Alumnus receives prestigious teaching honor

Travis Montgomery, a 2002 graduate of Oklahoma Christian University, was recently awarded a prestigious teaching honor from the University of Mississippi, as well as a highly competitive doctoral fellowship for the 2008-2009 academic year.  Nominees for the award included not only other graduate students, but professors as well, so this was quite an honor.  Such a fellowship means he will focus on completion of his dissertation and will receive a stipend rather than teaching.

For this honor, Montgomery was featured in an article by the University of Mississippi publication, The Mantle, which is featured below.  The article also details the profound impact Dr. Cami Agan, professor of Language and Literature at OC, made in Montgomery’s life.

Dr. Agan comments, “While we may not have many millionaires graduate from the Department of Language and Literature, I strongly believe that graduates like Travis represent the very highest that OC can hope to ever instruct.”

To learn more about the Department of Language and Literature, click here.

Many thanks to Johnny Lott and The Mantle for permission to re-print the article and photo.  To view the original publication, click here.

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“Travis Montgomery: Student and Teacher”
By Johnny Lott

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Travis Montgomery, an Oklahoman, won the 2007 Lawrence “Shaky” Yates Award for Outstanding Teaching in Freshman Composition.  Mr. Montgomery received his B.A. from Oklahoma Christian University, arrived in 2002 at the University of Mississippi, and earned a master’s degree here in 2004.  A Ph.D. candidate, he works to balance responsibilities as a student and teacher.  As a recipient of the Yates award, he has been successful.

Mr. Montgomery attributes his teacher success to excellent professors and mentors.  At Oklahoma Christian, he studied with Dr. Cami Agan, an English professor who sought out promising students and prepared them for graduate work.  In classes, she encouraged students to express themselves freely, creating a non-threatening space for dialogue.  She also masterfully managed discussions by directing students to key themes or issues without forcefully driving the conversation along.  Prepared and professional, she exemplified virtues that she tried to instill in pupils.  According to Montgomery, “Dr. Agan had a remarkable way of making sure her students learned ‘the basics’ while she involved them in the learning process.”

Mr. Montgomery identifies with, and appreciates the lessons he learned from watching Agan in action.  He follows her example, but recognizes that it will take years of “seasoning” to achieve her level of excellence.

On campus here, outstanding professors have influenced Mr. Montgomery.  Included in this group are Drs. Benjamin Fisher, Colby Kullman, Jay Watson, and Hank Bass.  Montgomery praises Dr. Fisher, his dissertation director, for his wisdom and profound learning.  Dr. Kullman is revered as a teacher who treats his colleagues and his students with dignity and respect.  Dr. Watson receives high marks for his well-crafted discussion questions to help students engage texts from fresh perspectives.  Dr. Bass, who speaks cogently about his field to non-specialists, is a model of interdisciplinary outreach. 

Mr. Montgomery’s own approach to teaching is pragmatic:  “I do what works.  If I sense that something isn’t working, then I regroup and change my approach,” One specific challenge he faces is getting students to look critically at their own views and beliefs.  The trick, he says, is keeping the students’ trust.  “I encourage them to investigate issues from different viewpoints.  If students trust me and want to improve as thinkers and writers, then I have a chance.  I must, however, mute my personal beliefs, adopt a balanced tone, and listen.”

Advice for others includes the following:
-Embrace classroom diversity; it enriches the students’ conversation and writing.
-Don’t use the classroom as political pulpit.  Be a guide—not a dictator.
-Keep pedagogical preferences in perspective.  A good pedagogy leaves room for flexibility, and content should take precedence over method.
-When writing prompts for essays, avoid adverbs and adjectives that “color” the assignment.  You don’t want students assuming that they have to investigate a topic from a single “correct” perspective.

Commenting on the Yates Award, Mr. Montgomery recognizes his colleagues in Somerville Hall for helping him sharpen his skills in the classroom.  Composition teachers at UM often share ideas and assignments, commiserate with each other in tough times, and offer encouragement when colleagues need it.  He says, “If I didn’t have these folks, then I would be a terrible teacher.”  One doubts that this is entirely true. 

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