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Two noted mentors receive distinguished teaching awards

Miguel Aguilera, 2013 Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Award
April 19, 2013

Two outstanding faculty members have been chosen to receive this year’s Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Award and Outstanding Lecturer or Instructor Award by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.

Award winners Miguel Aguilera and Cornelia Wells will be recognized for their distinguished teaching and mentorship at the college’s two convocation ceremonies at 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., on May 10, in the Well Fargo Arena.

The Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Award was established by the Pearce Family in memory of Zebulon Pearce, who graduated from Territorial Normal School at Tempe (now ASU) with teacher's credentials in 1899.
Aguilera is a professor with ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies and affiliated with ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the School of Transborder Studies. Aguilera’s training is in anthropological Mesoamerican ethnography and archeology, as focused on religion. A popular professor and noted mentor, his courses in the school’s religious studies major intersect with issues of race, ethnicity and indigenous populations in the Americas. 

Of his own instructors, Aguilera has said, “My teachers have been my past professors, colleagues, students, relatives and Maya consultants. What I try to bring to my teaching then is what I admire most in many of them, a vivid interest in explaining our world and our place within it.”

“Dr. Aguilera has influenced my scholarship and teaching in profound ways,” noted one student. “While these have been critical to my professional development, my interactions with Dr. Aguilera have resulted in strengthening my character as well. “He has instilled in me a strong sense of ethics, which guide my work and interpersonal relationships. Most of all, he has taught me that honesty and personal accountability are key for being a good researcher, teacher and human being.”

Receiving the Outstanding Lecturer or Instructor Award will be Cornelia “Corri” Wells, a lecturer in ASU's Department of English. The award acknowledges excellence in instruction by a non-tenured faculty member.

Wells teaches a broad array of classes and diverse group of lower division and upper division writing courses. In addition, she also co-leads the Department of English’s Prison Writing program, is the faculty advisor and mentor for the PEAC club (Prison Education Awareness Club) and oversees the Pen Project Internships. Over the last three years, her students have published more than 240 pieces in newspapers, newsletters, magazines and online publications.

"Dr. Wells is an amazing lecturer. She creates the space for her students to voice their stories and opinion and her teaching philosophy centers around her ability to empathize with everyone she meets,” wrote one of her many student nominators. “She deserves recognition not only for the amount of work she does as a teacher, but also for the environment she helps to create and the passion she inspires in all her students.”

“The world we are leaving our students is hardly built to last,” stated Wells, when asked to explain her teaching philosophy. “Empathy, as a necessarily interactive skill, demands and offers students more than any other tool I know…it not only gives students a strategy for getting along with people, but also with other living and nonliving entities.”

“To build a city in a region with heavy rainfall, for instance, to avoid flooding, one must think like water. What does water want? What is it like, and likely to do?” said Wells. “The same goes for fire, atomic energy, or bioengineering as for human relations, whether at the level of nations or nest-door neighbors. Empathy is not simply anthropomorphic exercise wherein things and animals become (in our minds) carbon projections of ourselves. Empathy is an attempt to know the world as best we can, as itself, before we try to alter it. We are just beginning…”