Batten's Kirsten Gelsdorf One of Three UVA Professors Among State’s Top 12 for 2019

Professor Kirsten Gelsdorf
Through her scholarship and teaching, Gelsdorf aims to help expand and strengthen research and partnerships on Grounds and around the world that can influence humanitarian policy change.

The three University of Virginia professors named 2020 Outstanding Faculty Award winners Friday by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia push the boundaries of the typical classroom and of their academic disciplines, employing hands-on experiences for students and conducting game-changing scholarship to aid humanity.

Arthur Weltman, professor and founding chair of the Department of Kinesiology in the Curry School of Education and Human Development, also holds UVA’s 2019-21 Cavaliers’ Distinguished Teaching Professorship. Kirsten Gelsdorf, a professor of practice in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, came to UVA after working for the United Nations for two decades. Ryan Huish, an associate professor of biology at UVA’s College at Wise, takes students of all ages outside, making the surrounding natural world their classroom and market.

Since 1987, the SCHEV awards have recognized faculty at Virginia’s institutions of higher learning who exemplify the highest standards of teaching, scholarship and service. Among the 12 awardees from Virginia’s colleges and universities, UVA’s trio will be recognized for exemplifying “the highest standards of teaching, scholarship and service” at a March 9 ceremony in Richmond. Each will receive $7,500 from Dominion Energy, co-sponsor of the faculty awards.

A closer look at the awardees:

Kirsten Gelsdorf

Gelsdorf was one of two professors SCHEV recognized as a “Rising Star” for early career achievements. Although she has only been on UVA’s faculty for 3½  years, she has already won teaching awards from Batten and from the University, as well as received perfect course-evaluation ratings from students.

The demand for her class, “Global Humanitarian Crises,” a 40-student seminar, skyrocketed to more than 200 students. She also piloted Batten’s first remote synchronous learning course to include students from UVA’s College at Wise.

One student mentioned that Gelsdorf’s weekend-long humanitarian crisis simulation “required a higher level of thinking than any other college assignment” he had undertaken. “This experience encapsulates Professor Gelsdorf’s desire to push us as students, to help bridge the gap between the theoretical and the practical,” the student wrote.

As a professor of practice, Gelsdorf brings two decades of professional experience in United Nations programs to the University to bridge “the academic-practitioner divide and influence policy change,” activities that have operated on isolated tracks for too long, she wrote.

“The field of global humanitarian aid, which has defined my life’s work, rests on the principle of the humanitarian imperative – that people have the right to give and receive aid,” she wrote. Through her scholarship and teaching, Gelsdorf aims to help expand and strengthen research and partnerships on Grounds and around the world that can influence policy change.

“The world will increasingly face unanswered questions and intractable challenges that result from conflict and disasters happening around the world. That is why I am so thankful that Batten and its leadership and public policy mission give me the unique opportunity to combine research and policy engagement into a portfolio where I can build partnerships between incredible faculty, students and external organizations to work on the humanitarian issues I care so deeply about,” Gelsdorf wrote in an email after hearing she had won the award. 

As Batten’s director of humanitarian policy, she has undertaken numerous high-level research and policy projects with organizations like the Red Cross, Global Emergency Group and United Nations.

Together with other Batten faculty, she is now launching a series of research and policy labs that include work on early childhood education in crisis contexts and predictive analytics for migration that are being launched this month in London and at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva.

This year, she also published with Daniel G. Maxwell, a colleague at Tufts University, “Understanding the Humanitarian World,” a book that traces the development of the modern humanitarian aid system and has already been adopted by numerous universities and international organizations.