Thrilled and excited – that’s how Suellynn Duffey felt when she heard from Chancellor Tom George that she’d been selected for the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Grateful – that’s how she felt while Department of English Chair Frank Grady coordinated her application, which required syllabi, colleague references, classroom visits and more.
But the real punch-in-the-gut emotional moment came for the University of Missouri–St. Louis associate professor of English sometime between when she found out she’d been selected for the award last June and the awards ceremony.
That was when she saw a letter of recommendation written by her former student Dan Bommarito.
“It was rewarding to see,” she recalled. “He got his MA here. Then he got a PhD, and now he’s a professor at Bowling Green, so he was writing as a professor thinking to those long years past. He was able to say specific things, and his tone was warm, reflective and substantive. To see that after six or seven or eight years, that really meant something.”
On April 4, Missouri First Lady Teresa Parson presented Duffey with the award at a luncheon in Jefferson City. Duffey attended the awards ceremony with a graduate assistant, George, University of Missouri System President Mun Choi, and the 14 other awardees and chancellors from participating Missouri schools. Parson spoke well about the importance of education, but Duffey said the highlight was “interesting lunch conversations.”
Looking back at her 13-year UMSL career, what Duffey is most proud of can’t be easily quantified. A large part of her work at UMSL is teaching first-year writing graduate assistants how to teach.
“I love seeing them learn how to do that,” she said. “They take from the class that I teach and take from their own experiences, put those together and making it work for themselves. That’s fun.”
Duffey credits administrators such as Grady and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Andrew Kersten for the support that has allowed her to flourish at UMSL. Plus, there are the students.
Before coming to UMSL, she taught at The Ohio State University, Ohio University, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Georgia Southern University. She’s thought deeply about what it means to be here and who her students are. Since the English MA doesn’t feed into a PhD program, Duffey knows her students may use their degrees in nontraditional ways. So, she’s adapted her teaching to include case studies and lived experiences.
“The department has been a good place for me,” Duffey said. “I’ve been allowed to do new and interesting things instead of being slotted into one role that I haven’t been allowed to move out of. Because I’ve adapted my teaching to the UMSL graduate student population, I’m actually writing about that. It’s become a chapter in a book that I’m writing. So, it’s fed into my scholarship, and presentations have come out of that, too. It’s a good place to live.”