UNCA’s Keya Maitra receives 2023 Board of Governors award for Excellence in Teaching

Press release from UNC Asheville:

The first thing you’ll do as a student in one of Professor of Philosophy Keya Maitra’s classes isn’t pull out your homework from the night before or receive a graded paper that you turned in last week. Instead, every class Maitra teaches starts with a moment of contemplation. In this “quiet sitting” exercise, Maitra joins her students in a brief contemplative practice that allows them to clear their minds, shift their focus, and be more fully present for class.

“I am always impressed at the effect this has on most of the students: they come in chatting or texting/engaging with their devices, but when the time for quiet sitting is announced, they put everything away, compose themselves, and really clear their minds,” said Melissa Burchard, chair and professor of philosophy. “I was amazed at how ready they were to begin discussing the material! It was a real transformation from where their heads were before the class to being focused in the class.”

This is only one example of Maitra’s innovative and compassionate pedagogical style that has earned her the 2023 Board of Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“I value teaching immensely and believe that engaged, energetic, and thoughtful teaching is one of the most important contributions that I can make,” Maitra said. “Indeed, my most profound conviction is that learning is transformative and liberatory. Thus, the opportunity to touch my students’ lives and learning is a sacred moment that I never want to take lightly. But its gravity also clarifies the urgency for me to make sure that curiosity, open-mindedness, and humility combine with learning content in my classroom every day.”

Maitra’s engaged work in the classroom can be seen across campus, from her classes for philosophy majors, to courses in UNC Asheville’s first-year seminar; Asian studies; women, gender and sexuality studies; religious studies; and the humanities program. “Many people don’t have this much versatility in their teaching, but Dr. Maitra excels at all of it,” Burchard said.

Maitra also served as the general co-editor UNC Asheville’s recently revised Humanities Readers, the texts that inform the University’s educational core, working closely with colleagues in various fields to select the texts, to construct timelines, to draft guiding questions, and then to smoothly bring these together in a way that helps students to construct meaning. Maitra expanded upon this work by mentoring instructors as they incorporated the new readings and tools into their classrooms. “I can’t stress enough the potential of these readers to transform the humanities program,” said Reid Chapman, senior lecturer in education and director of the humanities program.

“Dr. Maitra represents the very best of UNC Asheville,” Chapman continued. “She is deeply grounded in her particular academic discipline but is also deeply committed to interdisciplinary teaching. I am inspired by her engagement of her students, her mentoring of colleagues, and her drive to help the institution deliver its mission to the people of NC.”

Maitra’s students offer their praise as well.

“The plain existence of Keya Maitra on this planet is a blessing. The fact that she is a part of the UNC Asheville community benefits everything it stands for,” a student in her humanities course said. “Her approach to education truly inspires one’s own drive to understand the world and themselves. Particularly helpful for the content in a humanities course, her background in philosophy and consideration of all viewpoints, not just Western, rounds out the class in a manner that truly evinces the essence of the humanities department. I will greatly miss being one of her pupils, but now step more confidently into any educational environment than ever before.”

Maitra’s work has previously been recognized with the Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Humanities in the 2010-2011 academic year; a Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Senior Research Award to India in 2015; the Ruth and Leon Feldman Professorship for Scholarship during 2015-2016; and the Champion of Students Award in 2018. She served as the Thomas Howerton Distinguished Professor of Humanities from 2018-2022. Maitra has also authored, co-authored, or co-edited seven books.

The UNC System Board of Governors Award is now in its 29th year. Established by the Board in 1993 to highlight the importance of teaching, the award recognizes the extraordinary contributions of faculty members System wide. The recipients, who represent all 16 of North Carolina’s public universities and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, were nominated by special committees at each institution and selected by the Board of Governors Committee on Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs.

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