Amber Cresgy receives the inaugural Bryan Hall Community Teaching Excellence Award

By Miranda Sullivan

Most undergraduate students are lucky enough to take classes with a few stand-out professors or instructors who mentor, inspire, and challenge them in unique ways.

Amber Cresgy is one of those, as she has a knack for making the classroom a particularly engaging place for her students. Cresgy’s approach to teaching earned her the inaugural Bryan Hall Learning Community Teaching Excellence Award for her work as an instructor.

On April 6, Cresgy successfully defended her dissertation, "Toward a New Neo-Slave Narrative: Troubling the Limitations of Genre in Black Women’s Speculative Bondage Narratives," and she received her doctorate in English, with a concentration in African American Literature, at the end of the Spring 2020 semester. Under the direction of English Associate Professor Alisha Gaines, Cresgy's dissertation won the English department's J. Russell Reaver Award for Outstanding Dissertation in American Literature at the end of the spring semester.

Cresgy says she learned many of the skills that earned her the Teaching Excellence award during her time working with Gaines. She initially took a class with Gaines when she was an undergraduate student, and Cresgy found the studies to be so engaging that she has since focused her own scholarship around similar themes in African American Literature.

“Dr. Gaines is incredibly skilled at making her classroom feel like a community, and making students feel as though they have some say over their education,” Cresgy says. “I think she is really skilled at helping the class forge connections with each other as well as illustrating how the texts that we're engaging with in the course are still incredibly immediate and relevant to our lived experiences… That is something I try to model in my own teaching as well.”

In addition to being one of Cresgy’s professors during her career as an undergraduate student, Gaines was also her mentor as she pursued her master’s degree. Gaines is Cresgy’s dissertation committee chair.

“Since I first met Amber… my very first semester at FSU” Gaines says, “I have seen her develop into a curious scholar committed to both her students and the field of African American studies. I’m not at all surprised we can already call her an award-winning teacher before she [even] finishes her doctoral degree.”

During the fall of 2019, Cresgy was assigned to teach a course focusing on Women in Literature at Bryan Hall. This was a rather advanced course topic for first-year students, whom the Learning Community typically caters to.

“It took them a while to get to the point where they were comfortable discussing because, for many of them, it was their first literature course ever,” Cresgy says. “But by the end of the semester, it was like night and day. They had become so confident with their interactions in the class and their analysis of the texts. It was really amazing to watch them transform over the semester.”

Her students clearly felt the transformation Cresgy saw in them as well, because at the end of the semester, they nominated her for the teaching award, which is entirely student-nominated. Many of Cresgy’s students submitted comments highlighting the impact her teaching style had on them individually.

“Her knowledge of the very talented women in literature and her extremely interesting background information keeps the students consistently interested throughout every lesson,” one of her students commented in the nomination. “It will be hard to find another professor as excited and devoted to teaching as she is.”

“Amber Cresgy is encouraging, engaging, and very knowledgeable,” another student added. “She offers many resources in order to aid our success, and often encourages us to share our thoughts. ...At the beginning of the year, most of the class was very hesitant to answer her questions. Through her guidance, we have all developed the ability to speak intellectually about the reading pieces that she assigns. The class has gained much confidence overall, and our class discussions have improved greatly.”

This achievement came as a complete surprise to Cresgy, who knew nothing about the award prior to being honored. She says she is “incredibly touched” that her students took the initiative to nominate her in such a way.

Cresgy says what she loves to see most with her approach to teaching are the “lightbulb moments,” when students click with the material. However, those experiences in the classroom don’t necessarily come easily.

In most English classrooms, especially when working with students who have not taken courses in that particular arena before, it is important to encourage them to engage as much as possible, she says. For Cresgy, this meant breaking some of the habits that her students had previously formed.

“I joked with them one time that they would preface all of their answers to my questions by saying 'I don’t know if this is right, but…,' and then they would always say the right answer anyways,” Cresgy recalls. “At one point in the semester, I sort of leveled with them and was like, ‘I want to give you permission to be confident in your answers and… permission also to be wrong. That’s okay, that’s what we’re here to do in a classroom.’”

"I joked with them one time that they would preface all of their answers to my questions by saying 'I don’t know if this is right, but…,' and then they would always say the right answer anyways." — Amber Cresgy

Teaching in Bryan Hall was also a bit of a challenge for Cresgy, however, who found herself having to re-evaluate how she approached the classroom setting. This new style included adjusting her expectations for the class, since the student demographics were different from what she had typically worked with in the past.

She viewed this as an opportunity to grow as a teacher, and believes she is now more mindful of her students’ different backgrounds.

Going forward, Cresgy has her sights set on continuing her teaching career as a full-time English professor at a community college or liberal arts school. She is excited to continue inspiring students, and she is thankful to FSU’s graduate programs for the opportunity to gain substantial teaching experience throughout the pursuit of her degree.

Miranda Sullivan is a junior double majoring in English, on the editing, writing, and media track, and international affairs.

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