professor of the year

Colby-Sawyer College Professor Maurissa Abecassis Selected as New Hampshire Professor of the Year by Carnegie Foundation, CASE

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) have named Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Education Maurissa Abecassis of Colby-Sawyer College as the 2008 New Hampshire Professor of the Year.

The U.S. Professors of the Year program salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country—those who excel as teachers and influence the lives and careers of their students. Recognized as one of the most prestigious awards honoring undergraduate teaching, the award honors extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching.

Professor Abecassis, who joined Colby-Sawyer in 2000, designs and teaches classes in psychology and child development. Her areas of specialization include child and adolescent development, normal and atypical social and emotional development, and child and family social policy.

“What is most meaningful to me is that this award honors not only your work in the classroom, but also what you try to achieve across time,” says Professor Abecassis, referring to the research and clinical work that informs her teaching practice. “I try to find teaching methods that link theoretical material to real life situations and help students see the link between policies and the real decisions that affect the practical lives of parents and children. I feel my greatest strength is in helping my students find what they are most passionate about and expanding their sense of possibility.”

Professor Abecassis earned a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota's Institute of Child Development and a B.A. Honors at the University of Winnipeg. She has been a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst since June 2004, where she is working toward clinical re-specialization. After completing clinical course work, she has been responsible for treating clients at the university's Psychological Services Center and has completed a practicum in neuropsychology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Her teaching skills were previously recognized with the New Hampshire College and University Council's Excellence in Education Award in May 2008 and Colby-Sawyer's highest faculty award, the Jack Jensen Award for Excellence in Teaching, in May 2007.

Deborah A. Taylor, academic vice president and dean of faculty at Colby-Sawyer, said Professor Abecassis has developed a collaborative teaching style that emphasizes the shared responsibility of teacher and student for learning.

“Her goals are—in her words—'to plant seeds' and 'foster minds' rather than simply deliver information, and she aims to foster engaged learning in students,” said Vice President Taylor. “Students in her courses report that she structures her classes so that they must grapple with, think critically about, and apply what they have learned. She carefully calibrates the amount of material in her classes, rigorously connecting theory, research and practice. She simultaneously encourages an informal, comfortable, playful classroom context for learning.”

Professor Abecassis has also distinguished herself and served the college well as the coordinator of Academic Advising, according to Vice President Taylor. “She brought all of her knowledge of human development to bear on the advising process and developed new materials and training processes for advisors. She has linked the advising program to other student support areas...in a way that truly surrounds students with a network of caring professionals determined to intervene before student success is compromised by academic, personal or social difficulties.”

Both current and former Colby-Sawyer students have been influenced by Professor Abecassis's individual attention to their academic and personal growth. A current student was inspired to pursue the Psychology major after one course with the professor. “Dr. Abecassis is able to engage classrooms of students by combining her knowledge and experience with the course materials. Her astute observation and attentiveness to each student is profoundly motivating,” she said. “Never before have I experienced such a helpful and meaningful relationship with a professor.”

One former student recalled that Professor Abecassis teaches with a “level of intensity and enthusiasm that is contagious” and gives assignments that allow students to be creative and focus on their individual interests. “Dr. Abecassis takes a personal interest in her students unlike any professor I have ever experienced,” she said. “She compels her students to live up to their potential in the classroom and asks them to be willing participants in the world. She believes her students can make an impact and in turn, we...desire to make that impact.”

As part of a sabbatical in 2008-2009, Professor Abecassis is engaged in a Neuropsychology Residency in Clinical Health Psychology at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, where she assesses and treats a variety of neuropsychological conditions in adults and children.

“Maurissa's scholarship embodies all of the elements of Boyer's model, which describes the scholarship of discovery, pedagogy, application and integration,” said Vice President Taylor.

Although she has studied and conducted research and clinical practice at large research institutions, Professor Abecassis thrives in the environment of a small liberal arts college, where she has forged close connections with her students, contact that she often maintains after the students graduate.

“One of the things I feel most proud of in my eight years at Colby-Sawyer is what my students have gone on to achieve, which is in no small measure attributable to their development as undergraduates,” she said. “They have gone on to pursue degrees in social work, counseling and clinical psychology, law school, teaching, and intervention work with children and families. I'm not invested in their becoming developmental psychologists or teachers per se; I am invested in encouraging them to pursue work and training that they are most passionate about. I'm deeply honored by this award, but the thing I'm most pleased and proud of in my career is my students. It's a gift to know them and teach them.”

Professor of the Year Award

CASE and the Carnegie Foundation have been partners in offering Professors of the Year since 1981.

Founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1905 and chartered in 1906 by an Act of Congress, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is an independent policy and research center with a primary mission "to do and perform all things necessary to encourage, uphold and dignify the profession of the teacher." The improvement of teaching and learning is central to all of the work of the foundation.

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education is one of the largest international associations of education institutions, serving more than 3,300 universities, colleges, schools and related organizations in 61 countries. CASE is the leading resource for professional development, information and standards in the fields of education fundraising, communications, marketing and alumni relations.