Dr. Robert Von Thaden wins the 2022 Teaching Excellence Award

Bella Lee and Hannah Brooks

Every year, the Mercyhurst community presents the Teaching Excellence Award to a professor that has gone above and beyond for their students.

The 2022 award was presented to Robert Von Thaden, Ph.D., of the Religious Studies Department. Von Thaden is a Professor of Relivious studies who specializes in biblical and other sacred texts.

Von Thaden received his bachelor’s at Muhlenberg college, his M.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D from Emory University. During his studies, Von Thaden trained as a biblical scholar at Emory University. In addition to his career at Mercyhurst, Von Thaden has also written about early Christian texts, children in biblical texts, religion in American culture, and apocalyptic imagery in science fiction.

He is a published author, having written a book titled “Sex, Christ, and Embodied Cognition: Paul’s Wisdom for Corinth” (2012). He was also one of the editor of “Foundations for Sociorhetorical Exploration: A Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity Reader” (2016) and is currently working on a book titled “Exploring Galatians: Jewish God, Pagan Bodies,” which is a commentary on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Von Thaden discussed his achievement of winning this award, explaining that he is extremely humbled and grateful to be a recipient. “I work with amazing colleagues, many of whom I consider pedagogical masters,” Von Thaden said. “That this award comes from colleagues, students and alumni makes it all the more special to me.”

Von Thaden has been teaching and involved in the Mercyhurst community for nearly two decades now and has discussed some of the rewarding opportunities he has gained from the experience, as well as some of the interesting classes he has had the opportunity to teach.

“I’m finishing up my 16th year at Mercyhurst and I have been able to develop and teach some amazing classes,” Von Thaden said.

This semester, he is teaching “Desert Mothers and Fathers,” “New Testament and Christian Origins” and “Death and Dying.”

“I very much enjoy engaging my intellectually curious students in the variety of human thoughts and behaviors that fall under the umbrella of things we call ‘religion’,” Von Thaden said. “I’ve been lucky to have been able to use work from my scholarship to enhance what we do with my students in the classroom and my students have pushed me to learn new things from the questions they ask.”

The Teaching Excellence Award is one that invites students to nominate their professors who best display excellence in their teaching. Von Thaden has been a critical member of the Mercyhurst family for nearly 20 years and is a fine example of the excellent teachers that Mercyhurst has to offer. His charisma and humor engages students in the content and creates a learning environment that is anything but boring.

According to the description of the award, the Teaching Excellence Award “recognizes one extraordinary faculty member who has contributed significantly to the intellectual life of Mercyhurst University. A panel including previous award winners reviews nominations from students, alumni, and colleagues, and they consider many criteria when selecting the award recipient. Recipients exhibit teaching approaches that are innovative and rigorous; they show dedication above and beyond in advising and mentoring; and they integrate current scholarly and professional contributions into their pedagogy.”

Each year, students are encouraged to nominate faculty members for this prestigious award. Students are told to consider a number of criteria listed on the Teaching Excellence webpage, with a few examples including “outstanding teaching effectiveness both inside and outside of the classroom; teaching that is innovative, intellectually rigorous, creative, engaging, and that fosters critical thinking; integration of their scholarship, and the most recent scholarship of their field, into the classroom.”

Recent previous winners of this award include philosophy professor James Snyder, Ph.D., in 2019, geology professor Scott Mackenzie in 2021. In 2020 no one professor was recognized through this award. Instead, the Teaching Excellence award was given to all Mercyhurst professors in recognition of their hard work during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty during this time was forced to adjust to online teaching nearly overnight, and the university wanted to highlight the dedication of all professors during such a tough year.

Other recipients of this award include Alice Edwards, Ph.D., of the World Languages Department (2016), Brian Ripley, Ph.D., of the Political Science Department (2013) and Chris Magoc, Ph.D., of the History Department (2012).

Be sure to keep the Teaching Excellence award in mind for years to come – as Mercyhurst students, you have the opportunity to nominate exemplary professors. If you have a professor in mind who upholds teaching excellence, consider nominating them next year. Additionally, be sure to congratulate Dr. Von Thaden on this outstanding achievement.