English professor Jolanta Wawrzycka has been nominated for the Outstanding Faculty Award given by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), one of the Commonwealth’s highest honors for faculty at Virginia colleges and universities. She is a four-time finalist for the prestigious award.
Professors are nominated based on "their demonstrated excellence in teaching, research and public service." Wawrzycka is among five RU faculty nominated for the award, joining Professor of Psychology Niels Christensen, Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership Matthew Dunleavy, Associate Professor of Marketing Angela Stanton, and Rising Star nominee Elizabeth Lanter, associate professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
When Wawrzycka speaks of her career, her eyes sparkle with the kind of shine that comes only from people who love what they do. "Work sustains me. To me, being in the classroom is truly enjoyable," she says. One of her favorite times in the classroom is when a student has a visible moment of illumination. "Any student who has an 'a ha!' moment is my daily teaching highlight," she adds.
Mention travel and her eyes glisten with excitement. She takes students on study abroad programs, does a lot of research travel, and occasionally enjoys travel adventure with her family. Wawrzycka is married to Radford professor Jon Tso, chair of the Department of Geology; their son, Alexander, is a senior at Radford High School. "Jon and I enjoy traveling with him, both in the U.S. and in Europe. Closer to home, my personal favorite is to hike with my son around Mountain Lake," she says.
"I also love taking students to Ireland and Italy on my study abroad programs. My recent favorite is taking some of them to the Graduate James Joyce Conference in Rome," she says. Wawrzycka shares her knowledge and they, in turn, teach her. "I have learned how to pace my teaching by building up challenging materials, how to highlight and honor students' classroom contributions and their work on critical readings, how to help them negotiate reading and writing challenges in their senior seminar theses, capstone projects and master's theses," Wawrzycka says, adding that she has also learned when to step back.
Wawrzycka has traveled extensively and been a presenter at more than 70 national and international conferences, including guest lecturing at the International James Joyce Summer Schools in Dublin, Ireland, and Trieste, Italy. Her publications include edited volumes of special issue journals on Joyce/translation and a book on Joyce and gender. She contributed chapters to numerous books and professional publications. Wawrzycka actively promotes RU's Scholar-Citizen Initiative that supports "the development of mature, responsible citizens by preparing students to put their intellectual skills to work for the public good."
Student Rachel Klein said, "Dr. Jolanta is basically the reason I came to Radford. She taught my Nobel literature class at summer governor's school and I took the college version during my first semester of freshman year. She's the most passionate and dedicated scholar I've ever met and she's an incredibly gifted teacher," adding that "it's impossible to speak too highly of her."
Former student, Katherine LaRosa, reflects on her years at Radford University, stating that Wawrzycka’s passion for the literature has inspired her to pursue a career in academics. “Dr. Wawrzycka has been an amazing teacher and mentor for me for six years—so much so, that we have even travelled abroad together twice. Her dedication to me as a student and blooming scholar has made a lasting impression on me. She has mentored me throughout undergraduate and graduate school and has dedicated so much time, energy, and resources to me that I would not be who I am today academically if it were not for her influence.”
Rosemary Guruswamy, chair of the Department of English, says Wawrzycka gets some of the highest student evaluations within the department. "She is an internationally known scholar on James Joyce. She engages her students through use of instructional technology," Guruswamy says, which creates a unique and exciting venue of learning.
"One example of skills that students have been practicing for years in all my classes has to do with technology: students gain exposure to hands-on research in the 21st century digital environment, a valuable addition to their resumés," Wawrzycka says. As she teaches and mentors students born into a "gadget culture," Wawrzycka capitalizes on unique methods of capturing students' interest in literature. Her in-class projects have included virtual guest speakers linked from slides or Prezi to online lectures by the laureates of Nobel Prize for Literature; podcasts and websites on her study aboard courses, and various other digital technology based projects.
Wawrzycka received her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Wroclaw in Poland, and her doctorate degree from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
She joined the faculty at Radford in 1987. Over the years, her service to the university included numerous International Education functions, such as serving on an International Education Task Force and on International Education Advisory Council; CORE curriculum service; teaching in Governor's School; chairing the Honors Academy Advisory Board; service as a faculty senate delegate, as guest presenter at Highlander Day open house events, as presenter at numerous "Our Turn" sessions for the Faculty Development Center, and more.
Wawrzycka credits Guruswamy, and College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences Dean Katherine Hawkins for unwavering travel and grant support, and RU technology team—"they have my deepest respect,” she says—for their tireless help, tips and equipment support that allowed her to accommodate her and her students’ technology needs in the classroom, on the road and on the RU server.
Hawkins called it a true privilege and pleasure to have Wawrzycka as a colleague. "She is an inspirational teacher to both her graduate and undergraduate students. She's provided valuable leadership to a number of critically important initiatives at RU, especially those related to international education," Hawkins says. "She's led students in a variety of successful study abroad experiences over the years and was recently a key contributor to the Provost's International Education Task Force. Jolanta is the embodiment of the complete teacher/scholar."
Wawrzycka has been awarded the Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology; was nominated for the Ernest L. Boyer International Award for Excellence in Teaching Learning and Technology; is a four-time finalist for SCHEV's Outstanding Faculty Award, and a recipient of the Donald N. Dedmon Distinguished Teaching Professor Award, the highest honor awarded to RU faculty.
Methods of teaching change but some things should be a constant, Wawrzycka believes. "New developments suggest that online teaching is the way of the future. As a hands-on-technology person, I'm of two minds about it because, for me, nothing can replace the classroom dynamics of person-to-person interactions and discussions," adding that she would not exchange that for anything.
Winners of the Outstanding Faculty Award will be honored at a special ceremony at the State Capitol in February.