Graduate School

The University of Mississippi

Excellence in Graduate Teaching Award Given to Professor Fennelly

by Jordan Orris

Professor Beth Ann FennellyAn excellent graduate education can only occur if the students have excellent graduate faculty. Established in 2013, the Distinguished Teaching Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring Award recognizes and rewards graduate faculty members who have had an exceptional impact on graduate students in supervision of student research or professional practice. Additional criteria include excellence in graduate classroom instruction and in having a positive influence on the graduate curriculum.

This year, the Award was aptly given to Professor Beth Ann Fennelly. Professor Fennelly is a professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts. This year, she balanced a book tour while still being a distinguished professor and mentor.

Dr. Annette Kluck, Dean of the Graduate School, shared these remarks when notifying faculty of the award: “Professor Fennelly has an outstanding record of accomplishment in graduate teaching and mentoring and is truly deserving of this award. [She] has been a leader of our MFA in Creative Writing program, facilitating enhanced diversity, excellence, and national ranking. Professor Fennelly has directed 32 MFA theses. She is a highly-lauded classroom teacher and accomplished author. Her extensive travel to read her own creative writing helps the university’s reputation and that of our state as she is the poet laureate of Mississippi. She has won two teaching awards from the College of Liberal Arts.”

Jennifer Key, a Ph.D. student in English, nominated Prof. Fennelly and stated,

“among her graduate students, Professor Fennelly is known for her high expectations, demanding syllabi, and rigorous approach to grading.” She continues, “one of her most remarkable attributes is the degree to which she invests her time and considerable expertise in her students. She sets exacting standards and helps us to meet them so that we produce work that exceeds our own expectations.”

Here Professor Fennelly shares her thoughts about receiving the Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring Award:

“Working with graduate students never gets old, because their interests are always blooming in unexpected ways. And, one of the joys of my job is staying nimble enough to support them and challenge them as they grow. It’s a cliche to say “I learn as much from my students as they do from me,” and, as someone who teaches creative writing, I know to be wary of cliches, but it’s true, nevertheless. My life is so much richer because I’m surrounded by creative young people who are doing the hard work of making art in a contentious world.

“While my semester has an official end date, the pleasure I take from mentoring is year-round.  Once I’ve worked with a student in the very intense and intimate way that helping someone write a book of poems or essays requires, it seems natural to continue our conversations past class hours, past their graduation dates.  Last year, I had a new book come out (Heating & Cooling, 52 Micro-Memoirs, W. W. Norton) and went on book tour, and of course that made my busy schedule even busier, but it was so fun to connect with my former students in the cities where they now live.  Sometimes I’d be gearing up to face a bookstore full of strangers and I’d think to myself, ‘Oh, Chrissy Davis lives in Chicago, and she’s coming to my reading!’ and I’d feel a bit more confident knowing I could anticipate at least one friendly face.

“Of course teaching is a pretty demanding profession, and does take some of the time and energy I might otherwise be spending on my own work, but when I need a boost I just cast my eyes over the bookshelf where I keep former students’ published books, and I feel pretty content.  And now I’ll have a plaque from the graduate school to remind me of the honor of being appreciated in this way. So, thank you.”

We, once again, congratulate Professor Fennelly and thank her for her stellar mentoring relationships. We are grateful for professors like her who continue to add value to the graduate experience.