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UK 'Great Teachers' Excel As Educators — Listeners and Mentors, Too

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 4, 2020) — What makes a good teacher a great one? University of Kentucky students were eager to share their opinions about the best teacher in their lives, nominating them for one of the most esteemed awards on campus. 

The UK Alumni Association 2020 Great Teacher Award was recently bestowed upon six University of Kentucky educators. Initiated in 1961, UK’s Great Teacher Award is the longest-running UK award recognizing teaching. In order to receive the award, educators must first be nominated by a student. The UK Alumni Association Great Teacher Award Committee, in cooperation with the student organization Omicron Delta Kappa, then makes the final selection. Recipients receive an engraved plaque and stipend.

UK’s 2020 Great Teachers are:  

Emily Cunningham   College of Medicine: Obstetrics and Gynecology

Robert Lou Hirsch   College of Agriculture, Food and Environment: Plant Pathology

David McNear   College Agriculture, Food and the Environment: Plant and Soil Sciences

Darshak Patel  Gatton College of Business and Economics: Economics

Martha Riddell   College of Public Health: Health Management and Policy

Anna V. Voskresensky   College of Arts and Sciences: Modern and Classical Languages, Literature and Culture

The 2020 Great Teachers were honored last night at the UK Alumni Association Great Teacher Award Recognition Dinner at the Hyatt Regency in Lexington. Each received a $4,000 stipend, and they were recognized during the Tennessee vs. Kentucky men’s basketball game that evening.

Learn more about the 2020 Great Teachers based on comments from their nominators:

Emily Cunningham

In addition to her “vast knowledge” of obstetrics and gynecology fields, UK Family Medicine resident Alex Wade nominated Cunningham because “she is an innovator. She created multiple puzzles and patient scenarios to put students in the role of the physician, which helped to establish fundamental knowledge in a fun and engaging way. Before starting the rotation, she walks students through basic knowledge and then creates opportunities for students to teach each other. (She) sets up pop-up didactics, Socratic talks, Head-Up learning games, OB/GYN Family Feud and OB/GYN Pictionary. She has helped to develop an educational website for medical students and residents that is an encompassing location for a multitude of resources and educational videos. No professor in my academic career put as much effort into teaching and creating new models for learning as Dr. Cunningham. Her passion for treating patients and for the advancement of knowledge was infectious,” said Wade.

Robert Lou Hirsch

“If a student ever asked a question (Hirsch) could not answer, he always made note to research the question and respond to the class within a few days. In class, and even now, I know that if I ask Dr. Hirsch something, he will know or will find out quickly,” explained Katelyn Cox, an agricultural and medical biotechnology senior who nominated Hirsch. But beyond his knowledge of the subject matter, “Hirsch is an animated, energetic lecturer who always keeps students laughing and learning. I remember he often used memes and other pop culture references in his lectures to help students learn and to be more relatable to students. (He) lectures in an improvisational, personable manner that allows him to easily adapt to the needs of the classroom.  I could not think of any other professor who does so much for his students while balancing so many other simultaneous responsibilities.”

David McNear

One of the reasons graduate student Rebecca McGrail nominated McNear is due to his ability to teach students “from a variety of academic backgrounds including landscape architecture, agricultural education, biosystems engineering, environmental sciences and soil science. The diversity of majors in (his) class can be a challenge. He has met with the program directors for both landscape architecture and agricultural education to review the class structure and expectations so that he may better serve these programs. His commitment to ensuring students of all backgrounds succeed in his course is unparalleled. (McNear) is up front with students and encourages them to join study groups to complete the learning objectives as the course progresses. (He) is committed to UK’s students and is involved directly in student advising. He is able to assist students in making resolute connections between their course work and employment possibilities. This is critical for students to be qualified for many job opportunities,” McGrail said.

Darshak Patel

UK finance and accounting senior Andy Flood traveled to Australia to attend an economics class taught by Patel and is making plans to register this fall for Sports Economics, another class taught by Patel. Patel “is incredibly well-versed in world economics and makes a valiant effort to be approachable not only to his current students, but past students as well as people who have never taken one of his classes. (Patel) grew up in Kenya, was raised in an Indian family and went to British high school, so he brings a fresh worldly experience that not all professors have the ability to contribute to the classroom experience,” said Flood. “He brings real-world experiences, industry-leading speakers, and other outside aids into the classroom in a way that makes learning more interesting and hands-on for all students. Since economics is found in all aspects of the world, he pushes boundaries to create avenues for learning that extend beyond the traditional classroom walls and provide lasting educational experiences.”

Martha Riddell

UK graduate student in health administration and physician assistant studies Majd Jabbour said, Riddell “has a special way of relaying information in class that isn’t like any other I have experienced. She has broad knowledge in health management and public health. She engrained in us the qualities and skills required of a future healthcare leader. Her lectures are discussion-based and interactive in a way that makes students feel as if there isn’t a lecture taking place. Her charisma and method of teaching reflect a deep understanding, a person who has experienced what she preaches and not just reading off slides. I have rarely witnessed such caring, kindness and sincerity in advising and guiding. Priority goes to her students and they are always welcomed. She is always the first to arrive and the last to leave the college. She is truly a guardian of her students’ future. UK is very lucky to have her.”

Anna V. Voskresensky

A native Russian speaker, Voskresensky “is a very innovative and creative teacher” with “tremendous expertise in all things relating to Russian culture, literature and language,” said nominator Garrison Wright, a junior majoring in Russian studies. “One of her most important projects is a class in which students read and discuss excerpts from Russian literature on UK’s student radio station WRFL. To my knowledge, this is the only academic class that uses WRFL, as well as the only Russian-language broadcast in Central Kentucky. (She) invites students to her home to eat home-cooked Russian dinners and watch Russian films. She is extremely concerned with forming personal relationships with each of her pupils, in order to help them achieve their fullest potential. (She) is a faculty adviser to the UK Russian Club and is highly involved with the organization’s planning and execution of programs. She collaborates with professors from the other language departments and from the UK School of Music to host annual poetry/piano recital events.”

The UK Alumni Association is committed to fostering lifelong engagement among alumni, friends, the association and the university. For more information about the UK Alumni Association, visit or call 800-269-2586.

photo of 2020 Great Teacher Award winners on floor of Rupp Arena
L to R: Darshak Patel, Anna Voskrensensky, Emily Cunningham, Taunya Phillips, David McNear, Martha Riddell, Lou Hirsch, Michael Huang. Phillips and Huang are with the UK Alumni Association. Mark Cornelison | UK Photo.

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