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Last modified: Friday, April 13, 2012

Nick Phillips

The Lieber Memorial Teaching Associate Award

Doctoral student in literatures in Spanish
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
College of Arts and Sciences
Indiana University Bloomington
B.A., Wake Forest University, 2005
M.A., Indiana University, 2008

A gift to inspire -- that's what faculty members in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese perceive in Nick Phillips.

Phillips has taught a range of courses in the department, including first- and second-year Spanish, Introduction to Hispanic Literature, Spanish Grammar in Context, and Introduction to the Study of Hispanic Cultures. Of course, teaching a variety of courses has not come without considerable challenges; some of the most salient include grappling with how best to cover a large amount of course material in one semester, balancing the pace and demands of both upper- and lower-division courses, and acting as an objective mediator among multiple viewpoints that students represent.

"I strive to create a positive classroom atmosphere where students not only feel they are capable of learning the material, but also take on an enthusiasm for the language and Hispanic culture," he says.

Three department faculty members, Alejandro Mejías-López, Laura Gurzynski-Weiss and Israel Herrera, say, "There is no doubt that Nick is passionate about teaching and that his enthusiasm becomes infectious; his students, peers and supervisors feel engaged and inspired by his teaching.

In each class, Phillips has succeeded not only in motivating students, but also in encouraging them to pursue excellence by applying the concepts they learn to a broader context outside the classroom. Sophomore Evangeline Magno, a Spanish minor, writes that Phillips often incorporates variety in the classroom, using games such as Jeopardy to reinforce vocabulary skills or grammar lessons. As a result, she is more confident about using Spanish during her studies abroad.

Another example comes from Jordan Moore, a junior majoring in accounting and finance with a minor in Spanish, who took Phillips' Spanish Grammar in Context course.

"I have yet to have another instructor as energetic and enthusiastic about teaching as Nick is," Moore says. "His passion not just for Spanish, but also for guiding students through their undergraduate careers, was made evident during my time in his classroom." Moore was inspired to study in Spain because of the vivid way Phillips recounted his own experiences there.

Moore's classmate Keely Bakken, a junior double-majoring in international studies and Spanish and double-minoring in linguistics and Central Eurasian studies, had a similar experience in Phillips' class. She writes that Phillips "did everything he could to communicate the lesson while keeping it interesting for the students, be it through incorporating Spanish singer Juanes' songs into the homework assignments or relating his own personal language-learning experience from his time abroad in Spain."

Phillips' colleagues as well as his students have recognized his passion for teaching. Lecturer James Lynch, who supervised Phillips' Spanish Grammar in Context course, says that Phillips had a profound influence on the course in its formative stages of development. Having previous experience teaching the course allowed Phillips to share his personal arsenal of class materials with fellow instructors, who continue to use them today.

Additionally, Lynch calls the teaching he witnessed when observing Phillips' class "inspirational" and "masterful." Whenever he teaches Phillips' students in subsequent classes, he finds that they are consistently well-prepared and hardworking. And it's no accident that all of them can thank Phillips for fostering their interest in the Spanish language.

Lauren Schmidt, a fellow instructor who has since graduated from IU with a Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics and is now assistant professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has personally witnessed Phillips' dedication to his students.

"Many a time I would come across Nick surrounded by a table of students ... eagerly asking questions in preparation for an exam," she says. "He makes it a priority to be readily available to students, even outside of regularly scheduled office hours."

Beyond Phillips the academic exist Phillips the comedian and Phillips the satirist. Samir Reddigari studied with Phillips in Spain during an Honors Program in Foreign Languages event. Reddigari recalls Phillips describing Spanish drivers removing stop signs they disagreed with. "He was always ready with a comical example to prove a point," says Reddigari, who, like so many of Phillips' former students, credits the decision to pursue a Spanish major to Phillips' influence.

"My wish is that students leave my classes with a new perspective on second-language learning and with a desire to expand their linguistic and cultural studies in Spanish," Phillips says.

It's a wish that's been granted again and again.