Every year, the National Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu, awards an undergraduate and graduate faculty member, chosen by students, as Alpha Sigma Nu Teachers of the Year. For 2017, the Alpha Sigma Nu Teachers of the Year are Associate professor of psychology and special education at the Graduate School of Education Dr. Paula Gill Lopez and assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese Dr. Michelle Leigh Farrell.
“I was very surprised that I won the award,” said Lopez. “I have ADHD, which results in executive functioning deficits.” She explained how she used to joke around about how a university professor is probably the worst job for someone with ADHD. However, she has been at the University for 23 years and has worked hard to overcome her constraints caused by her ADHD.
“This award is a tremendous validation,” she said.
When first applying for a job at the University, Lopez said she was offered a job at the University of Connecticut as well.
“I chose Fairfield because of its Jesuit tradition,” Lopez said.
Since she is a woman of faith, she explained how she enjoys participating in spiritual exercises with Fr. Tom Fitzpatrick.
Not only does Lopez credit Fr. Fitzpatrick, but she recognized CAE director Dr. Emily Smith as a positive teaching mentor. “I learn from my colleagues every time I observe them, teach or present and when I co-present or co-teach with them,” she said.
Both Lopez and Farrell spoke highly of their students.
“I love my students and they appreciate our emphasis on cura personalis and also my insistence that they focus on their own self-care in order to thrive professionally as well as personally in a stressful world,” Lopez said.
Farrell was touched by the students’ decision to nominate her for the award. “The fact that students nominated and voted for me makes this award powerful,” she said. “My students are some of my most important colleagues and mentors.”
By being presented with this honor, Farrell believes “it was a way to say the work you do in the classroom matters and the students appreciate it.”
She recognizes previous winners, such as the School of Nursing’s Dr. Jenna LoGiudice and professor of chemistry Dr. Aaron Van Dyke, as inspirations due to their involvement in campus life, research, faculty service and compliments from students.
“I am proud to be a professor at Fairfield,” Farrell said. “I know that part of my work here is to convince others to take these opportunities: to take a language, to take one of the many literature and culture courses that we teach and to see life from a different perspective.”
These professors will be formally recognized next semester on Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.