Amy Nelson, associate professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences received the university's 2009 Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Created in 1982 by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, the Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching is presented to two Virginia Tech faculty members each year. Recipients are selected by the university’s Academy of Teaching Excellence from among those faculty members who have received certificates of teaching excellence from their respective colleges in the preceding three years. Each recipient is awarded $2,000 and is inducted into the Academy of Teaching Excellence.
Nelson’s consistent excellence in the classroom is illustrated by an average evaluation score from students of 3.82, out of 4, over the last 10 years. She has been honored with multiple teaching awards as well. Since 1992 she has been director or a committee member on 11 graduate and eight undergraduate theses, and she is presently an advisor to 30 honors students, five Russian studies students, and 10 first year master’s students.
“Professor Nelson is an exceptional teacher who has not only made a strong impact within our department, but also far beyond it,” says Daniel Thorp, associate professor and chair of the history department. “The range and reach of her teaching-related accomplishments are extraordinary, running the gamut from extensive curriculum development and innovative work in digital history to revitalization of the departmental honors advising and graduate programs.”
Nelson says her favorite part of teaching is when a student “understands a particular concept or point of view, and can then apply it to another situation or context. I live for those moments.”
Abraham Hill Gibson, a 2007 graduate from the master’s program in history, says that “more so perhaps than any other scholar that I have met, Dr. Nelson takes a personal interest in her students’ success. Amazingly, although Dr. Nelson served neither as my advisor nor even on my thesis committee, she worked diligently on my behalf, encouraging me to expand my horizons and gently leading me toward fruitful avenues of research that continue to direct my scholastic interests even now.”
Former student Kevin James, who received a degree in computer science in 2004, describes Nelson as “approachable and a pleasure to talk with on a range of subjects.”
James says he still tries to catch up with Nelson when he is in Blacksburg.
“We don’t always agree,” he says, “but she always makes me think about things in new ways. To me, that’s the essence of an outstanding teacher – the ability to challenge students to think beyond their usual comfort level.”
Nelson’s scholarly interests include Russia, Europe, cultural history, animal studies, and environmental history. She holds bachelor’s degrees in history and in music from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.