SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Thom Cobb, Slippery Rock University associate professor of dance, has been selected as the recipient of the 2013 President's Award for Excellence in Teaching.
The award will be presented at the University's annual Academic Honors Convocation at 2 p.m., April 7, in Morrow Field House.
"All of those nominated this year were outstanding. The final selection was difficult and based on many factors, but Thom's dedicated efforts in teaching, his participatory and engaging pedagogy, innovative classroom practices, his letters of support and the nominations provided by his students clearly swayed the decision in his favor. I am pleased to honor such a dedicated faculty member, who always puts his students first and is deeply and clearly committed to their success," said SRU President Cheryl Norton.
"I commend Thom on his accomplishments as an outstanding teacher and am proud that he is a member of our faculty," Norton said.
"I want to quickly add my congratulations that Thom was chosen to represent our College of Humanities, Fine and Performing Arts, and then claimed the honor. He is an outstanding faculty member and great representative of the quality of educators we have in our college. His ideas of putting students first, tackling a difficult topic and bringing students to completion in their abilities, certainly makes him worthy of being named an excellent teacher at SRU," said Eva Tsuquiashi-Daddesio, dean of the College of Humanities, Fine and Performing Arts.
Cobb, who joined the SRU faculty in 1978, has spent 35 years in the department. He said his motto has been "Teaching to me is a performing art...not a science."
"For more than 35 years, I feel I have remained at the forefront of dance education, often time, on the cutting edge. Though I respect and admire the recent technological advancements and digital world we live in, I must honor the past and the true sense of teaching, which requires personal contact and interaction with other living beings. I strive to stay current in the field by maintaining active membership and participating in state, regional and national organization conferences and conventions," he said.
His experience and expertise in teaching, performing and choreography have led
to numerous residencies and presentations at colleges and universities, public schools and conferences and conventions during his career in dance, including The Dance Teacher Magazine Summit in New York City for the past 12 years.
Cobb has previously been honored as the College/University Dance Educator of the Year by the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance and as the Outstanding Dance Educator in Post-Secondary Education by the National Dance Education Organization. He is serving as president-elect of the NDEO.
"I try to broaden my scope of expertise and attend both formal and informal colloquia regarding the teaching-learning process. Colleagues outside the discipline of dance have great impact upon my career as a university teacher. Slippery Rock University faculty members in the departments of early childhood/elementary education and special education, physical education, theatre, music and visual arts have provided me with insight on how to better my own creative practices. Sharing pedagogical techniques and innovative teaching practices is essential for one to stay on top of the profession," he said.
Versed in several dance forms, including choreography for the musical theatre, Cobb currently focuses the majority of his work in the area of dance education both on and off campus.
He said a major emphasis in his teaching has been serving as a role model for students.
"As an undergraduate student, graduate student, junior faculty member and now a senior faculty member at the university-level, I have always had incredible role models to whom I could look and aspire to become. These teachers left an indelible mark on my life and teaching career, and I can only hope that I have lived up to their expectations. That being said, I have earnestly strived to be a most positive role model for my students, and others with whom I have come in contact throughout my career as a professional dance educator," he said.
"I have taught at the university level for 39 years, and I feel that I still have the love, passion and joy of dance within my sole and my teaching style. I strive to instill these ideals in all of my students, no matter where, and constantly remind them that we do what we do because it is good; it is exciting; it is difficult; it is hard work; it has great highs and tremendous lows; it is creative; it is joyful; it is, at times, sad; and it is fun. If I have been able, over these many years, to pass these feelings on to others, then I have 'done my job' as teacher of dance and as an educator of people," Cobb said.
His nominations for the SRU award cited his ability to "make every class enjoyable and yet still focused. I had the mindset going into the class that I would be a horrible dancer, but he breaks it down so well that I feel happy and good after the class. He deserves this award because he never singles students out, and he always makes the class feel like they are awesome," wrote one student.
"He always makes himself 100 percent available to each and every student. He treats everyone the same in his classes, and he goes above and beyond to make sure the student feels comfortable and successful in his class," wrote another student. "He makes the classes challenging, but fun as well and keeps them from being monotonous. We do a lot of the same things, but in different ways each day," wrote a third.
Cobb has taught a wide variety of SRU dance courses over the years, including "Introduction to Dance," "Dance Fundamentals," "Modern Dance," Creative Dance," "Jazz," "Society and Social Dance," "Tap Dance," "Modern Dance," and "Improvisational Dance," among a host of others.
In one course evaluation, a student wrote, "I came to class, read the book, paid attention and participated. Overall it was a great experience for me. I learned and understood the material. We never had a dull moment. He showed his passion for his work and students. That was awesome. The only thing I would change is TC, don't retire, please."
Another nomination noted, "I was in your 'Introduction to Dance' class, and I really was nervous in the beginning. The last time I had set foot in a studio was then I was 6 years old. Then I came into your classroom, I was not very interested in the arts, and had no interest in learning about dance. But, at the start of the semester you told me to 'Keep an open mind,' and I did just that. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing something that you are so passionate about - teaching dance. Without taking your class, I would have never appreciated dance in the same way I see it now. Your experiences and stories definitely had a positive impact on my learning; I have gained so much knowledge from you."
Cobb, who joined the faculty as a dance instructor, was named an assistant professor in 1981 and associate professor in 1987, earned his bachelor of science degree in education and his master of science in education at Illinois State University. He has completed coursework and comprehensive examinations toward of doctor of education degree in educational administration at Illinois State.
He is a member of numerous dance and related organizations, including PAHPERD, and its Eastern District Association, the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Dance and Child International, National Dance Educators Organization.
He received the SRU President's Award for Outstanding Service in 1981, and a number of organization awards, including the EDA/AAHPERD Merit Award in Dance, The PSAHPERD Professional Honor Award and its President's Award and Recognition Award from the Student Section. He received an SRU Student Apple Polishing Award in the outstanding faculty category in 1994 and 2005, and the SRU chapter of Lambda Sigma presented him its "Professor of the Year Award" in 2004.
Cobb was recognized by the National Dance Association as the College/University National Dance Educator of the Year in 2007, received the New York State HPERD "Ron Feingold Lecture Series Scholar" honor in 2007, and the DNEO Outstanding Dance Educator for Post-Secondary Education Award in 2008.
Other nominees for the 2013 award were Barbara Billek-Sawhney, associate professor in the School of Physical Therapy; Ethan Hull, assistant professor of physical education; and Diane Galbraith, associate professor in SRU's School of Business.
The annual convocation, which salutes SRU's academic success, draws more than 3,000 students, faculty, staff and parents. The event honors spring and fall semester 2012 dean's list students, presidential scholars, academic honoraries, scholar athletes, service learning scholars and scholarship recipients.
The President's Award for Scholarly and Creative Achievement and the President's Award for Outstanding Service will also be presented at the convocation.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.