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2007 UC|21 President's Excellence Award: Jonathan Alexander

Jonathan Alexander has been a shining star at the University of Cincinnati — and that star is rising fast. And now he is one of two winners of the UC|21 President’s Excellence Award.

Date: 4/30/2007
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Dottie Stover
UC ingot
Jonathan Alexander.
President's Excellence Award winner Jonathan Alexander

“He is, quite simply, the most dynamic, productive, and promising faculty member in my acquaintance here, a very impressive combination of classroom teacher, literacy scholar and program administrator.” That’s how Jonathan Alexander is described by Wayne Hall, vice provost for faculty development and a professor in the Department of English & Comparative Literature. Hall is not alone in his glowing description of Alexander.

“I’ve worked with Jonathan for about the past three years now, on a range of pedagogy and professional-development initiatives, and invariably find him to be an invaluable resource,” says Hall. “Jonathan has built his reputation through a rigorous and ambitious scholarly agenda. Over the past 10 years, he has assembled the most impressive record in the scholarship of teaching and learning of any UC faculty member that I’m aware of.”

It should then come as no surprise that Alexander talks in UC|21 sentences. Think of the goals of UC|21 and you’ll hear pieces of them in every conversation with Jonathan Alexander: student-centered, research, academic excellence, a sense of “place,” urban — opportunity.

Jonathan Alexander.

“I am absolutely delighted to receive the UC|21 President's Award,” Alexander says. “It has been an honor to work as director of UC's General Education Program and as director of McMicken's English Composition Program. Having that work acknowledged truly shows that the university is dedicated to putting students at the center.”

Even more than the UC|21 goals with which we’re all familiar, Alexander epitomizes the principles that underscore the UC|21 vision: scholarship, citizenship, stewardship, leadership, partnership and cultural competence. Especially cultural competence, which is described in UC|21 as “ability to appreciate, investigate and understand a cultural background different from his or her own. Cultural competency promotes tolerance, understanding and respect for a variety of cultures, domestic and international, and facilitates opportunity for interaction, communication and engagement.”

Jonathan Alexander.

For example, Alexander’s recent research and publications revolve around “college-aged students ‘authoring themselves’ on the Web — and thus the world,” he says. He notes that he is aware “as a writing instructor, how we compositionists view students’ writing.” His research helps instructors “appreciate the great deal of rhetorical savvy shown by students,” he says. “But they [the students] — and we — aren’t making the connection.”

Connections. That’s another key word with Jonathan Alexander — just ask Senior Associate Dean Gisela Meyer Escoe of the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

“Jonathan has become a nationally recognized figure in the teaching of writing, particularly in computerized environments, and his work in this area has garnered him awards and recognition among his national peers,” wrote Escoe in her nomination. “He is regularly invited to major universities across the country to present on his work and lead workshops.”

Alexander is quick to credit the contribution of his colleagues and students. He says, “this award represents less what I, individually, have accomplished and more what many of us working together have accomplished collectively by investing time, energy and talent in bettering our students' learning lives.”

Associate Dean Escoe further says that Alexander is well respected for the focus and energy that he brings to the science of teaching.

Jonathan Alexander.

“Jonathan’s contributions to academic excellence at UC are revealed in his commitment to bring scholarly acumen to bear on pedagogical innovations,” she says. “As a researcher, Jonathan’s primary focus has been on the scholarship of teaching and learning—a focus that has resulted in the publication of three…books focusing on pedagogical issues in the teaching of writing—Digital Youth: Emerging Literacies on the World Wide Web, the co-edited volume Role Play: Distance Learning and the Teaching of Writing, and the widely used textbook Argument Now: A Brief Rhetoric. Jonathan has also served as guest editor of several prominent journals, and his peer-reviewed articles on the teaching of writing have appeared in the top journals in the field of composition, rhetoric and writing studies.”

“General Education and English composition are collective efforts,” Alexander notes. “I could not work successfully without the hard work and dedication of my colleagues.”

Alexander’s collaboration with others has led to his receiving awards and recognition both inside and outside the University of Cincinnati:

  • Honored with the 1998 Kairos Hypertext of the Year Award, for “Hypertext Reflections,” which includes my “Hypertext and Queer Theory.” 
  • Included in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, in 2000 and 1998.
  • Received UC’s 2002 Just Community Award, for contributions in creating a just and equitable learning environment at the University of Cincinnati.
  • Received the 2003 Ellen Nold Best Article Award, for “Digital Spins: The Pedagogy and Politics of Student-Centered E-Zines,” published in Computers & Composition December 2002.
  • Named one of Cincinnati’s “Creative Class” by Cincinnati Magazine, May 2003.
  • Received the 2005 Ellen Nold Best Article Award, for “Sexualities, Technologies, and the Teaching of Writing,” a special issue of Computers & Composition, September 2004.
  • Nominated for the 2006 Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award, for Digital Youth: Emerging Literacies on the World Wide Web (Hampton Press).
  • Named Visiting Scholar in New Media Studies and Composition for The Ohio State University’s Digital Media and Composition Program, summer 2007.

Many of these appointments and honors came at one of the most challenging times in Alexander’s life. Alexander’s degrees are from Louisiana State University, one of the places he calls home. He spent part of his sabbatical year helping family and friends recover from Hurricane Katrina.

“My sabbatical year—which I took last year—was dominated by the death of my father in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and then the untimely and unexpected death of my partner's father later that year,” he says. “While I was able to finish a first draft of my new book, I look back on that time as one of not just intellectual but also emotional richness and complexity. My friends, my mother, and my partner, Mack, helped me through all of it—the book writing, the grieving, the celebrating of others’ and our own lives. I am grateful to them and know that I could not have returned to campus—and my two directorships—without their love and support. They inspire me on a daily basis.”
Alexander currently has three books under contract, which he hopes to complete in the near future. “I also hope to return to a rewarding teaching life and develop soon some new courses for undergraduate students.”

Alexander says that receiving the UC|21 President’s Award is an affirmation “that our work with and for students is a HUGE part of why we are here, why we come to work every day, and why we ourselves continue to research, write and publish.”

Alexander’s advice for his composition students and fellow instructors is a lesson for us all:

  • What’s my audience here?
  • How do I need to communicate?
  • How do I need to teach?
  • What divide needs to be bridged or breeched?

“All of these efforts—teaching, administrative work, research—can enrich our students' lives,” Jonthan says. “We need to continue to develop ways to connect our work in all of its dimensions to our students' lives.”


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