Batten's Paul Martin Receives All-University Teaching Award

Award-winning teacher Paul Martin went from being a first-generation college student to being a professor who helped develop the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
Award-winning teacher Paul Martin went from being a first-generation college student to being a professor who helped develop the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Paul Martin, an associate professor of public policy at the Batten School, is one of UVA's 14 award-winning faculty this year, having received the prestigious All-University Teaching Award for 2020. This year's group of top teachers have developed a variety of ways to involve their students, emphasizing the importance of experiential learning – whether that happens in solving mathematical problems or encountering different cultures.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the usual celebratory All-University Teaching Awards dinner, so staff members in the provost’s office, which sponsors the faculty awards for teaching and for public service, devised another plan. Many of the award recipients found out, at the end of March and the first days of April, through the most common vehicle for conducting courses online: Vice Provost Louis Nelson surprised them by dropping into their class meetings on the Zoom platform.

“It became pretty obvious that interrupting the Zoom classes with some really positive news and having their students, even virtually, be an audience for the celebration of our faculty and their excellence would be an important initiative,” said Nelson, who had never done something like this before. “In the midst of an incredibly intense series of days, after making decisions around pivoting to online learning, the importance of engaging the humanity of the work that we do rose to the surface.”

Across the board, the experience was great, Nelson said. The students, with audio on mute, started jumping into the chat screens, sending little messages and using the digital reactions provided in the Zoom app – a thumbs up or hands clapping. The screens were “wonderfully alive with celebration. It was really a delight to see,” he said.

“The clear emotive power, sometimes the silence, or sometimes the very few words from the faculty member afterward, [showed] that we were touching the human need of affirmation in situations of real stress, tension, anxiety and crisis.

“It was really important for the students to see this,” Nelson added. “The students want [to know] the collective experience, the communal experience of the University is still in play. To have the University invade their class was a reminder that the University still exists. You could see that on the students’ faces.

“They also, of course, just love their professors.”

Here are the recipients of UVA’s top awards for faculty members and some of their ideas – presented in their own words – that show how dedicated they are to their students.

Paul Martin, Associate Professor, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

Martin came to UVA as a visiting professor in 2004 in the Department of Politics, then joined the Miller Center of Public Affairs, and became a member of the start-up team when the Batten School was created in 2008.

Paul Martin has been lauded for his unrelenting commitment to cultivating his students to be thoughtful citizen-leaders. (Contributed photo)
Paul Martin has been lauded for his unrelenting commitment to cultivating his students to be thoughtful citizen-leaders. (Contributed photo)

“I increasingly think of teaching through the metaphor of policy design. If I design the class well, students will find opportunities to learn, will want to engage the materials, and will leave the class with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Design depends on three elements: an appreciation of students’ intellectual, emotional, and cultural space; careful crafting of assignments, projects, and readings that aim to structure student attention; and daily teaching that models high standards combined with compassion.

“In the public policy world, we craft polices and institutions to shape incentives and behavior. … I spend considerable energy on designing projects that will push students to apply course material to new situations: my ‘Project First Gen+ @ UVA’ class conducted focus groups with other low-income and first-generation students at the University; my ‘From Inequality to Action’ class works to identify sources of inequality at the University and to advocate for policy action in response; ‘NGOs & The Policy Arena’ works with a local foundation to make $100,000 in grants each year to community nonprofits.

“… One of the privileges of teaching in the policy school is that I’m afforded the opportunity to learn side-by-side with my students, empowering them to lead. When we work on projects, we are exploring the world together, and it gives students a sense of ownership over the classes that motivates their work. … I savor the moment when I can tell students they now know more on an issue and must teach me.”