2006 Faculty Awards: Here’s a Prof Who Can Work a Crowd
Students love the award-winning Kenneth Ghee because he teaches them about themselves.
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Andrew Higley
Who would think of merging American Idol with academics – in a live setting that’s nearly as large as the studio crowd behind Simon, Paula and Randy? The student talent acts for Psychology Creativity Day in Kenneth L. Ghee’s Psychology 102 classroom were selected by audition – and the performers were judged by their student peers. Ghee, a University of Cincinnati associate professor of psychology, even jumps in and does an act himself.
The lesson and its tie to psychology? “We always evaluate other people in life – whether it’s a show or a date or whatever, and so Psychology Creativity Day is an opportunity for students to share their personality in an engaging process,” says Ghee. “Plus, it’s an opportunity to integrate the relevance of psychology and pop culture with the pop culture generation, those who live it every day.”
It’s this creativity, and this connectivity with his students, that has merited Ghee winning the University of Cincinnati’s A.B. “Dolly” Cohen Award, UC’s most prestigious faculty award for teaching. The award was established in 1961 by Mrs. Cohen, a philanthropist and leader in humanitarian causes.
“Professor Ghee has one of the most challenging teaching assignments in our curriculum, a part of our Introduction to Psychology sequence,” says Steven Howe, acting department head. “These classes meet in a huge lecture hall and are routinely over-subscribed.
“It takes a snow day for fewer than 200 students to be in the room,” Howe continues. “Under these challenging circumstances, many colleagues would wilt. Not Professor Ghee. He loves the format, he loves the students and he loves the opportunity to pull these students into his orbit and engage them in his oratory.”
Comments on student evaluations of his psychology course sequence range from, “I’d recommend him to everybody,” to “Dr. Ghee was an awesome professor and I’m glad I got to take his course,” to “Dr. Ghee made me enjoy and want to learn while laughing and having fun.”
“I can keep you awake, and that’s a good thing,” he chuckles.
Ghee first joined the university in 1985 with a joint appointment in the College of Medicine and the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences. “When I first came here, I told the department head that I wanted to interface with as many students as I possibly can,” Ghee says. “Many students have told me that I’m the only African-American professor they’ve ever encountered in life. And many students, black and white, tell me that I’m the best professor they’ve ever had. That’s the intrinsic value for me in doing what I do, because it breaks down negative stereotypes.”
Charlene Jackson of Canton, Ohio is graduating in June with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in African-American Studies. She says Ghee in fact was her first African-American professor, and the inspiration for pursuing her degree in psychology. “It was his enthusiasm in the classroom. He made me want to go home and do my homework, and that was weird!”
Ghee now serves as an advisor to Jackson’s student organization after she became president of the Network of Undergraduate African-American Majors in Psychology (NUAAMP). Ghee created the student organization to support and mentor African-American students. “He’s the example of what a professor should be. He’s so personable, so easy to approach and always willing to help.”
Ghee says he tells his students he wanted to be a psychology professor since he was in eleventh grade. That would have been around the same age when he was deeply moved by a public service ad campaign in the 1970s, sponsored by the now defunct Black Council Committee Alliance. The magazine ad showed a young African-American boy, a bath towel serving as his cape, staring into the face of a white Superman. “What’s wrong with this picture, a dream of being the latest superhero, what’s wrong with that,” Ghee says, as he gestures to the photo. “Plenty, if the child is black and can’t even imagine a hero the same color as he or she is.”
Out of that experience evolved Ghee’s own comic book superhero that reflects the socio-cultural experiences of African-Americans – an image he has brought to inner city youth as well as to life – in animation on cable TV.
“I have seen the way he has been able to reach his students from all walks of life,” says psychology alumna Joy Sutherland, one of Ghee’s former teaching assistants. “Dr. Ghee emphasizes personal excellence, social responsibility and diversity. He cares for his students and this is exemplified through his consistent positive course evaluations and open door policy.”
This is not the first award this year to honor Ghee’s impact as a teacher. He is also the recipient of the McMicken College of Arts and Science’s McMicken Dean’s Distinguished Teaching Award. Also, at the Feb. 23 UC/Villa Nova Men’s Basketball game, Ghee was presented with the UC Student Athletes and the Department of Athletics Simon Anderson Faculty Recognition Award. “I really appreciated that recognition. First, I received the award in front of 13,000 screaming fans, and second, I was selected for the award based solely on the merit of my longstanding work supporting our student-athletes – there was no application process.”
Ghee says he wants his students to be excited about psychology because he feels it’s the most relevant material to themselves – their personal needs, desires and fears.
“Teaching is more than the dissemination of information. Teaching is more than simply lecturing to students. There’s an inspiration element to teaching. There’s a motivation element to teaching. There’s an excitement element to teaching. There’s a nurturing element to teaching, and all of those elements apply to developing relationships and that is the essence of effective teaching!
“I want my students to succeed. Not just to graduate, but to succeed in life. I want my students to be better people when they go forth and become the leaders of tomorrow and I want them to be empathetic and humanitarian leaders. I want all students to strive, not just for individual success, but even more so for collective responsibility.”