Finalists Selected for Baylor's $250,000 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching

March 28, 2019

Media Contact: Eric M. Eckert, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-710-1964
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WACO, Texas (March 28, 2019) – Three preeminent scholar/teachers from U.S. universities have been selected as finalists for Baylor University's 2020 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, the only national teaching award – with the single largest monetary reward of $250,000 – presented by a college or university to an individual for exceptional teaching. The winning professor will be announced by Baylor in spring 2020.

The three finalists are:

  • Jennifer Cognard-Black, Ph.D., Professor of English, St. Mary’s College of Maryland
  • Nancy Fichtman Dana, Ph.D., Professor of Education, University of Florida
  • Reuben A. Buford May, Ph.D., Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence and professor of sociology, Texas A&M University

As Cherry Award finalists, each professor will receive $15,000, as well as $10,000 for their home departments to foster the development of teaching skills. Each finalist will present a series of lectures at Baylor during fall 2019 and also a Cherry Award lecture on their home campuses.

The eventual Cherry Award recipient will receive $250,000 and an additional $25,000 for his or her home department and will teach in residence at Baylor during fall 2020 or spring 2021.

“The Cherry Committee has the difficult task of naming three finalists from a strong field of more than 135 nominees for the 2020 Cherry Award,” said Michael W. Thompson, Ph.D., committee chair and associate dean for undergraduate programs in Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science. “Learning about each nominee’s accomplishments and dedication to great teaching is both gratifying and inspirational. The three finalists for the 2020 award are excellent scholars and great teachers, and we look forward to their campus visits during the fall 2019 semester.”

The Cherry Award program is designed to honor great teachers, stimulate discussion in the academy about the value of teaching and encourage departments and institutions to value their own great teachers. Individuals nominated for the award have proven records as extraordinary teachers with positive, inspiring and long-lasting effects on students, along with records of distinguished scholarship.

The award was created by Robert Foster Cherry, who earned his A.B. from Baylor in 1929. He enrolled in Baylor Law School in 1932 and passed the Texas State Bar Examination the following year. With a deep appreciation for how his life had been changed by significant teachers, he made an exceptional estate bequest to establish the Cherry Award program to recognize excellent teachers and bring them in contact with Baylor students. The first Robert Foster Cherry Award was made in 1991 and has since been awarded biennially. More about the Cherry Award is available at

Jennifer Cognard-Black

Jennifer Cognard-Black earned her B.A. in English and music, summa cum laude, Phi Kappa Phi, from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1991, an M.A. in fiction and essay writing, with honors, from Iowa State University in 1994, and her Ph.D. in 19th-Century Anglo-American Literature, with honors, from The Ohio State University in 1999. She serves as department chair and professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM), a public honors college.

Cognard-Black was named a 2020 Senior Fulbright Scholar to the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She also was a Fulbright Scholar to University of Ljubljana, Slovenia in 2012. She has served as Faculty-in-Residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and as Artist-in Residence at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. She has received 12 faculty development grants from SMCM as well as two Internationalization and Teaching & Learning Grants (2011 and 2016), and she has twice been given the highest honor for teaching that SMCM students bestow, the Faculty-Student Life Award (2002 and 2009).

Cognard-Black has authored numerous peer-reviewed articles, teaching guides, book reviews and critical and creative works, including edited collections of food writing and personal essays as well as a monograph and a writing textbook. Two short stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her interest areas include women writers, images of women in popular culture, literatures of food, the novel, Victorian adaptations and Gothic monsters. Her books include “Narrative in the Professional Age” (2004); “Kindred Hands” (2006); “Advancing Rhetoric” (2006); “Books that Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal” (2014); and “From Curlers to Chainsaws: Women and Their Machines” (2016). With The Great Courses, Cognard-Black produced a lecture series on "Becoming a Great Essayist" (2016) and has another forthcoming in 2019 on "Great American Short Stories."

Nancy Fichtman Dana

Nancy Fichtman Dana earned her B.S. in elementary education, summa cum laude, in 1986 and M.S. in gifted and talented education in 1988 from State University of New York at Oswego. She earned her Ph.D. in elementary education from Florida State University in 1991. Dana taught in the department of curriculum and instruction at The Pennsylvania State University from 1992-2003. In 2003, she moved to University of Florida’s School of Teaching and Learning, where she serves as professor of education.

Dana has earned numerous awards and honors for teaching and research, including Association of Teacher Educators Duaine C. Lang Mentoring in Teacher Education Award (2018), University of Florida Research Foundation Professorship (2012), Association of Teacher Educators 2011 Distinguished Program in Teacher Education Award (The Teacher Leadership for School Improvement Program), New York Teacher Impact Award (2009), Florida Association for Staff Development Outstanding Staff Development Practices Award (2005) and Association of Teacher Educators Distinguished Research in Teacher Education Award (2005).

Dana’s research focuses on practitioner inquiry (also known as teacher inquiry, practitioner research or action research) as a professional learning strategy. She examines the ways this form of professional learning impacts individual educators as well as the schools in which they practice. She has published 10 books and more than 100 journal articles, and she has secured more than $4 million in grants focused on teacher professional development. Dana supports schools, districts and universities in implementing programs of job-embedded professional learning through teacher research and inquiry in several states and countries. Her work on inquiry-oriented pedagogy has been translated into several languages.

Reuben A. Buford May

Reuben A. Buford May earned his B.A. in criminal justice from Aurora University in 1987, his M.A. in sociology from DePaul University in 1991 and his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1996. He serves as professor of sociology at Texas A&M University, where, in 2017, he was named Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence, considered the most prestigious faculty honor for teaching bestowed by the university.

May is the recipient of numerous university undergraduate teaching awards, including the Minnie Stevens Piper Professor Award in recognition for teaching excellence in Texas, Texas A&M’s Glasscock Professorship in Undergraduate Teaching Excellence (2015-2018) and the Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in the area of Teaching (2013). He also served on the American Sociological Association, Contributions to Teaching Excellence Selection Committee (2003-2006). He has been a fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University and a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visiting professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

May’s primary research areas are race and ethnicity, urban sociology and the sociology of sport. He studies how some institutions shape situational contexts and how individuals within those contexts negotiate, interpret and define race, class, culture and identity. He has published dozens of journal articles as well as three books – “Urban Nightlife: Entertaining Race, Class, and Culture in Public Space” (2014), “Living Through the Hoop: High School Basketball, Race, and the American Dream” (Association of Humanist Sociology Book of the Year, 2008), and “Talking at Trena’s: Everyday Conversations at an African American Tavern” (2001).


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.