University News

Writing Center Director Recognized for Exemplary Instruction In and Out of the Classroom

Mary Isbell, Ph.D., an assistant professor of English, is the fifth recipient of the Bucknall Excellence in Teaching Award that was created by the University’s Board chair to annually recognize the commitment of an exceptional faculty member.

December 5, 2019

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Photo of Mary Isbell, Ph.D., William L. Bucknall Jr. ’63, ’65, ’08 Hon., President Steven H. Kaplan.
Left to right: Elise Bucknall, Mary Isbell, Ph.D., William L. Bucknall Jr. ’63, ’65, ’08 Hon., President Steven H. Kaplan.

Mary Isbell, Ph.D., assistant professor of English and director of the First-Year Writing Program and the University’s Writing Center, believes student research is crucial. She has served as a mentor for dozens of student projects and for individuals in the University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. She’s also a go-to adviser for students working on their Honors theses.

Dr. Isbell’s commitment to cultivating these life-changing learning experiences for her students led to her being named the 2019 recipient of the University’s William L. Bucknall Excellence in Teaching Award.

Photo of Mary Isbell, Ph.D.
Mary Isbell, Ph.D.

“I am humbled to have been recognized,” said Isbell. “I learn from my students, and from the teachers I work with. Their feedback has taught me so much.”

The award recognizes a faculty member for developing innovative curricula and for exemplary instruction in and out of the classroom, and it provides an honorarium of $15,000 and an additional $10,000 to support the recipient’s new teaching initiatives. The honor was established by longtime University benefactor William L. Bucknall Jr. ’63, ’65, ’08 Hon., chair of the University’s Board of Governors and co-chair of The Charger Challenge Centennial campaign, and his daughters, Elise Bucknall and Kristin Loranger.

“What resonates most is Dr. Isbell’s commitment to fueling a passion in her students – even those who aren’t majoring in English but who are taking English or writing courses as part of their core curriculum requirements,” said Bucknall. “Dr. Isbell is a terrific example of the transformational impact that a professor can have on her or his students.”

Dr. Isbell’s students and colleagues commended her use of innovative and high-impact teaching practices, as well as her use of digital tools, such as online textual annotations, Wikipedia editing assignments, and the cultivation of digital humanities using the University’s Makerspace. She has taught Honors courses on academic inquiry and writing, as well as on the “Art of Adaptation in Literature, Games, and Film.”

"I learn from my students, and from the teachers I work with. Their feedback has taught me so much."Mary Isbell, Ph.D.

Anna Kroon ’19, one of Dr. Isbell’s former students and a graduate of the University’s Honors program, conducted independent studies projects with Dr. Isbell. Now a candidate in the master’s degree in digital humanities program at Loyola University Chicago, Kroon is grateful for Dr. Isbell’s guidance.

“Dr. Isbell, as a teacher, is very innovative,” said Kroon, who received the prestigious 2019 Student Excellence Award from the New American Colleges & Universities. “She incorporates new technologies as well as new teaching methods into all of her classes, from advanced special topics courses to first-year writing. As a mentor, Dr. Isbell always encouraged me to seek out new challenges and use all of my resources. If it were not for her introducing me to new ideas and encouraging me to try new things, I would not be in the field I am now.”

Photo of Mary Isbell, Ph.D. and her students.
Mary Isbell, Ph.D. serves as a mentor for her students.

Dr. Isbell has been instrumental in the development of transformational programs at the University, including the Digital Humanities Lab and the student-run Writer to Writer Peer Tutoring program.

“I felt privileged to be in a position to receive this award,” said Isbell. “I am grateful to be at the University of New Haven, for the opportunity to teach exceptional students, and to have had the opportunity to build the peer tutoring program.”