Their classes are the ones that students seek, the ones that inspire the best work and leave pupils aspiring to learn more, do more.
The University of New Orleans International Alumni Association has recognized Erik Hansen, assistant professor of film and theatre, and Lori Hodges, math instructor, for being just those kinds of teachers, naming them the winners of the 2015-16 Excellence in Teaching Awards.
Through student class evaluations, peer recommendations and letters from alumni, it is clear that both Hansen and Hodges are academics who push their students to achieve what they didn’t know was possible while communicating respect and appreciation for their students’ individual talents.
Hansen, who has taught screenwriting at UNO since 2008, consistently receives perfect or near-perfect scores on his student evaluations. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from UNO and a bachelor’s degree in English literature from University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of a number of screenplays, including “Hearts and Souls” (1993), which was produced and distributed by a major studio and starred Elisabeth Shue and Robert Downey Jr. And while Hansen continues to work on his own projects, he manages to mentor new instructors and professors while also pouring himself into his students’ work, leading those who take his classes to describe him as both compassionate and firm, clear and attentive, with a near-superhero power to involve even the most withdrawn students in class discussion.
“He really pushed me to write from my heart and come up with a professional presentation for my work,” wrote a student who took one of Hansen’s classes last spring. “He is this way with everyone in my class … He never told me not to do something I felt passionate about. He only helped me find the best ways to do what I was trying to accomplish. Everyone should take a class with him.”
David Hoover, chair of film and theatre, described Hansen’s teaching style as “dogged nurturing.”
“Mr. Hansen,” Hoover wrote, “is that rare person who has the professional credentials but also has the gift of the teacher … He has an integrity that is manifest in his approach to student work, yet all the while providing a positive voice that is always encouraging.”
Students seek out Hansen’s counsel long after they have left his classroom. One MFA student who he mentored saw his work nominated for the Student Academy Awards.
Hodges also joined UNO’s faculty in 2008. She came at a time when leaders in the Department of Mathematics were concerned about student success in the Math 1115 sections. Tumulesh Solanky, math chair, said Hodges quickly jumped in to work with other instructors to redesign the course, focusing on consistent teaching and testing while increasing interaction between students and faculty.
“Due to the efforts and dedication of Ms. Hodges,” Solanky wrote, “now Math 1115 has become a retention tool for UNO instead of their reason for leaving. What Ms. Hodges has done for a countless number of students at UNO … is truly a miracle.”
Hodges’ work revamping math courses is also on display in the University’s applied algebra and pre-calculus courses, which are taught using interactive technology. She has worked extensively with the dual enrollment program at Benjamin Franklin High School, where she also teachers pre-calculus algebra and trigonometry. Her work was so impressive that she now also coordinates dual enrollment with Cabrini High School.
Engineering alum D. Roudi Bien-Aime said Hodges is emblematic of what educators strive to be: “As a student who was at one time intimidated by mathematics, under her tutelage, I have learned to comprehend and excel in algebra, trigonometry and now calculus. Hodges’ teaching technique removes the element of fear and confusion that often plagues students attempting to understand college math courses. She makes the subject matter comprehensible by teaching in a manner that allows you to grab the core concepts. Thus instead of memorizing equations, she helps you master the art of solving mathematical questions.”
Hodges holds a bachelor of science degree in math from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University. She volunteers in the math tutoring center and frequently holds special review sessions with students prior to tests.
Lisa Crespo, assistant math chair, said she has been impressed time and time again by Hodges’ work as a communicator and teacher who motivates her students to strive for excellence. “In my opinion,” Crespo wrote, “she is the perfect model for a mathematics instructor.”
As part of the Excellence in Teaching Award, Hansen and Hodges each will be awarded $2,000.