Excellence in teaching goes beyond the classroom
Linda Cornett, associate professor of political science at UNC Asheville, has been selected as a 2013 recipient of the Award for Excellence in Teaching. She is one of 17 faculty members honored by the Board of Governors of the multi-campus University of North Carolina through a nomination process that included extensive student support and recommendations from colleagues in the department.
“There are few professors like Dr. Cornett; those kinds of professors who graded papers on my ideas on the formation of government for Iraq one semester and handed me a machete to clear a trail in Honduras the next,” said Jessica Dunlap ’07, a political science major with an international studies minor, who participated in one of two international service-learning experiences led by Cornett.
Cornett organized summer classes, including The Promise and Perils of Eco-tourism and the Politics of International Aid, as a way for students to both study a substantive topic and gain first-hand experience in a community that would benefit from their work. After spending two hours a day in class for three weeks, the students traveled to Honduras for an extended stay.
“I wanted students to be much more involved,” Cornett explained. “You get the academic context and important study beforehand; then you go abroad with those tools to interpret what you see. We also stayed for three weeks and lived in the communities. We sometimes didn’t have electricity. We didn’t have air conditioning. We ate beans and rice every day. But I think it was one of the most intellectually stimulating and personally fulfilling experiences we could offer students.”
Cornett continues to work side-by-side with her students in the 16 different courses that she has taught in as many years at UNC Asheville. She currently chairs the Political Science Department and previously directed the International Studies Program – an interdisciplinary major that draws classes from political science, economics, foreign languages, and mass communication to name a few. It’s an idea sparked during her undergraduate experience at a liberal arts college in her home state of Kentucky, where she sampled several subjects before settling into political science. She earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of Washington, with a plan to research the intersection of economics and politics, but she fell in love with teaching, a passion apparent to students and other faculty members.
“There is something that sets her far apart from other faculty at the university, and it is her willingness – but also her ability – to travel with students, both near and wide,” said Mark Gibney, Belk Distinguished Professor of Political Science. In addition to her international travels with students, Cornett has been a strong proponent of experiential-learning opportunities domestically, especially for Model United Nations competitions.
“In my junior year, Dr. Cornett launched a special topics class on the United Nations, and I enrolled,” said Sarah Mine , a political science major who graduated in 2006 with UNC Asheville’s highest scholastic honor, the Manly E. Wright Award. “As someone who aspired to a career at the UN, I found this course especially valuable and was grateful for the opportunity to learn about the organization’s role in international politics. The most useful component of the course was its culmination in a trip to the Southern Regional Model United Nations Competition, where our class represented the nation of Qatar. This course was a life-changing experience for me, and my first job after graduating with my master’s degree from Yale University this spring was a contract research position funded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.”
Students leave Cornett’s classes prepared for their future courses at UNC Asheville, graduate school or a career in international affairs. In a larger context, they are ready to take on the world, and that’s what Cornett strives for, as summed up by one of her favorite readings.
“In an article we read in Humanities 414 by E.F. Schumacher, he argued that the real value of education is not that you learn facts and figures, it’s that you gain a set of intellectual tools that make your world intelligible to you. You don’t feel helpless, alienated and frightened by it. You feel empowered. That’s always inspired me,” she said. “I’m not telling my students how to think, or giving them facts and figures, but providing the intellectual tools to understand world affairs and be able to contribute to a better world.”
Learn more about Cornett’s classes in the Political Science Department.