Every other year, Baylor University awards one professor in the entire English-speaking world with the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching. The award was established by a former Baylor University graduate who wanted to demonstrate his gratitude for the impact that great teachers had on his life. The recipient of this award receives a monetary prize of $250,000 as well as $25,000 donated to the department of the recipient. It comes with no surprise that the recipient of the 2020 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching is St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s (SMCM) very own Jennifer Cognard-Black of the English Department.
Cognard-Black is a beloved and treasured member of the SMCM faculty, encompassing the entirety of the St. Mary’s Way in her pedagogy. Her classroom vibrates with a sense of welcome and comfort, encouraging her students to participate and better themselves not only as students at SMCM, but as members of the community. In a New York Times article by Susan Svrluga, it is noted that Cognard-Black “raises [her students] up, by expecting them to rise.” She does this through her drive and determination to create a better tomorrow for her students and those who will come after her.
As a result of the award, Cognard-Black will spend the Fall 2020 semester teaching at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Baylor University’s Committee Chair and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs in Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science Michael W. Thompson, Ph.D., stated “Dr. Jennifer Cognard-Black stands out in her ability to inspire and nurture students. Her ‘Just Food’ courses transcend the classroom and provide an excellent model of service-learning. We look forward to her residency at Baylor.”
In response to receiving the award, Cognard-Black explained that “As a lifelong collaborator and someone with a deep interest in the pedagogy of empathy, it is my hope that I may use my time at Baylor to work side-by-side with students, community partners and faculty across campus to develop academic projects that ultimately help others in real and lasting ways.”
Cognard-Black noted that this award reminds both herself and the SMCM community that, “without teaching, we do not have an educated citizenry” and that “teaching matters.” In all of her classes, Cognard-Black implements application of the content to the world in which the students live, forcing them to see the world from a different perspective and consider the potential other sides. Her “Just Food” courses cause her students to consider food from a different perspective—one of historical and cultural background. Her deep, profound way of thinking about concepts causes her students to look at their learning within the context of their community.
Grace Morin (‘22) was in Cognard-Black’s first-year seminar course, “Victorian Monsters” in Fall 2018. Morin stated that “Taking a class with [Cognard-Black] has been one of my best experiences here at St. Mary’s. Her constant passion, creativity, and compassion inspire me as I look towards a potential future career as an English teacher.”
Cognard-Black, who is spending the spring 2020 semester as a Senior Fulbright Scholar at the University of Amsterdam, embodies the St. Mary’s Way by putting others before herself, always ensuring that her students and colleagues are receiving what they need to succeed. SMCM is fortunate to have such strong faculty in all departments, as Cognard-Black noted: “We just have wonderful faculty here, and the students really, really get a broad-based education.”
Although her absence is greatly felt by SMCM students, staff and faculty on campus, Cognard-Black’s Fulbright opportunity and residency at Baylor University allow her to show other parts of the world what an education from St. Mary’s looks like and how it prepares its students to make an impact in the real world. Anyone and everyone at SMCM–English major or not–should experience a class with Cognard-Black. The impact of her teaching stretches far beyond the classroom and even beyond St. Mary’s. There is nobody more deserving of an award for “Great Teaching,” for Cognard-Black is an extraordinary educator whose impact deserves to be recognized.