Gordon Blaine Steffey, the Barbara Boyle Lemon ’57 and William J. Lemon Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy, teaches to pay down a debt. But it’s not a monetary debt—it’s a self-imposed return on the investment his own college professors made for him.
This year, Steffey’s dedication to teaching has earned him multiple awards and recognitions. Most recently, the United Methodist Board for Higher Education and Ministry gave him an exemplary teacher award in May. Last fall, Randolph named him the Lemon Chair in Religion, and at Convocation in September, he received the College’s annual Gillie A. Larew Award for Distinguished Teaching.
In November, the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) awarded him the prestigious H. Hiter Harris, Jr. Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, which honors a faculty member whose professional history reflects a strong, clear, and abiding commitment to excellence in classroom teaching within the undergraduate liberal arts and sciences.
“It’s great to know that my teaching is being received well and is seen as valuable by my students as well as by the College administration,” Steffey said.
“Coming out of college, I felt like I owed a debt to the people who taught me so well. Now I feel like I might be starting to pay it back, and have the opportunity to influence my own students by taking an interest in their education and their lives.”
To be considered for the VFIC award, Steffey was required to submit a teaching statement as well as a recommendation from a faculty member, a student, and from the dean of the College. For the nomination, one of his students recalled a New Testament course in which Steffey explained the principle of redaction criticism by using lyrics from Weird Al Yankovic’s “White and Nerdy,” a parody of rapper Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’.”
“Studies show that there’s higher synaptic activity in students who are laughing as they learn,” Steffey said. “It’s my goal to create a classroom culture where learning is not a strictly sobering experience, but one that students enjoy.”
Carl Girelli, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, believes the VFIC chose wisely in selecting Steffey as the 2015 recipient.
“Professor Steffey expresses and embodies the power of the liberal arts education to transform the student such that she perceives the world in finer nuance, and thus to render her a force for good in the smaller fellowships and the broader society to which she belongs,” Girelli said.
“We share as a community the honor of this recognition, and as dean, I feel great pride in the College and the faculty as our commitment to teaching and learning becomes increasingly apparent and recognized through Professor Steffey’s achievement.”