Jennifer Schiff, associate professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University, has been named one of the top educators in the University of North Carolina System.
Schiff, a WCU faculty member since 2010, was recognized for her willingness to seek new ways to engage with her students and her quest for continuous improvement. She is among 17 recipients of the 2020 UNC Board of Governors Awards for Excellence in Teaching, announced Wednesday, April 8.
“It is with great pride that we honor these impressive recipients,” said UNC Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey. “Each of them brings a high standard of excellence in the classroom through creative teaching methods, making a real impact in how students learn.”
Typically, a member of the UNC Board of Governors presents WCU’s recipient with the award during spring commencement ceremonies, but this year’s events have been postponed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schiff will formally receive her award as a part of the rescheduled ceremonies at a date not yet determined.
Schiff teaches a wide variety of classes in the field of international studies, ranging from global environmental politics to ethnic conflict and from international politics and economics to simulations in diplomacy, including Model United Nations activities.
Her students consistently characterize her classes as “engaging, informative and entertaining,” and praise Schiff for her “innovation in the classroom, selflessness with students and rigorous approach to preparation.”
One of her former students, who has gone on to earn a master’s degree in international development from the University of Chicago, wrote: “Dr. Schiff has this way about her that puts you at ease. She listens, she doesn’t judge and any crazy idea you come to her with, she doesn’t shoot you down; instead, she asks, ‘How will you make that happen?’ And I would know because I did that all the time.”
Another former student, who is now studying toward a doctoral degree in public and international affairs at the University of Georgia, called Schiff “an exemplary instructor, and a model of preparation and dedication that every academic should strive for.”
“Any graduate of WCU’s political science department will tell you that Dr. Schiff’s classes stand out,” that former student said. “Each of her lectures is handcrafted – in some cases, essentially ignoring the university-provided textbook in favor of an original course design. This personalized, regularly updated approach to class does not come at the expense of quality. Each concept or theory that her courses cover comes with multiple cases and examples, covering the most recent news or research regarding the course’s topic.”
Chris Cooper, head of WCU’s Department of Political Science and Public Affairs, described Schiff as “…a singularly gifted, motivated and successful teacher.”
In his letter of support for her nomination, Cooper, himself a past recipient of the UNC teaching award, wrote: “Dr. Schiff’s classes are known by her students and colleagues, first and foremost, for their emphasis on simulation. In her Model United Nations class, she creates a rigorous, but safe, environment for students to debate the most-pressing international issues of the day – issues of water, security and poverty. She has adopted this simulation approach in many of her other classes.”
In addition to her teaching and research, Schiff is WCU’s director of liberal studies assessment. She previously served as director of the university’s International Studies Program and as a Faculty Fellow for Global Learning. Schiff received the 2017 Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award, the 2013 College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Award and the 2012 Excellence in the Teaching of Liberal Studies Award.
She earned her doctorate in international studies from Old Dominion University, her master’s degree in history from Cleveland State University and her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Virginia.
Schiff and the other recipients of the UNC honor, representing an array of academic disciplines, were nominated by special committees on their home campuses and selected by the Board of Governors Committee on Educational Planning, Policies and Programs.
Established by the Board of Governors in 1993 to underscore the importance of teaching and to reward good teaching across the university, the awards are given annually to a tenured faculty member from each UNC campus. Winners must have taught at their present institutions at least seven years. No one may receive the award more than once.