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For Heidi Kelley, teaching isn’t just imparting information to students. Instead, she helps students “discover their knowledge for themselves.”

“I challenge my students to dig deep into both their own experience and our class texts to unlock the meanings of human experience—theirs and those of others,” Kelley said. “Thus my teaching tactic is to gently steer my students to realize their own understanding of the material.

“I feel that the more hard-won the insights are, the more my students treasure this understanding.”

Kelley’s teaching philosophy has earned her the prestigious 2017 Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award for UNC Asheville. Each year, the UNC Board of Governors selects a faculty member from each UNC campus to receive the award; Kelley was nominated for the teaching excellence award by a committee of her colleagues.

Kelley said her teaching pedagogy was impacted by her experiences following a massive stroke in 1998, which left her speechless and unable to walk or stand.

“After a year of intensive physical, speech and occupational therapy, I returned to the classroom culturally fortified with new insights into the making and unmaking of culture and the capacity of individuals and communities to deal with adversity and social disruption,” Kelley said. “Now my pedagogy is focused on teaching my students to understand not only different cultures but also different ways of being in the world.”

Understanding those cultures and ways of being in the world can require going beyond work in the classroom. As a faculty fellow of the Key Center for Community Engaged Learning, Kelley offers regular partnerships between her students and the broader Asheville community, helping them to apply the lessons they’ve discovered in Kelley’s class to the world around them. In 2013, she was a key participant in a community collaboration that brought together undergraduates with a local neighborhood in a series of forums and reading circles designed to prepare for nationally renowned scholar Cornel West’s visit to campus.

“To strive to see the world from another person’s point of view is imperative.  This principle of cultural relativism does not mean that students give up their values in my classroom but rather learn to see how their values are constructed and culturally situated,” Kelley said. “I want my students to learn the significance of where they come from while at the same time, recognizing and appreciating the significance of those different from themselves.”