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May 14, 2010

Dr. Gary Schuster Provost Georgia Institute of Technology

Dear Dr. Schuster,

I am very pleased to nominate Dr. Hugh Crawford, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Literature, Communication, and Culture (LCC), for the Board of Regents Teaching Excellence Award. I know Hugh and his work well enough to be convinced that he has achieved exactly the sort of personal and professional profile that this award was created to honor. It would be hard for me to imagine a better candidate for an award that recognizes excellence and imagination in the classroom.

I once asked a student I know well what courses he’d be taking in the upcoming academic year, and he said, “Well, I know I want to make time for another Crawford.” Another Crawford: I knew exactly what he meant – and why. A “Crawford” is not a formal academic category you’ll find in the Georgia Tech curriculum, not at all like Calculus or Physics or Mechanical Engineering or anything like that. Rather, it’s an academic experience that defies disciplinary definition, an innovative, boundary-breaking course taught by a faculty member who himself defies disciplinary definition.

What do students do in a Crawford? They might start out in what looks a lot like a regular section of English 1102, the first-year composition class, thinking that by doing the requisite number of five-paragraph essays they’ll be considered competent in composition. And they will indeed work on their writing. But they’ll also work on something else, a class project that winds up going far beyond the basic course requirements. One year it was a student-produced video about the design and implementation of the new East Commons space in the Library. The next year it was a course about people with disabilities, and the students volunteered with TOPSoccer, an athletic program for physically-challenged young people. This past year Crawford and his student turned their attention to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and in addition to reading the book and writing essays about it, they also built a full-size replica of Thoreau’s hut, using only the tools available to a nineteenth-century carpenter. There’s probably no better way to get to know Thoreau’s living space at Walden, much less his notion of “Economy,” than to do the work the way he would have done it himself

Let me focus on one particularly evocative example of Hugh Crawford’s approach that I found especially impressive. Two years ago, he organized one of his

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