Distinguished Teaching Award for Post-Baccalaureate Instruction: This award was first given by the University in 1995 to recognize the important role of post-baccalaureate teaching. Each of the four winners receives a one-time stipend of $5,000 and a framed citation.
Richard Simpson Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience
Faculty member since 1980
Hometown Monroe, North Carolina
Excerpt from award citation:
“Every interaction with him is about love: love for the profession, love for teaching, love for how to teach. I have deep respect and gratitude for everything Don has done for me and for the profession.”
Who was the best teacher you ever had and why?
I have had many wonderful teachers along the way, from elementary school through graduate school to current colleagues. Each has contributed with their own unique styles and messages, and I have learned and grown from my relationships with so many of them. Basically, learning to the fullest “takes a village.” Growing up in a small town in North Carolina, I was surrounded by a host of teachers and others who believed in me, encouraged me, challenged me, shared their passions, and taught me to set no limits on what I could do or where I could go. For me, that is the essence of teaching.
What is something you’ve learned from your students?
Students continue to show me that if given the opportunity and a healthy environment, everyone loves to learn, grow and be challenged, and students have great ideas and insights. Often, I have more experience than many of my students, yet their perspectives, abilities to see things in unique ways, and literally “play” with ideas push me to grow continuously and keep my passion alive. Working with students truly is an interactive process, and in that sense, we’re all students and teachers. Students keep me humble and ready to learn; learning at its best is a bidirectional, interactive process.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am a first-generation college student from North Carolina. For me and my three older brothers, Carolina was, and is, THE University of North Carolina. Each of us came to school here and received undergraduate and graduate degrees from Carolina. I now have been on the faculty for 40 years. It is starting to grow on me, and I might just settle down here.
What does it take to be a good professor in 2020?
Over the span of my career, the technology has changed, the knowledge in the field has continued to advance, and students have become more global with a keen sense of social justice in their DNA. These evolutions continue to propel us forward in a positive direction and being a good professor means being aware of and integrating them into everything I do. Yet alongside embracing these ongoing changes, I believe that many of the fundamentals of being a good professor in 2020 have not changed over time. For me, this translates into having a passion for what I do and finding a way to transmit that passion to others around me. I need not only to stay updated but also to lead by creating new knowledge; I need to believe in my students and see true potential in them that even they do not see in themselves, and, for me, I need to have fun. Being a professor is a demanding and very rewarding way to live; what a privilege.
What’s the most creative thing you’ve done to engage your students?
The profession of psychology and neuroscience extends beyond our local and national borders: it is worldwide. Knowing how senior and developing professionals in other countries think about issues and how their perspectives are shaped by their own culture expands a student’s horizons. So over the decades, I have created opportunities for students to travel with me to other countries such as Germany and England, build collaborations with scholars, stay with graduate students in their homes, and get to know these international scholars and students as human beings. These experiences have been educational, enjoyable and exciting, and they have contributed to a sense of oneness across borders. These activities are what I would call “big-ticket” items. They are great, yet they have to build on the day-to-day work that I do with my students. Those daily steps and our ongoing work together lay the groundwork from which excitement, passion and creativity can grow and be sustained.