Nora Constantino was, admittedly, “a little flustered” when President Brian Sandoval and several other professors and staff members from the School of Public Health as well as some members of the F. Donald Tibbitts Distinguished Teacher Award committee unexpectedly entered her classroom in Lombardi Recreation shortly after the lunch hour on April 12.
After a moment of surprise, Constantino, an associate professor in the School of Public Health and Department Chair in Kinesiology, did what she has done throughout a distinguished 28-year career at the University. She welcomed everyone in and smiled.
“Nice to see you,” she said.
And then Constantino was informed by Sandoval of some big news. She had been chosen as one of the University’s two winners of the Tibbitts Award, which has been presented annually on campus since 1973 to recognize and celebrate outstanding teaching by the University’s faculty members.
It was, she later said, a joyous but also surprising moment. The process of being considered for the Tibbitts Award can be nerve-wracking for the faculty who are in consideration each year. Not only is a faculty member’s teaching philosophy and outcomes taken into account, there are periods where committee members visit classrooms and observe what makes the particular faculty member so special.
“I appreciate the hard work of the committee,” Constantino said. “It seems to be a significant time commitment and they were very kind when they came to my classes.”
“Dr. Nora Constantino is a remarkable example of what it means to be truly devoted to students. It gives me incredible pride to see her selected for such an esteemed award, and to have her legacy live on in the University's Honor Court,” Muge Akpinar-Elci, dean of the School of Public Health, said.
In her letter nominating Constantino for the honor, Akpinar-Elci expressed her admiration for a talented, caring professor who “… has been a champion for students since 1995. … Her teaching methods result in meaningful learning experiences for students that teach them to think, be respectful, hold them accountable, and think about their preparation for their future. She is passionate about her course topics and motivated to make innovative experiential opportunities in her classes to engage and make students produce work that they see is relevant.”
Just as importantly, Akpinar-Elci noted, was Constantino’s collaborative and positive nature, writing, “Again, as noted by one of her colleagues, ‘I have learned much about effective teaching from Dr. Constantino and often incorporate her techniques within my classroom. She has made me a better teacher and is always willing to provide guidance on how best to approach teaching or how to resolve classroom issues. As much as she does for her students, I would suggest she inspires her colleagues even more.’”
What follows is a Q&A with Tibbitts Award winner Nora Constantino, about her award this year, her career at the University, and what is still to come.
I’m curious about your motivation to be such an outstanding teacher. What motivates you to have such a profound impact on your students (both academically in terms of the content you teach, but also the way students have such a great amount of respect for who you are, and how you go about your business).
N.C.: I think my biggest motivation to be a good and always improving teacher is my students. It is rewarding to see them get the “aha” moment and to watch them go on and be excellent professionals. I am passionate about the need to get all people moving to improve their health. The more students that come out of our program with foundational knowledge of the value and need for exercise, the more we can improve everyone’s health.
If I remember correctly, your mother (Elisabeth) was herself a great teacher/professor/role model. How much, throughout your career, have you used some of the lessons you learned from her in your own teaching?
N.C.: My mother did teach here at UNR for 30 years. As a single mother with five children her schedule was busy. I have memories of going to the orthodontist and then sitting through her college algebra class because she did not have time to take me back to school before class. I saw how she used real life examples to help students relate to the material. I try to use everyday examples to help students understand concepts that are often abstract.
I remember years ago here in Marketing and Communications we helped put together some stories of great teachers and the impact that they were having on their students. We got some great photos of you with your students – they looked engaged, they looked like they were working hard, but they also looked like they were having fun. As a teacher, how do you always seem to find that right balance between “learning” and “enjoying” – or maybe these aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive terms for students who take your classes?
N.C.: Thanks for that. I do not always find the right balance. I do try to read the room and if it seems like I am losing them I will do some kind of a change up to help them shift their attention. I also think that if you cannot laugh at yourself, you miss out on a lot of fun.
The Tibbitts process can be invigorating and nerve-wracking. How was it for you this year? Did you feel like this was your year? And now that you’ve won this award, how does it feel?
N.C.: The good part of the nomination process is that you can take the time to examine your teaching from a broader perspective. Rather than just what is happening during a semester or the last semester it is an opportunity to look at the arc of your teaching.
I did not feel like it was my year as there are many excellent teachers on this campus. It has not really sunk in yet that I won the award. I was completely surprised that’s for sure!
The School of Public Health has undergone dramatic growth and change in recent years. Yet, in a lot of ways, the foundation remains the deep sense of belonging the students, faculty and staff feel for the school. You’re obviously one of the anchors for the school. How do you view your role?
N.C.: I have not been called an anchor. My daughter would say I have been here since the olden days.
I view my role as to support the school to help our students be the positive future for all aspects of health. I value all of the hard work that so many associated with the school do to make a positive academically challenging environment for our students – from fellow faculty, administration, academic advisors, administrative support, and all the others.
What’s next? I doubt you are one to rest on your laurels. What do you think the next few years will hold for you?
N.C.: I think I will continue to work on becoming a better teacher, mentoring new faculty, and work to improve my assignments to ensure that students can demonstrate deeper learning.