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2008 Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching: Keith King

Keith King began his career by helping troubled teens at an inpatient psychiatric unit for adolescents, which reinforced the importance of positively connecting with youth.

Date: 5/13/2008 12:00:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Lisa Ventre

UC ingot   Keith King, an associate professor of health promotion and education, is the 2008 recipient of the University of Cincinnati’s most prestigious award for teaching, the A.B. "Dolly" Cohen Award. Yet, his students and peers are pouring out the praise not only for his excellence in teaching, but also for his research to build brighter futures for the nation’s adolescents.
Keith King
Keith King


In 1998, King joined the faculty in the health promotion and education program in the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH). Since then, he has gained national recognition as a researcher on school violence and adolescent suicide prevention, as well as other mental health issues affecting adolescents. King serves as director of research and evaluation for the UC Center for Prevention Studies in CECH. As an educator, King remains committed to preparing future health educators to serve schools and communities.

"His charisma and conviction most impressed me," says former student Dawn Bracheau. "His energetic classes forced the attention and involvement of all students."

"Teaching health is not just his job, it’s a personal quest," writes UC alumna and former student Elizabeth Barnes in her nomination. "The academic environment is an outlet where his passion, personality and knowledge have combined and become infectious. Students love him, he makes them laugh and they learn from him, which is what we’re all here for."

King says his passion for teaching and research evolved from spending more than seven years working at an in-patient psychiatric facility for adolescents. "That’s where I learned the importance of individual stories, that everyone has a story and wants to tell their story, but there’s not always someone there to listen," he says.

King says he would watch patients make progress and be discharged, only to see them return shortly thereafter. "I saw this consistently. It was like a revolving door. That’s when I knew I needed to get outside the hospital to examine how to prevent the problems from occurring in the first place."

King earned his master’s degree in public health education from the University of Toledo in 1995 and earned his PhD in health education from the University of Toledo in 1998, shortly before joining the faculty in the UC health promotion and education program. His research into adolescent suicide and school violence prevention earned him the American Association for Health Education’s (AAHE) Horizon Award in 2001, an award that recognizes the potential of its recipients to obtain outstanding prominence in their field.

"Not only is Dr. King a devoted and exceptional teacher, but he is that rare individual who matches this excellence in teaching with truly exceptional talent and productivity in research," says Janet Graden, head of the Division of Human Services in CECH.

"Students also think of Dr. King as a tremendous professional resource and he will always challenge students to challenge themselves," says UC alum Anders Cedergren. "Dr. King is a great example of a teacher who understands that the role of a university education is to develop well-rounded individuals. Dr. King’s teaching fosters people who value professional accomplishments as well as personal happiness," says Cedergren.

"Since the 1950s, national research shows that there has been a steady increase throughout the nation in adolescent loneliness. I really do believe that the key to solving a lot of the social and emotional health problems in today’s youth is to get them positively connected – connected to positive people and to positive situations," King says. "I believe that has a huge impact on all of my research, whether that research is about teens and sex, drugs, violence or suicide, there is always this underlying theme of working to get people connected. And that spills into my teaching.

"When I teach, I tell my students that from day one, my purpose and my goal is for this class to have a positive impact and for me to have a positive connection with my students, and if I have not accomplished that by the end of the quarter, then I have failed," King says.

He adds that in his classroom of health educators, he has met phenomenal students who want to make a difference in another person’s life, and it’s up to him to help guide them on how to do so. "I’ll tell them from day one, set a positive, warm, safe, emotionally nurturing environment with your students. Build positive connections with them, and that classroom will start to build and grow in a positive direction.

"Teaching is about breaking down barriers, about going outside your own comfort zone and sharing your stories, sharing your feelings," King says. "Yes, you have to cognitively prepare for the classroom, but I feel that if I want to have an impact, I need to teach from the heart. That helps the students to be more willing to open up themselves."

Perhaps, King’s overall teaching philosophy can best be summed up in the following comments that he shared with his students last quarter: "You see, we all have the need to feel that we belong, to feel that we are accepted and to feel that we are loved. We need to feel connected. And if we do not feel connected, then problems result. This is definitely the case for so many of our kids. So many feel abandoned and uncared for. So many feel lost and so many lack hope.

"This is where we come in. We need to act. We need to let them know that there is hope and that there are those who care. We need to let them know that today can be a new day for them. We need to let them know that they are important and that they are loved. True happiness and true peace can be gained through positive connections. We all need to know this and we all need to act on this. It is when we begin to open up and share with others, when we listen to what others have to say and when we see others for who they really are, that we begin to connect. It is then that we begin to make a positive difference," King said.

"Remember that it only takes one person to make a difference –just one. And you can be that one person. You can make a difference. You can make the difference. It is completely up to you."