomination: “Ms. George is easily the most supportive teacher I have ever had…. She has taken so much time out of her day to support students by walking them through tough equations and questions, answering questions about and acting as a true guiding light for grad CAP (Citizen Artist Projects), and checking in on students. She has always made it her mission to ensure that we are comfortable in her class and not overwhelmed by work while still growing as students, people and artists.”

George attended Meredith College in Raleigh, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry with minors in mathematics and Spanish. She continued her education at Gardner Webb University in Boiling Springs, completing a master’s in curriculum and instruction. In particular, this graduate work serves as the bedrock for her teaching, as one of her colleagues shared: “Alli has an exceptional grasp not only of mathematics but of cognitive science. Her understanding of the science behind how we learn and how we retain understanding over time sets her apart from her peers in the HSAP. She has such intentionality with her course design, her instructional practice, and how she navigates her role as a teacher.”

Michael Miller

Michael Miller

Michael Miller, School of Filmmaking

In 2015, Michael Miller joined the editing faculty of the School of Filmmaking, where he currently serves as associate professor and chair of the Picture Editing and Sound Design Department. He brings deep industry experience to his work with his students; notable Hollywood positions include editing assistant on such landmark pictures as “Manhattan,” “Stardust Memories” and “Raging Bull”; sound designer for the Coen Brothers on their first movie, “Blood Simple”; and lead editor for the Coen Brothers on “Raising Arizona” and “Miller’s Crossing.” Miller has cut dozens more films, one of which, “happythankyoumoreplease,” won the 2010 Sundance Audience Award.

“Michael's success as a professor comes from his constant consideration for the students,” commented an alumnus in their nomination. “He tirelessly provides every possible resource to ensure that we all come out prepared for a great career. It is because of professors like him that UNCSA secures its spot as one of the greatest film schools in the world year after year.”

A colleague reflected: “Although Michael is an absolute expert in film editing and sound design, he doesn't push his ideas on the students but knows how to allow them to find their own way and how to lead them to ask their own questions about the material they are working on. The class atmosphere is open, free and joyful and the students feel comfortable venturing their own ideas toward the improvement of whatever project they and their colleagues are working on. It is no exaggeration to say the students love and appreciate Michael's contribution to their lives.”

Miller earned a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University and engaged in additional coursework toward a Master of Arts in New York University’s Graduate Department of Cinema Studies. “Like many middle-class boomers, my career path, when I started college, seemed predetermined,” he noted. “The choice between law or medicine … had been made: Upon graduation, I’d become an attorney. A cinema history elective derailed that well-laid plan. Simply put, I fell in love with motion pictures.”

Maria Serkin

Maria Serkin

Maria Serkin, School of Music

Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs Maria Serkin joined the School of Music faculty in 2015 and serves as associate professor of horn. She enjoys a multifaceted career as a performer and educator and has held principal horn positions with the Florida Grand Opera, Palm Beach Symphony, Sarasota Orchestra, Atlantic Classical Orchestra and the Charlottesville Symphony. Prior to her role at UNCSA, she taught at University of Virginia and the New World School of the Arts in Miami and has led master classes extending from the Eastman School of Music in New York to the Big Island of Hawaii. Recent performance highlights include extensive work the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Palm Beach Opera and the North Carolina Symphony.

Serkin’s focus on her students encompasses not only mastery of the instrument, but also the support and care of a studio in which students can become their best selves. As she articulates in her philosophy statement: "I strive to develop well-rounded horn players who are equipped for diverse music careers. My primary goals include the development of horn technique and sound; an individualized approach to phrasing and musical character; transposition; a broad knowledge of repertoire, composers and artists; organizational and problem-solving skills; and increased confidence in performance situations — all within a supportive horn community."

Nominations for Serkin came not only from her Music colleagues and students, but also from a colleague in the High School Academic Program. “In my observations, students do not always feel comfortable sharing their whole selves with arts teachers because they are so worried about letting them down,” said the faculty member. “In the way that my students have spoken about their relationships with Dr. Serkin, it is clear that she truly supports them in learning how to be their best selves, including their musical abilities but also recognizing and celebrating the rest of who they are as people.” A Music colleague echoed that sentiment: “Dr. Serkin is a positive, supportive and dedicated teacher. She is a fine professional musician and she values community. In a profession that easily becomes overwhelming, with work the priority at all costs, Maria espouses the importance of prioritizing a healthy and balanced lifestyle. She values her students' well-being and … she models the importance of taking care of oneself as part of pursuing what one loves to do.”

A current student summed up her teaching style: “Dr. Serkin changed my life. In the last few months, I have learned more than I have in years of playing. I look forward to seeing her every day and my lessons with her always brighten my day.”

Serkin holds a Bachelor of Music from the Eastman School of Music, a Master of Music from New England Conservatory in Boston, and a Doctor of Musical Arts from Manhattan School of Music.

Paul Sharpe

Paul Sharpe

Paul Sharpe, School of Music

Assistant Dean for Recruitment and Enrollment Paul Sharpe joined the faculty of the School of Music, where he currently serves as professor of double bass, in 2007. Former university positions include faculty roles at Texas Tech University, University of North Texas and Augustana College in Illinois. He holds principal double bass positions with the Winston-Salem Symphony and Piedmont Opera and performs regularly as half of the duo Low and Lower, along with cellist Brooks Whitehouse. Alumni of his program are regularly accepted to the finest programs in the nation and hold coveted positions in venerable ensembles including the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York City Chamber Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Charlotte Symphony.

“Teaching has always been the source of my greatest fulfillment in life, and I treasure the teaching experience with greater passion now more than ever,” Sharpe said in his teaching philosophy. “My students’ indefatigable determination to develop as musicians throughout the pandemic was the thing that kept the entire studio focused on the positive…. Bass master class and lessons were an oasis from our world’s difficulties and a reminder that living a robust and vital life could be done despite pandemics and strife. Music has transcendent power.”

Sharpe’s colleagues and current and former students offered numerous statements praising his teaching. “Mr. Sharpe demonstrates expertise in his field by being the ultimate embodiment of the musician he wants his students to be,” one alumnus said. “He practices more than any of his students, he performs at least as much as them, and all while maintaining a healthy and balanced life as an educator and a father.” A colleague said, “Professor Sharpe's students are very supportive and encouraging to each other. This is notable in their weekly studio class, as they offer thoughtful, constructive comments to their peers after each performance. It is also evident in their teamwork (as a double bass section) in UNCSA Symphony Orchestra concerts, as noted in Professor Sharpe's Instagram postings. This kind of unity among students is a reflection of the leadership and humanity of their teacher and mentor. Mr. Sharpe's students feel valued and proud to be part of the double bass studio here at UNCSA.”

Sharpe holds a Bachelor of Music in performance from Northwestern University in Illinois and a Master of Arts in music from the University of Iowa.

Misha Tchoupako

Misha Tchoupakov

Mikhail “Misha” Tchoupakov, School of Dance

Misha Tchoupakov joined the ballet faculty of the School of Dance in 2013 and currently serves as associate professor. He is a resident master teacher for the Youth America Grand Prix competition and has served as ballet faculty, guest teacher and ballet master for schools and professional companies in the U.S., Europe, South America and Japan. In his professional career, he danced as soloist with companies including the State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara, California; Colorado Ballet; Los Angeles Classical Ballet; Sarasota Ballet of Florida; and the Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow.

"Ballet is often accused of being elitist, difficult to understand, escapist and even unnecessary,” said Tchoupakov in his teaching philosophy. “It is my conviction that none of these are true. Ballet is a classical form of art, which means it must be produced and presented in a manner that reflects excellence and aesthetic aspirations. When done with taste, understanding, attention to detail and respect for tradition, the venerated art of ballet is still capable of communicating the minutiae of contemporary life. Conveying the message of ballet’s approachability and even its certain urgency, when considered in terms of arts education, has been one of my professional missions."

One alumnus described Tchoupakov as “the silent engine behind the success of the men’s classical ballet program.” Another offered: “Misha demonstrates excellence … through his care for each and every one who walks through his class and stands at barre. He not only looks out for the dancers standing before him; he also cares deeply about how the person within the dancer is developing. He curates a space that allows for hard work, character building and humor. Misha is someone who I consider to be one of my dearest mentors in the dance world and I know he has been impacting students for so many years at UNCSA and across the globe.”

A current student summed up their thoughts by saying, “Misha is a world-renowned ballet expert. He trained at one of the most prestigious ballet academies, had a full career, then taught at top ballet schools around the globe before settling at UNCSA. It is really a wonder and a great opportunity to have his presence at our school.”

Tchoupakov earned a Bachelor of Arts in dance performance from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, Moscow; a Bachelor of Science in political science from the Moscow State University; and an M.F.A. in dance pedagogy and choreography from the Moscow State Academy of Choreography.

Aaron Willey

Aaron Willey

Aaron Willey, High School Academic Program

Aaron Willey joined the science faculty in UNCSA’s High School Academic Program in 2015. Having followed a road that took her from a Clemson University lab where she assisted a professor in maintaining a population of South American spiders, through an engineering position for the Michelin Tire Corporation, and to the discovery of teaching as her calling, Willey said she is grateful for the path that has brought her to UNCSA. She is a former faculty member of Reagan High School, where she was recognized with the Promise Award as the top first-year high school teacher in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in 2012-13. She also was one of two teachers nationwide chosen for a competitive two-year fellowship – the Evolution Education Fellowship – funded by the National Science Foundation.

“I am struck by the degree to which Aaron continually reflects on, rethinks and refines her teaching, her assessments and her course curricula,” her dean commented. “This iterative process of course development is one of Aaron’s signature practices, and it makes her such a positive role model for her students and for her colleagues. … Indeed, it is her practice to revise each course incorporating lessons learned from the previous year.”

“Aaron embodies all the best of the teacher-leader archetype,” said a fellow faculty member. “In my years as a colleague, she has been an exceptional mentor, a thoughtful collaborator, a brilliantly creative mind and a compassionate heart to every member of our community. For a science teacher at an arts conservatory, she inspires her students to expand their intellectual horizons with unprecedented acuity. I look up to Aaron as a professional educator and as a passionately empathetic person. I believe all of us here at UNCSA would be much better if we were a little more like Aaron.”

Another colleague was succinct in their endorsement: “Come to her classroom. You will be converted.”

Willey holds a Bachelor of Science in animal and veterinary science with a minor in anthropology and a Master of Science in polymer and fiber science from Clemson University, and a Master of Arts in education from Wake Forest University.

Kim Zubick

Kim Zubick

Kim Zubick, School of Filmmaking

Kim Zubick first joined UNCSA as an adjunct faculty member in the School of Filmmaking’s graduate program in screenwriting in the spring of 2018. She now teaches in the M.F.A. program in creative producing. As a veteran, hands-on film and television producer, she launched Zubick Films with “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and most recently produced “Togo,” a key film in launching Disney+. Next up, she will produce “The Nature of Enchantment,” starring Idris Elba and directed by Kim Mordaunt. Prior to Zubick Films, she was vice president at MGM Studios, and president of production at Stewart Pictures (Sony), Robert Simonds Productions and Tollin Productions.

Her teaching philosophy draws the through line between her educational background and her work in entertainment: “I believe it requires many of the same instincts to be a good teacher as it does to be a good storyteller. Particularly in the world of entertainment, the goal is only partly to acquire specific information and learn specific concepts. We are all artists of a sort in the entertainment business, and there are no set paths. For this reason, it’s equally important to inspire the students to have the courage to engage their own emotions and instincts, as they endeavor to unlock their own voices, and support others to do the same.”

Of Zubick, an alumnus wrote: “She's an extremely humble, wise and patient person. She's an inspiration for her students and collaborators because her problem-solving skills explain so much about her character, personality and vision for the program.” A nomination from a faculty colleague spoke to her methods: “Professor Zubick is a quality artist with an extensive creative-producing career. Her syllabi are thoughtful and her teaching style is collaborative. I have witnessed her teaching style and she brought civil discourse and inspired continued collaboration in one of the most impassioned classes in the School of Filmmaking – The Writers' Room. When students do not get their project chosen for production, she is able to rally the artists and reinvigorate their creative spirit for the collective piece. There is vast improvement in student work under her mentorship.”

Zubick holds a Bachelor of Arts with a triple major in international relations, French and German from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology from Antioch University in California.

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February 07, 2024