Dr. Amelia Hart, Associate Professor of Practice in Haslam College of Business’s Department of Accounting and Information Management, thrives on “the opportunity to challenge the traditional approaches of the student learning experience while instructing within my discipline.” Before she entered academia, she began her practical experience with a professional career in accounting. As a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Dr. Hart worked in dynamic environments that required flexible mental agility as she was constantly weighing financial alternatives and strategically contributing to decisions of great consequence.
She attributes her successful and “rapid” transition from the staff to management level to her “aptitude and penchant for that environment.” She does note, however, that despite the many collaborative elements of her position, she “could not miss the notable absence of underrepresented groups at the decision-making table.” Hoping to change that for future generations, Dr.Hart sought a career in teaching accounting and information management.
Prior to UT, Dr. Hart taught at two private universities, where she began to gain instrumental experiences in helping her “assimilate to a process of listening, engaging, and challenging students to be the best.” Dr. Hart believes those early years in academia were her most “formative years,” as they were “integral in learning what it meant to teach and not just practice the discipline.” These experiences also proved to be a key factor in her ability to thrive at UT, a position which came about because of the intersection of what she refers to as “destiny and personal tragedy.”
“In 2016, my mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness,” Dr. Hart begins to explain, and, “I resigned from a tenured position and moved to Knoxville to care for her. Those years were the toughest and yet most valued moments. She had been my cheerleader over the ages and so it was a privilege to be hers as she faced the greatest hurdle life had thrown her way.”
Dr. Hart’s mother sadly passed during Spring 2018, the same year Dr. Hart had accepted a full-time role within the Haslam College of Business, Department of Accounting and Information Management. Dr. Hart believes that taking on this new position “was the best decision and opportunity to challenge myself to new levels of excellence and accomplishment doing what I loved.”
For Dr. Hart, Teaching at UT has delivered her countless opportunities to engage with colleagues who are the best in the world. The “spectrum of occasions in which I’ve been able to congregate with key stakeholders on a regional and national level in accounting have been innumerable. And getting to bring it all back to the classroom? I cannot imagine a role any greater for myself.”
As for her teaching philosophy, Dr. Hart strives to push herself and her students in the pursuit of academic excellence, and to cultivate an inclusive classroom experience every semester. “That pursuit,” she states, “fuels a quest for best practices.”
“I try to monitor developments in teaching and learning because of a strong commitment to understanding how and under what conditions the most powerful forms of student learning can be advanced,” Dr. Hart explains. Her predilection towards active teaching techniques positions her in the role of a learning facilitator and students in the role of involved participants who are “learning to learn.”
This commitment to academic excellence has served Dr. Hart very well. As a nominee for the Chancellor’s excellence in teaching award; a teaching panelist for new faculty; effective pedagogical presenter; and recipient of numerous notable honors in through her work with the Teaching and Learning Institute, Dr. Hart’s teaching philosophy and commitment to the growth of the Haslam College of Business’s teaching excellence has been crucial in contributing to the continuance of her and her department’s success.
When asked to share how her teaching philosophy has impacted her students, it becomes clear that Dr. Hart’s impact can be felt in a variety of ways. While in the classroom, she states that “students have responded to my heightened class expectations with positivity.” She claims that this may be, in part, “attributed to the fact that I lead with transparency; sharing who I am, why I choose to teach, why each person in the classroom is an essential part of that success, and how the knowledge is intended to empower them in the future. Students know that in my classroom, they are seen, affirmed, and heard.”
Perhaps another reason why the student response to her classroom has been overwhelmingly positive is also because of the work she puts into supporting them outside of the classroom. Students visit Dr. Hart’s office on a frequent basis. They readily admit to seeking her insight on graduate school, scholarships, internships, cities where they move, career opportunities, and sometimes, just life. “My office is a place where students, including first-generation, underrepresented groups, and international students find the time to drop in. Sometimes, my contribution is to sit back, listen, and observe as they engage each other, laugh, share insights, and experiences. I reflect often in those moments, on who they will become in the future,” Dr. Hart muses.
Lastly, Dr. Hart has also put continuous effort into supporting her students’ professional development. She says the recognition she’s received from her students, colleagues, and peers is “humbling, and only augments her continued efforts and impact as an associate professor of practice.” She was recently named as the 2023 Recipient of the Richard C. Reizenstein Outstanding Commitment to Students Award; a 2023 Finalist for the 2023 Diversity and Inclusion Award; the recipient of a Teaching & Learning Innovation Faculty Leader Award (2022); a Course Redesign Institute Award (2021); the Decosimo Faculty Leadership Award (2021); a finalist of the Richard C. Reizenstein Outstanding Commitment to Students Award (2021); and a nominee for the UT Chancellor’s Excellence in Teaching award in (2020).
With all these accolades in her years of teaching students, one can imagine how hard it must be for Dr. Hart to pick just one specific experience that she draws on in the classroom, or a highlight that has significantly impacted her career. She offers us this story that perfectly summarizes her classroom and its impact:
One of my prior students insisted on flying to Knoxville to take me to lunch. We reflected and laughed as we chatted about the academic experience. The conversation shifted when that prior student said, ‘I was recently promoted.’ My nod of acknowledgement was lit up by a smile as the dialogue continued. ‘We were asked, in a regional management exercise, to write a thank you letter to one person who was most influential in your attainment of success.’ The student looked at me and said, ‘I realized it was you and I never shared it. So rather than just write, I wanted to meet and share it personally.’ She said, ‘during my entire academic experience, from grade school to college, I earned As except for your class.’ She nodded and said, ‘You still hold the record. As our instructor you would always say, a letter grade or a score does not define excellence; but that was all that I knew as the marker of success…until you. It was in your class I earned my first B because I lacked prerequisite knowledge. We met, and I explained that to you in hopes that you would lower your expectation and the bar. Instead, you said to get it figured out, produce a plan, get it done. It was frustrating to push myself but in doing so, I earned one of my best achievements, that still stands out today – a B letter grade.’
Recently, just this academic year, that student contacted me and took me to lunch again. This time, it was to share a transition to a role with new challenges, unknown territory, and learning opportunities as the chief accountant for an international entity. The dialogue reflected tinges of doubt because of the enormity of the new responsibility, but it ended with this strong sentiment; ‘I have been here before and wanted to thank you for reminding me that in the most difficult time, to make a plan and get it done.’
Dr. Hart reflects, “What I do in the classroom, the preparation, the reading, the research for innovative teaching approaches, awareness of what standards and standard setters’ actions are worth these moments. I recognize the value of listening, mentoring, supporting, and advocating for students’ intellectual and holistic well-being. Whether it is regional or national competition of an in-class assessment, I push and expect the best and we celebrate the wins.”
Based on her span of influence, as well as her education experience, and the current professional perspective that she’s shared, we had to ask Dr. Hart what she thinks about the future of teaching, learning, and faculty life in higher education. Specifically, how does she think that her work, the university, and/or the field of faculty development will evolve?
Dr. Hart, notably, doesn’t sugar coat her answers, and her answer to this question was no exception:
The future is now, and the culture of the academy is evolving more rapidly than in previous decades. Intentional pedagogy is a more critical component of effective learning outcomes. Learners and learning will become more diverse; not just culturally, ethnically, or racially, but in their approaches to learning, in perspectives, in exposure to technological advancements, in ideology, and so forth. The faculty experience will require intentional pedagogy that reflects a more marked shift from the traditional methodologies. Assessment exercises and evaluation of the total student learning experience will become more complex and require more carefully redefined instruments, calibrated to account for the progression of online learning environment and the infiltration of AI. The impact of the global pandemic was just a precursor to impactful and imminent changes that we will see in the future.
Our responsiveness to change tomorrow starts today – it starts now. We reduce the volume of content in lieu of nurturing habits of the mind that result in smarter, more analytical thought-processes that translate into the ability to apply knowledge ethically and responsibly. Educators must be forward-thinking regarding where the academy is heading and the nature of the students who will enter our university.
Dr. Hart’s efforts at achieving excellence will continue to evolve as changes in our environment usher in enhanced best practices. She notes how she can see herself shifting while mentoring other faculty as they work together to cultivate their success through this evolving academic experience, enhanced pedagogy, teaching styles, and other critical outcomes. But to Dr. Hart, this is a welcome change.
“Our investment in the various learning modalities will prepare us to be change agents who herald best practices for student success.”