December 2020: Ariel Ahram
Associate professor in Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs
2020 Excellence in Teaching Award from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Virginia Tech
The award, presented by the center to approximately nine Virginia Tech faculty members each academic year, recognizes a faculty member's effective, engaged, and dynamic approaches and achievements as an educator.
Among the goals of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning are advancing experiential learning at Virginia Tech and improving student learning through research-based instructional practices and student-centered design. Ahram’s learner-centered approach challenges students to take on new perspectives and broaden their horizons. “My research specialization is on the Middle East, a region many people consider exotic, dangerous, or just strange,” Ahram said. “In my teaching, I encourage students to think of ‘strange’ things in a slightly more normal light and, conversely, to see things that seem normal to them as being a little bit strange.”
For the new academic year, Ahram is bringing world events, past and present, into his classroom by offering a new course on social movements, contentious urban politics, and how they have shaped cities around the globe. Ahram is admired by students for his ability to cultivate class discussions on current, sometimes difficult topics. One such student is Elizabeth Liebel. “Professor Ahram fosters an encouraging and engaging classroom environment in which you never feel afraid to share your ideas,” Liebel said. “This award is well-deserved!”
Joe Karle, a recent student of Ahram’s, spoke highly of his dedication to providing supportive, rigorous guidance to his advisees. “Dr. Ahram's selfless devotion to his students cannot be matched,” Karle said. “Any student who has had the privilege of having him as a professor, thesis advisor, or committee member knows that he always gives you thoughtful and honest feedback. His constant encouragement, critical feedback, and willingness to push me to do better helped convince me that I could complete my PhD.”
Another former student, Greg Kruczek, noted that Ahram’s devotion to student learning and self-efficacy is what makes him a dynamic, effective instructor. “To him, education is a way to better yourself and how you process and navigate the world,” Kruczek said. “I am a perfect example of this. Dr. Ahram has a unique ability to help his students find something inside themselves that they did not know was there. A work ethic? An interest? A passion? Yes to all of those, but most importantly, confidence in one’s own ability.”
For Ahram, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on unique obstacles, and he cited seeing his students rise to the challenge as one of his most meaningful experiences at Virginia Tech. “Teaching on Zoom for the last two semesters has certainly been among the most remarkable experiences I’ve had as a teacher,” he observed. “I’m amazed by the resilience, determination, and creativity our students bring in adapting to these incredibly challenging circumstances.”
“Try to transmit your energy for your topic to students,” Ahram advised when asked what guidance he would give to new faculty. Ahram’s advice reflects his commitment to student engagement through skillful, impassioned instruction, and he is an exemplary model for high quality teaching and learning at Virginia Tech.