May 27, 2010/For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Marla Carpenter, 336-770-3337, carpem@uncsa.edu


WINSTON-SALEM – Six members of the faculty of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) have received Excellence in Teaching Awards.  

They include Dona Cooper, School of Filmmaking; Philip Haigh, High School Academic Program; Gerald Klickstein, School of Music; Martha Ruskai, School of Design and Production; Sean Sullivan, School of Dance; and Elizabeth Towns, Undergraduate Academic Program. More information about the faculty members follows: 

Dona Cooper has been a member of the screenwriting faculty in the School of Filmmaking since 2002.  She came to UNCSA after a long and impressive career in network television, story analysis and theatre.  She has continued as a consultant with ABC Television, working on storylines and creative direction, during the time that she has worked at UNCSA. In her self-evaluation, Cooper lists three major strengths as a teacher: first is her lifelong fascination with cinematic storytelling. While she has a lot of knowledge and experience to share with students about storytelling, she writes that she is also eager to hear her students’ fresh thoughts and observations. This, she says, generates lively two-way discussions in the classrooms, rather than one-way lectures. Her second strength is her understanding that story dynamics are important to all film students, whether they intend to write professional screenplays or not.  Finally, she simply enjoys being in the classroom – she likes the diversity of personalities and opinions and she enjoys the challenge of trying to connect with each student individually while keeping everyone else focused and energized. Her students find her earnest, engaging, highly qualified and passionate, noting that she creates a learning environment that is extremely encouraging and promotes individual student growth.   

Philip Haigh has been a member of the English faculty in the UNCSA High School Academic Program since the fall of 2000. In his teaching philosophy statement, he describes teaching as an act of love. Like other good teachers, he reaches out to individual students, pushing them to see life and themselves in a large, more critical perspective. At the same time, he is reaching out to entire classes, trying to see them in the future.  He talks about Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys, in which one of the characters refers to the role of a teacher as a runner who passes a flaming torch in a relay. Haigh refers to this as an act of love because it denies the primacy of the teacher’s ego and focuses on the gift a teacher gives selflessly to the future. He pushes his students to not be complacent, to not give up, and to always push themselves.  His students refer to him as a challenging teacher and a “hard grader,” while noting that his pushing them to do better work actually means that he recognizes that they have room to grow.  Particularly noteworthy is the fact that last year he took an introductory Paideia Seminar in an effort to encourage and develop his students’ participation in their own learning processes. The Paideia seminars encourage collaborative learning by taking out, to a certain degree, the influence of the teacher and stressing the students’ responsibility for class activity and success.  

Gerald Klickstein has taught guitar performance in the School of Music since 1992.  In his Philosophy of Teaching statement, he says that his goal is to empower students to become independent artists who are adept collaborators and who are equipped to succeed in the music profession. His methods, however, have evolved over time, in step with his own professional growth and ongoing changes in the music business. Toward that end he incorporates technology (such as Internet2), guest artists and career counseling in his studio curriculum so that his students have the performance and entrepreneurial skills to succeed in the new arts economy. He has spent many years studying all aspects of performance and collaboration; what he learned appears in his recently published book, The Musician’s Way, along with its companion website and blog, MusiciansWay.com, which he constantly updates.  His students compliment his holistic and integrative style of teaching and acknowledge that they are learning as much about life as they are about playing the guitar.  

Martha Ruskai has taught wig and makeup design in the School of Design and Production since 1987. In her teaching philosophy statement, she says that as a designer, her primary goal is to help tell a story by creating a meaningful vision that triggers an emotional response in the audience.  As a teacher, she says, her goal is to encourage the growth of learning skills, problem-solving, critical thinking, creative thought and action within the context of script and character analysis, design conceptualization, wig styling, makeup application, technique and design. She strives not only to teach the techniques of wig-making and makeup design and application, but the how and why of that technique that must be able to interpret and support the vision of the director, costume designer and performer. Toward that end, she has written, with Allison Lowery, the just-published Wig-Making and Styling: A Complete Guide for Theatre and Film. Ruskai claims quite a number of successful graduates and her portfolio contains letters from a good many of them, attesting to her design skills, her knowledge of the profession, and her support of them once they enter the professional world.  

Sean Sullivan has taught contemporary dance in the School of Dance since 1998.  He notes in his artist/teaching statement that: “If I am going to spend years looking at an object hanging on my living-room wall, or spend an evening at the theatre, I want a change to occur in my body and to feel something from it.  But my ambition with my students is to impart an appreciation that every moment, every gesture, every turn of the leg, every arch of the spine has the potential to mean something. It is an opportunity to feel and to communicate.” An external reviewer in the School of Dance noted that “Mr. Sullivan teaches with enthusiasm and skill, and is able to relate sophisticated comments to the students, inspiring them with creative corrections tailored to teach each student and not simply teaching to the class as a whole.”  Students support this assessment, referring to Sullivan as “inspiring, creative and innovative” in the classroom. It is worth noting that he is always seeking career development grants to study the latest techniques in contemporary dance so that he can stay abreast of changes in his field.  He continues to work as a choreographer and an evaluator for the North Carolina Arts Council. He previously won a teaching excellence award in 2004.   

Elizabeth Towns is a relative newcomer to UNCSA, having arrived in the fall of 2006 to teach art history. A student who nominated her for this award noted that her “unmatched imagination and zeal for creatively presenting subject matter that could easily become formulaic sets her apart from her contemporaries.” He goes on to say that “Dr. Towns uses the history of art to challenge her students to look at the world differently.  Her assignments dare her students to examine their own artistic viewpoints and styles. We learn how to be modern artists by learning about the successes and failures of artists throughout history; from ancient scribbling on a cave wall in Lascaux, France, to modern splattering on canvas by Jackson Pollock, we learn how to draw on those who have come before us.”  The statements by this student support the comments made in Towns’ teaching philosophy statement, in which she notes that she strives to make every topic provide perspective on larger concepts, helping students “hook” specific facts to more general ideas. She uses the example of cave painting; in a void, it can seem distant and irrelevant. However, “hooked” to graffiti it is current and inhabits a student’s understanding of the expressive potential of line forever. Students note that she is rigorous and demanding of them, but they also say that she treats them with thoroughness and respect and gives them great feedback.   

The UNC Board of Governors established a series of “Excellence in Teaching” awards in 1994. The policy says that the awards are to “encourage, identify, recognize, reward and support good teaching within the university.”   

At UNCSA, six teachers are chosen each year from those current, full-time members of the faculty who are nominated to receive an award. One of them is then forwarded on to the UNC Board of Governors to receive a system-wide teaching award, a medal, and a stipend of $7,500. This year, that UNCSA faculty member is Sean Sullivan (see: http://www.uncsa.edu/pressreleases/Releases2010/Apr10/2010BOGAwardsTeaching.pdf). He will be honored at the school’s college commencement exercises on Saturday.

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts is the first state-supported, residential school of its kind in the nation. Established as the North Carolina School of the Arts by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963, UNCSA opened in Winston-Salem (“The City of Arts and Innovation.”) in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina system in 1972. More than 1,100 students from middle school through graduate school train for careers in the arts in five professional schools: Dance, Design and Production (including a Visual Arts Program), Drama, Filmmaking, and Music. UNCSA is the state’s only public arts conservatory, dedicated entirely to the professional training of talented students in the performing, visual and moving image arts. UNCSA is located at 1533 S. Main St., Winston-Salem. For more information, visit www.uncsa.edu.