Virginia Tech English, Engineering Professors Receive 2003 Outstanding Faculty Award From SCHEV

BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 16, 2003 – Two Virginia Tech faculty members, Tom Gardner of English and Mike Vorster of Civil and Environmental Engineering, received the 2003 Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) today at the State Capitol in Richmond. The award is the Commonwealth's highest honor for faculty at Virginia's public and private colleges and universities.

One former student sums up the genius of Tom Gardner's teaching of poetry: "We learned a way to be in the world that is useful to this day." Gardner had "the knack of making you feel that you had yourself discovered something important about the book at hand," a Florida Atlantic University professor said, "and when you experienced that sort of discovery, it stuck with you as a mere lecture presentation might not."

Students seemed to be in awe of Gardner's attention to their words and writings. "Professor Gardner drew out our ideas and molded them to brilliance," one wrote. "I have never had a class that demanded more thought or that forced me to examine myself the way this one did," a senior wrote. "I spent many days wandering the campus deep in thought over our class. Dr. Gardner has a way of making poems accessible, relevant, interesting."

Gardner's own award-winning scholarship enables him to help students see poetry "from the inside." "My research attempts--through books, articles, and interviews with writers--to describe and assess the social and philosophical implications of the ways poets speak to contemporary culture," he said. His books of criticism, which pioneered the use of penetrating interviews with the poets, "are precious documents, and future readers will be very glad of them," wrote a Harvard University professor and major figure in the field.

Gardner, a poet in his own right, has won numerous awards for his scholarship and teaching, including Guggenheim and National Foundation for the Arts fellowships, a Fulbright at the University of Helsinki, and Virginia Tech's Certificate of Teaching Excellence, Alumni Teaching Award, and Diggs Teaching Scholar Award, as well as membership in the Academy of Teaching Excellence.

Gardner, who believes "works of art are just as serious examinations of the world as are those of our best scientists," immerses students in those examinations, drawing them into the process of poetic thought itself.

Gardner's is "the most beautiful teaching, writing, and scholarship I've ever seen," a University of North Carolina-Charlotte professor said.

Mike Vorster is the David H. Burrows Professor of Construction Engineering and Management and a 16-year veteran of Virginia Tech. He came to the University from the University of Cape Town where he was the department head of civil engineering.

Since his arrival at Virginia Tech, he has received consistently high student evaluations of his teaching, and his pupils have particularly noted his "concern and respect" for them. His average student evaluation scores for knowledge of subject matter, concern and respect for students, and overall effectiveness have averaged nearly 3.9 (on a 4.0 scale) for courses taught over the past decade.

On the subject of his philosophy on teaching, the award-winning professor says, "Good teaching lies at the intersection of your knowledge of the subject and your respect for those who learn. You achieve this by making learning enjoyable, by having logical, understandable, and relevant material, and by understanding the difference between teaching and learning."

Vorster is also considered to be one of the premier educators in the distance-learning endeavor for the department. Joshua Hurst, a master's student who was taught by Vorster via television, describes him as a stand out among distance learning professors, with his "enthusiasm toward and flexibility while working with the students at the remote sites."

Among his other teaching awards, he received the 2001 Virginia Tech Alumni Teaching Excellence Award, two Certificates of Teaching Excellence (awarded annually to only one percent of the College of Engineering's faculty), and he was inducted into the Virginia Tech Academy of Teaching Excellence.

These two awards bring Tech's Outstanding Faculty Awards to seven since 1996.