Poet Carolyn Hembree, assistant professor of English, has been named the 2016-17 recipient of the University of New Orleans Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award.
Since she began teaching at the University of New Orleans 15 years ago, Hembree has earned a reputation among students and colleagues as a high-energy, devoted instructor who helps students at all levels find their voice, connect with literature and immerse themselves in rigorous critical exercises that improve their reading and sharpen their writing.
“This teacher changed the way I feel about school,” wrote one student in an evaluation of Hembree’s instruction.
Hembree began teaching at the University of New Orleans in 2001 and was named assistant professor in 2012. She has taught courses in English composition, poetry writing, creative writing and reading drama. In the last five years at UNO, she has directed 23 MFA theses while reading another 15.
Peter Schock, professor and chair of English, said students seek Hembree’s services as a mentor, adviser and reader because she routinely exhibits extraordinary care and concern for her students and their academic growth. She is meticulously prepared for her classes, exhibits thorough mastery of the subject and employs great humor in her multi-pronged instructional methods, all of which Schock says result in an “unparalleled ability to get all of her students to participate.”
“Faculty members in our department who have closely observed Ms. Hembree’s teaching agree that her dynamic teaching style clearly succeeds,” Schock wrote in a letter nominating Hembree for the Excellence in Teaching award. “Her students rise to the challenges she sets before them instead of being intimidated by her persona.”
Hembree’s instruction has received exceptional ratings and feedback from students as well. In evaluations and letters written to the selection committee by students and alumni, students describe Hembree’s approach as “charismatic,” “thoughtful” and, in several cases, life-altering.
Jessica A. Morey-Collins, a 2016 graduate of the MFA program in poetry, wrote that one of the first assignments Hembree gave her class—to spend 10 days meditating, dream journaling or eavesdropping and then reflecting on the impact of that experience on their poetry— “shook the confines of my poetic practice, encouraging me to reconsider arbitrary boundaries I’d created for what was and was not part of my poetry.”
Alumna Kia Groom (MFA, ’15) said Hembree was instrumental in recruiting her move to New Orleans from Australia to join the MFA program and remained the primary reason her experience at UNO was so rewarding. “I can’t speak highly enough of her as a teacher, scholar, poet and human being,” Groom wrote to the selection committee.
In addition to her outstanding instruction, Hembree’s creative work has been recognized with several awards, including the $35,015 Award to Louisiana Artists and Scholars prize from the Louisiana Board of Regents to complete her forthcoming project, O Pony of South Derbigny O Leaping Yellow. Hembree’s full-length collection poetry, Rigging a Chevy into a Time Machine & Other Ways to Escape a Plague, published by Trio House Press, has been honored with the Trio Award and the Marsh Hawk Press Rochelle Ratner Prize.
Hembree holds a bachelor’s degree in English and theatre from Birmingham-Southern College and received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona.
In addition to being honored by President John Nicklow prior to fall commencement on Dec. 12, Hembree will receive a $2,500 award as a result of the Excellence in Teaching honor.