WMU News

Febles, Joslin to receive Alumni Teaching Excellence Awards

February 19, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- Two Western Michigan University faculty members will be recognized for their superior classroom skills with 1997 Alumni Teaching Excellence Awards.

Presented by the WMU Alumni Association, the awards will go to Dr. Jorge M. Febles, professor of foreign languages and literatures, and Dr. Katherine Joslin, professor of English. They will be honored at WMU's 18th annual Academic Convocation at 3 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, in the Dalton Center Recital Hall. In addition to a plaque, the winners will receive a $2,000 cash award.

Since the Alumni Teaching Excellence Awards were established in 1966, a total of 117 faculty members have been recognized with them for superior teaching skills and professional expertise. Recipients are selected by an Alumni Association committee from nominations by alumni, students and departmental colleagues.

Febles has been a WMU faculty member since 1980 and head of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures' Spanish section since 1992. He has taught a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on the language, literature and culture of Spanish-speaking people.

To many of those nominating him for the award, Febles represents the epitome of a professor who is both a skilled teacher and learned scholar. His scholarly endeavors include writing one book and co-editing another, producing 40 articles for prestigious journals and making more than 50 presentations at professional meetings. He is one of this country's leading experts in Cuban studies and, in 1995, was elected to membership in the North American Academy of Spanish Language.

Febles' ability to combine his role as a teacher and researcher is what makes him excel in the classroom, according to one alumna in her nomination letter: "Dr. Febles' superior academic achievements and his unending capacity to dedicate his time and knowledge to his students make him part of a special class of outstanding role models, as he is at the same time a scholar, a deep thinker and a guide."

Nominators noted his great attention to detail in his preparation of classroom materials as well as his high-energy approach to teaching. One colleague spoke of Febles' quest to constantly update his notes and lesson plans in order to present the most current state of thinking on a subject.

"He deployed an incredible amount of energy which was contagious as was his love for literature," wrote a former student. "Dr. Febles demonstrates the unique combination of a superior mind whose passion for literature and knowledge becomes contagious because he makes the material accessible to his students in the clearest and most enticing way."

Others mentioned his genuine interest in his students and their academic accomplishments. In addition to working with students in the classroom, Febles has spent many hours as a thesis adviser and research project adviser. He has served as a foreign study adviser since 1988, and was part of a team that set up a new opportunity for WMU students in Queretaro, Mexico, in 1995.

"Dr. Febles always offers his students an ideal balance of academic rigor and personalized attention," wrote another former student. "His comprehensive knowledge of Hispanic language and literature and outstanding abilities to share this knowledge are paralleled only by his sincere and personal interest in the success of his students. His courses were always stimulating and challenging without being intimidating."

Febles was previously honored for his classroom skills in 1991 when he was one of eight WMU faculty members presented with State of Michigan Teaching Excellence Awards. He earned his bachelor's degree from St. John's University in Minnesota and his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Iowa.

Joslin joined the WMU faculty in 1986 and also has served as director of graduate studies in the Department of English for the past year. She teaches undergraduate and graduate classes focusing primarily on American literature.

Internationally known as a critic and scholar of Edith Wharton, Jane Addams, Kate Chopin and other American writers of the early 20th century, Joslin frequently is invited to deliver lectures and papers at scholarly meetings. She is the author of one book and the co-editor of another on Wharton, and has written a number of essays and articles for professional publications. Her knowledge and devotion to her field of study carry over into her classroom activities, according to those nominating her for the award.

"From the very first day, Dr. Joslin presented herself as a dynamic professor, one who combined her own meticulous and well-regarded scholarship with enthusiasm for the material and a desire to challenge her students," wrote one student. "She was thorough and engaging, the epitome of professionalism, all while maintaining a spontaneity and charming sense of humor."

Others noted innovative teaching techniques that have won Joslin high evaluations from her students. She has worked to develop creative ways to team teach in the Department of English and in clusters through the Lee Honors College. She also has served as a mentor to students in the department's doctoral program, guiding them through teaching practica.

"When it is shaped and sculpted by teachers like Dr. Katherine Joslin, education takes the form of a dazzling invitation," wrote another student. "And the world she invites students into is not one inhabited by easy judgments or simple formulas or high toned assumptions about the transforming power of knowledge. Walk into any class taught by Dr. Joslin and you are bound to observe a dynamic and energetic learning environment."

Others nominating Joslin for the award cited her ability to help students see the connection between their lives and the literature they discussed. They mentioned her efforts to get to know students and to draw upon their experiences in the classroom. They also praised her for organizing field trips to Chicago and New York City for various American culture exhibits to help stimulate their thinking.

"Her openness and insistence on the contribution of students is richly interspersed with her own deep and insightful commentary," wrote a student. "Not only does she expose the aesthetic virtue of classical fiction writers, she enlivens each literary work with her broad understanding of the political, historical and social realities of its time, even as she challenges her students to examine its language and story and style in the context of their own lives."

Joslin earned her bachelor's degree from Oakland University and her master's and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University.

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