Meet 2014 Teaching Excellence Award Winner Lesley Jenike

June 10th, 2014 by Amanda Pierce
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Lesley Jenike

2014 Teaching Excellence Award winner Lesley Jenike. Photo by Tyler Dunlavy (CCAD 2014).

Each year, CCAD recognizes one outstanding faculty member for excellence in teaching. The award celebrates the exemplary efforts faculty members contribute to the college as a whole, using the classroom setting to engage and enhance students’ experiences.

This year, Liberal Arts professor Lesley Jenike was in the spotlight.

She’s “eternally understanding” with a “deep concern for the development of our skill,” said one of her students.

A colleague noted her “rare combination of kindness and efficacy that encourages students to succeed and holds them to high standards.”

Oh, and did we mention she’s a widely published poet?

We recently caught up with Lesley to chat about her five years of teaching at CCAD (she teaches everything from film and literature to screenwriting), what she’s reading now, and her least favorite word (hint: it’s not actually a real word… which she says makes her hate it even more).

Q. Share with us an “aha” moment from the classroom that underscored why you teach.

I get an adrenalin rush every time I discuss a work of literature that I love and that students also seem to respond to—even if the responses vary from confusion to adoration. It’s kind of like a runner’s high, because teaching can feel that delightfully exhausting sometimes. Every discussion that goes well feels like a reaffirmation of my love of good writing and my love of teaching, and I realize all over again how lucky I am to be able to exercise my brain daily with such smart, interesting, talented students.

Q. Who from the CCAD community has influenced your teaching and/or work?

I’m going to have to pick on George Felton since he just retired this past semester. He’s figured prominently in my pantheon of great teachers. He has high standards and he sticks to them, but he’s kind and empathetic and, of course, he has an incredible sense of humor. Students speak of him in awe and it’s no accident that he’s been a recipient of the Teaching Excellence Award. I want to be like George when I grow up.

Q. Does teaching influence your creative work, and, if so, how?

Of course! I naturally read along with my students and I try to pepper my syllabi with books I’m very familiar with as well as books I’m in the process of discovering myself. Engaging in all this constant, concentrated reading and course preparation inevitably results in new intellectual and creative insights for me. My students’ own creative work in our writing workshops often excites me and encourages me to try new techniques and subjects as well.

Q. You recently published a book of poetry—what are you working on now?

I began working on a new manuscript during my writer’s residency in Vermont last summer, and I’ve been slowly adding to the pile over this past year. While I was in Vermont, I challenged myself to read a couple of nineteenth and early twentieth century novels I’d never read before or hadn’t picked up in a long time, and the work that resulted has been greatly influenced by the books I managed to finish—my experience of reading them and my contemporary takes on their plots, characters, and ideas. And, of course, I’m always threatening to write a new play.

Q. What is your favorite spot on campus?

We have the most beautiful landscaping on our campus! Spending so much time with our resident biologist Dr. Landsbergen has helped me better appreciate the style and diversity of our local flora, and I love our quad, especially once the weather’s warm.

 Q. If you could have dinner with any three people dead or alive who would be at the table with you?

Shakespeare, Marianne Moore, and Steven Sondheim. Ha! That’s a crazy list!

Q. What is currently on your playlist?

I’m really loving the Swedish band Little Dragon these days, but perennial favorites are Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, and Nina Simone.

Q. What are you reading now?

I actually read a couple of books simultaneously. Right now, I’m reading poet Fanny Howe’s book of essays The Wedding Dress, a novel about abolitionist John Brown called Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks, and a book of poems, Gazelle in the House, by Lisa Williams, with at least five others on my shelf just waiting for me to get to them.

Q. What book do you most often recommend to others to read?

Right now I’m on a major E.M. Forster kick. He’s probably a tough sell as an early 20th century realist who wrote relatively conventional novels, in terms of style. But his sensitivity to issues of class, gender, and culture are just mind-blowing if you give him a chance. So I recommend Howard’s End. It’s a gorgeous book—even more rewarding than the excellent film version.

Q. Favorite guilty pleasure?

TV! I spend WAY too much time watching TV shows. But I tell myself it’s “research.”

Q. What is your idea of a perfect day?

I’d wake up, have some breakfast and coffee and write (well!) for a few hours, then go for a run through my fabulous neighborhood (Clintonville!), then spend some time reading on my front porch (I have a porch swing!) until it’s time for dinner and a movie: Aab Indian in Grandview and a Paul Thomas Anderson film at the Gateway Film Center.

And now to take a page from Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton…

Q. What is your favorite word?


Q. What is your least favorite word?

Impactful (because it’s NOT a word!!)

Q. What sound or noise do you love?

Jazz piano

Q. What sound or noise do you hate?

The sound of several lawnmowers going at once on an otherwise peaceful summer morning

 Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Film director (though I’m absolutely NOT bossy enough)

Q. What profession would you not like to do?

Sales of ANY kind.

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