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Creative-writing professor puts theory into practice

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Lois Roma-Deeley

​Ekphrasis may sound like it’s something to avoid, but it’s a learning approach that Lois Roma-Deeley has embraced in her creative-writing courses at Paradise Valley Community College (PVCC) in Arizona.

Roma-Deeley uses ekphrasis—a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art—by pairing student writers with student visual artists. Each team collaborates to create a work and then presents on the process and the final piece.

It is ideas like this—and their resulting effects on students—that have led to Roma-Deeley being named the 2012 Outstanding Community College Professor of the Year, an annual award program sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and administered by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

A different approach to teaching

Roma-Deeley joined PVCC in 1996, after teaching at a university for about seven years. She immediately began exploring ways to make the writing process more dynamic and interesting for students.

Roma-Deely, who has a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies with a focus in poetry, designed and administers a lauded visiting writer and scholar lecture series on her campus and coordinates a popular annual creative writing competition for students. She uses experiences from the series and contest to develop class assignments and discussions, and to create courses and new ways to learn.

Students in her creating-writing courses are required to complete a portfolio and evaluate their progress at the end of each semester.

“Putting theory into practice in such ways is indeed a hallmark of my philosophy and methods of teaching undergraduate students,” Roma-Deeley said.

It’s about the students

Roma-Deeley, who also teaches women’s studies courses, was noted for her attention to students, who begin her courses with a writing exercise to assess their “learning readiness,” as well as to evaluate their mastery of skills needed to successfully complete her course. At the end of the courses, students self-evaluate their learning and set academic goals.

Her work with students doesn’t end there. Roma-Deeley mentors students—who range from recent high school graduates to suburban housewives—to help them realize their creative and academic potential. She has guided students through graduate programs and applying for prestigious national writing seminars.

“Lois has really expanded our artistic community at PVCC through collaboration with colleagues and by skillfully weaving classroom learning with out-of-class opportunities,” said PVCC President Paul Dale. “Because she is an accomplished poet, she not only serves as a scholarly critic for our up and coming writers but, more importantly, she serves as a mentor and source of inspiration. We are so fortunate to have her as part of our faculty team.”

Roma-Deeley’s students often cite her zest for teaching and appreciate that she seeks ways to not only connect and develop new learning opportunities, but to allow them to explore on their own. They note that Roma-Deeley likes to quote Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

She offers no explanation, letting her students figure that out on their own.

Selected state winners

In addition to the community college professor honor, the annual awards are presented to outstanding professors in baccalaureate colleges, doctoral and research universities, and master’s universities and colleges. Each of the four national winners receive a $5,000 cash award from the Carnegie Foundation.

The 2012 awards also included 30 State Professors of the Year. The community college professors named state winners are:

The 2012 winners were selected from a pool of nearly 300 nominees. Judges based their selections on: impact on and involvement with undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching and learning; contributions to undergraduate education in the institution, community and profession; and support from colleagues and current and former students.

The American Association of Community Colleges is among several higher education associations that supports the awards program.

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