Nomination tips for USDA Excellence in College and University Teaching in the Food and Ag Sciences

Nominations for the USDA Excellence in College and University Teaching in the Food and Agricultural Sciences award are due March 15, 2011.  You can access the nomination information at

Pasted below are some helpful hints that have been shared previously. Hopefully they are helpful to you as you select nominees and help prepare the nominations.

What facts and pieces of information help distinguish the top nominees from the others?

  • Previous recognition at the college, university and regional levels through academic and professional organizations (NACTA, Gamma Sigma Delta, discipline-based organizations) and an indication of relative importance (e.g., one of five awarded annually from among 2,000 faculty)
  • Publications and grants related to effective/innovative teaching and/or advising
  • Data that clearly show the nominee is indeed one of the top (teaching scores without a reference may not be helpful, since scales and deviations vary across universities)
  • Clear explanations of teaching responsibilities, percent appointment, brief but clear descriptions of courses, enrollments, level (upper/lower division, graduate, etc.), frequency of teaching same course type (lecture, lab, distance, seminar, etc.)
  • Peer assessment of teaching (classroom observation, review of course materials, etc.)
  • Personal philosophy of teaching
  • Evidence of impact: student feedback, use of materials in other courses/institutions, preparedness of students for next course in sequence
  • Leadership for teaching/advising/curriculum improvement in academia and professional organizations
  • Quality advising/mentoring of students and clubs/organizations
  • Respect for students, appreciation of diversity

What qualities are viewed as most important? What kind of evidence supports excellence in nominees?

  • Evidence that students and peers believe the nominee is an excellent teacher
  • Innovative teaching, creative work, demonstrated passion for teaching
  • Outreach to high schools and others groups
  • Dedication to students and student learning
  • Length of service, number of students taught
  • Strong letters of support from chair and dean

One overriding theme seems to appear in the comments from the former selection panels. It is imperative to start the process early, not just in getting the materials ready but also getting nominees ready. Academic administrators should be working closely with unit leaders to ensure that worthy candidates are nominated for “local” and professional association awards.  Then those recipients become a list of potential nominees for the USDA awards.

Starting early also means selecting nominees prior to the nomination deadline so that there is sufficient time to prepare the materials. Having the nomination packet reviewed by someone who is not familiar with the nominee (or even the awards program) could serve as a test run of the selection process.  Reviewers who are provided with the evaluation criteria and the suggestions offered in this paper should be able to provide valuable feedback to the nominator and nominee.

There are always potential nominees who are reluctant to go through the process, since it is a bit of “blowing one’s own horn.”  (That’s a bit like not taking a tax deduction for a gift to the university because it looks like bragging!) Therefore, academic administrators must proactively seek out potential nominees, and then be sure the nominees follow through since the largest portion of the nomination is self-description.

Like they say in the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play.  Academic administrators are encouraged to get their players ready because faculty deserve the recognition, and the teaching part of the college can benefit from being in the limelight.

R. Kirby Barrick
Project Director
USDA Teaching Awards Program