By Jordan Beach

The Center for Innovative Teaching and Engaged Learning recognizes Dr. Donna Little, bestowing her the 2019-20 Innovative Teacher Award for her efforts in guiding students in studying the spirits of Pine Log Mountain.

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Little feels the award represents her efforts to create an engaging experience in the classroom.

“It’s a nice recognition of the time and effort I always put into my teaching,” said Little, professor of English. “I am always trying to make it new and to give the students an experience that will help them grow not just as a student but as a person.”

Over the course of the year, Little engaged her students beyond the classroom while working with 11 interns to conduct local research on Pine Log Mountain with the goal to create an exhibit, “Spirits on Pine Log Mountain: An Appalachian Community, 1830-1940,” in the Hill Freeman Library & Spruill Learning Center. One of Little’s favorite aspects of teaching at Reinhardt – where she has now worked for 22 years – is working closely with students, and this project allowed her to do just that.

“Because we have small classes, I get to interact with the students on a personal level,” said Little. “With this class, I had six interns in the fall and five in the spring, and I got to know them very well. We went on an overnight trip to Athens in the fall to do research in the UGA Archives. The students really bonded with each other and with me.”

Student interns working alongside Little in Fall 2019 conducted primary source research, oral interviews with community members and site visits all around Pine Log Mountain. In Spring 2020, students created the exhibit itself by choosing visuals and writing text needed for photos and artifacts.

“I have gotten to know a lot of the local researchers in the past few years, and they were all eager to help with this project. People like Dan DeBord, John Bennett and Bob Neel met with the students and showed them places and artifacts. All of the local researchers are really happy that Reinhardt is getting involved and incorporating the community into our classes,” said Little.

Little truly stepped into her role as an innovative teacher when the COVID-19 pandemic derailed plans to establish the exhibit. The exhibit – funded by a $10,000 grant from the Council of Independent Colleges – turned into a virtual experience with the help of Dr. Pam Wilson’s web design course. Plans to construct the physical exhibit are schedule for Fall 2021.

“The students who participated in this internship have matured as learners and have left the experience eager to explore and discover new knowledge,” said Dr. Mason Conklin, director of CITEL. “They caught the excitement of being a pursuer of knowledge and not just a receptacle, and that is a change that will last a lifetime.”

Visit the virtual exhibit at: https://www.pinelogmountainhistory.com/

Listen to an episode of “Academic Conversations,” a podcast by the Center for Innovative Teaching and Engaged Learning, featuring Little: http://academicconversations.com/2020/05/12/ep-012-donna-coffee-little/