Amber Roessner's Remarks on Receiving AJHA's Teaching Award

14 Feb 2018 8:32 PM | Dane Claussen

Editor's Note: Dr. Amber Roessner of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville received AJHA's annual teaching award at the AJHA convention in Little Rock in October 2017. Reprinted below are her remarks at the time:

I am truly honored to receive the American Journalism Historians Association’s National Award for Excellence in Teaching. To be mentioned in the same breath as past recipients, whom I hold in high esteem and count as my pedagogical mentors, is a mark of distinction that I will always treasure. 

In many respects, I have developed my style of teaching based upon the models of the individuals, whom I encountered here at AJHA and as a student at the University of Georgia. They all share one thing in common—they all seek to passionately impart to every student that they encounter the influence of the histories of journalism, media, and mass communication on our ways of life by creating authentic communities of learning. 

My mentors taught me to create authentic community by sharing their passions, and that’s one goal that I always have sought to emulate. Many of our students have missed the boat when it comes to developing a desire to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners. We must, of course, meet our students where they are, but we should greet them with enthusiasm. We all know that journalists and all mass communications professionals play instrumental roles in our culture—as watchdogs, as storytellers, as keepers of memory, as liaisons between various publics, and as media historians and educators, we perform a crucial role in sharing with our students how our pasts inform our present circumstances and our future prospects. As my mentor, Janice Hume, puts it in her undergraduate history of mass communications’ syllabus: “understanding [past] challenges will help us face our own.” 

It seems that we are faced with a great many challenges in our world today, and it would be easy to ourselves become indifferent or apathetic. I urge you today to reject that impulse and to instead take advantage of the opportunities that have been afforded to you as educators, such as the one that was afford to me in 2012 when Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s great granddaughter reached out to the University of Tennessee for help in honoring the pioneer social justice crusader. That plea for help spurred myself and my students at the University of Tennessee to launch the Ida Initiative, an interdisciplinary project to foster research about the life, work, and legacy of Wells-Barnett and other like-minded social justice crusaders by scholars and students of communication and history, and served as the inspiration and foundation for a forthcoming edited volume from Lexington Books about Wells-Barnett. 

I also would encourage you to achieve excellence in teaching by heeding some basic advice: Never stop learning, even from your students. This lesson became manifest to me just this summer when I learned that one of my former graduate students, who has a little girl about the age of my son Joseph, was diagnosed with stage-four brain cancer. Over the last few months, I have watched with what can only be described as a profound sense of agony and admiration as Josh has battled his illness. Agony for the pain that he and his family have continued to endure and admiration for his determination to finish his research at the University of Tennessee—to share the histories that have moved him with a new generation. So today, I leave you with perhaps the most important lesson that I’ve learned as a professor—strike that—as a human: may we all be a bit more like Josh, may we, in the words of Gandhi: “Live as if [we] were to die tomorrow. Learn [and, in turn teach] as if [we] were to live forever.” Thank you, Josh, for teaching me this lesson, and thank you, AJHA, for this award that I will always hold near and dear to my heart.

Final Note: If you would like to contribute funds toward this graduate student’s medical expenses as he battles brain cancer, consider donating through

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