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Mrs. A.B. "Dolly" Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching:
A Teacher Who is "Magnifique"

Date: May 19, 2000
By: Eric Lose
Photo by: Colleen Kelley
Archive: General News, Campus News

If you were lucky, at least once during your education you had a teacher that sparked something inside you. Someone that made you really want to learn. The kind of teacher that, years later you remember during a spring afternoon daydream when your thoughts float you back into the classroom. Just the memory of that instructor's passion and commitment tugs at your heart, gives you the warm-fuzzies and (if you're sure no one's watching) might even bring out a few tears.

image of Vialet

Michele Vialet is one of those teachers: the kind you never forget. That is one of the reasons why she has been honored with the Mrs. A.B. "Dolly" Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching. Vialet came to UC in 1985; she teaches courses in French composition, phonetics and grammar, and 17th century French literature. She also teaches Francophone literature and culture, which is the literature and culture of countries that use French but are not part of France, such as North Africa, West Africa, Canada and the Caribbean.

Originally from a small village in France, Vialet studied general linguistics at the University de Lyon and University Besancon. She came to the United States through an exchange program she created between Lyon and Penn State and studied social linguistics while completing her doctoral degree in French.

Vialet said after graduating she chose to come to UC "because it was a Research I institution, had a good reputation and I could teach the things I really liked, 17th century literature and linguistics."

A lot of students are grateful that Vialet chose UC as a place to teach because from her they have learned a lot more than literature and French.

Barbara Brady, a writer and one of Vialet's former students, said "I believe that every student has talents that won't be realized unless a teacher inspires them into existence. So much of the time, inspiration comes from being pushed. In Dr. Vialet's classes, it comes from being pulled."

Students appreciate the ways in which Vialet challenges them. Matthew Williams, an Arts and Sciences student said her encouraging nature helped him work through the lengthy process to locate the resources to study abroad. Williams spent seven months studying in France and Burkina Faso in 1998. He is spending this year in Japan under the Study Abroad program on a scholarship to the University of Nagoya.

Williams said, "Michele Vialet was largely responsible for my stay in France. She encouraged me to undertake the project, pointed out to me many sources of financial aid and supported me when the process seemed overwhelming."

Richard Dustenberg, an attorney who returned to school an earned his PhD in French Literature at UC, spoke highly of Vialet's scholarship and pedagogy. He said, "She takes great pride in developing techniques that work not only for instruction for 17th century French literature but for any other level of French instruction."

Vialet published an article in the American Journal for Teachers of French on the use of opera in teaching French. Referring to the article, Dustenberg said, "I think it's a very admirable thing that she brings that to her classroom, uses it, then shares it with French teachers all over the United States."

Vialet, who has published two textbooks and a monograph and has two new volumes in the works, said what she enjoys most about teaching is the attitude of the students. "By the second or third year, they're here for personal learning. Most of them work hard, they have a desire to learn, they're eager."

Vialet said one of the things she appreciates about teaching at UC is "the diversity of students. They bring a lot of different experiences and common sense. We have young and not so young, African American students and students from abroad, many different countries. They seem to learn from each other, and I try to promote that in my classes. I think they like that."

Vialet was surprised when she learned she was to receive the Cohen award. "It's a wonderful award, it is a university-wide award and since it's based on the students' desire to nominate professors, for me I find it very touching."

Vialet seems to have a knack for getting the most from her students. Brady said, "Dr. Vialet's particular gift as a teacher is her high expectations. She has the vision to impart her expectations, the faith to uphold them, and the generosity and good humor to award those who struggle as well as those who succeed. I will always be grateful to her."

Many people have praised Vialet's scholarly work and teaching abilities and were just as adamant about her personal qualities. Dustenberg said, "In addition to her high level of scholarship and pedagogy, she is a beautiful, gracious and compassionate woman. She really is a gracious lady, a gracious human being."

Vialet said, "Being nominated was a great honor, but I honestly didn't think I would get it. It is really an honor, I'm really touched."

A note penned in on the bottom of a class evaluation form best sums up students' opinions of Vialet's abilities and commitment: "Professor Vialet is an AWESOME teacher."

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