Christianson Excellence Award

Christianson Excellence Award

Congratulations to Hans Christianson, one of two faculty members at UNC to receive the 2021 Johnston Teaching Excellence Award! Carolina honored twenty-five faculty members and teaching assistants for their accomplishments with 2021 University Teaching Awards. Given annually, these awards acknowledge the University’s commitment to outstanding teaching and mentoring for graduate and undergraduate students.

“Throughout a challenging year in the midst of a global pandemic, the winners quickly adapted to new ways of teaching. They persevered to maintain their focus on helping students become critical thinkers and problem solvers, while inspiring them to take on the most important challenges facing society,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert A. Blouin. “Our award winners are shining examples of the University’s commitment to effective, innovative teaching.”

Excerpt from award citation – “Dr. Christianson’s classroom is also a collaborative space, where students work with him to consider, reconsider and parse through strategies to approach and solve a problem. Dr. Christianson’s students also see that he is committed to meeting them where they are to ensure they get as much out of his class as possible”.

Who was the best teacher you had and why?
As an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, I had two great professors who influenced me a lot. Dennis Hejhal and Victor Reiner both taught me that education does not end outside the classroom, and an “A student” goes to office hours at least four times a semester. I tell this to all my students. They both also taught me that original research in mathematics is attainable as an undergraduate and can be one of the most influential parts of education.

What does it take to be a good professor in 2021?
Teaching in 2021 is so intertwined with the pandemic that it is difficult to separate what parts of the job constitute teaching and what parts constitute student support. It is always important to respect and listen to the students and even more so with remote instruction. Taking time to listen to the concerns and struggles of students helps make sure they know there is a human being on the other end of the line whose top priorities are the health and safety of the students, as well as their academic success, and informs the instructor about the pace and content of lectures. With so many unknowns with remote teaching, being flexible and patient with students, and colleagues!, is essential.

Tell us a story about something creative you’ve done to engage your students.
Teaching evolves constantly, and remote instruction presented us all with new obstacles. I like to interact with my students a lot during lectures. One thing I tried, whihc failed, last semester was to get a laugh track going that I could play whenever I tell a joke. One thing I tried, which suceeded, was to frequently change my Zoom background with photos I have taken in the last few years. I started my lectures with “Broadcasting today from in front of [insert photo quip]…” My favorite was a giant apple pie at Thanksgiving. At the end of the semester, a student posted on our Piazza forum: “Full Collection: ‘Today we are broadcasting from…'”, with a list of my quotes – they had been keeping track all semester! Knowing I was reaching my students, if only for a laugh, during the most difficult semester any of us have had was one of the high points in my career.