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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Paulo Polanah


The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Paulo Polanah, assistant professor of Sociology, for his commitment to intellectual mentorship and the cultivation of a sense of social responsibility in his students.

Dr. Polanah's pedagogical mission, which is premised on the idea of unlearning in order to learn, challenges students' fundamental assumptions by pushing them to question their lived experiences and the categories through which they "know" the world. In doing this, he promotes an appreciation and respect for alternative knowledges and worldviews. His Introduction to African Studies (AFST 1814) and African Religions (AFST 2144) classes consistently draw students from across the University. By cultivating his students' critical engagement and nurturing their intellectual and personal growth, Dr. Polanah's teachings epitomize the vital importance of a liberal arts education at a Research I University.

For his efforts, Dr. Polanah has been recognized with the Diggs Teaching Scholar Award (2008) and the Sociology Department's Undergraduate Teaching Excellence Award (2008). However, the greatest recognitions of Dr. Polanah's success as a teacher and mentor come from his former students whose letters consistently sing his praise. For example, a Senior Analyst for a private sector economic consulting firm writes: "I can state, without hesitation, that no class I have ever taken in all my years of schooling was more life-changing than [Dr. Polanah's graduate-level Africana History course]"; a Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Student says: "my perspective on power relations is forever honed by Dr. Polanah's classes, and continues to impact both my research and the way I view my patients in medical practice"; and a Magna Cum Laude graduate in Accounting, who currently working for the Federal Government, writes: "of all the courses I have taken in school, none have been more instrumental in my critical thinking development than Dr. Polanah's. . . . I still find myself recommending his class to every Virginia Tech student I meet." It is clear from these testimonies and others that the impact of Dr. Polanah's teaching and mentoring extends beyond the borders of the classroom and university.


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