Tom Arcaro named North Carolina Professor of the Year

Elon University sociology professor Tom Arcaro has been named the 2006 North Carolina Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Arcaro is the first Elon professor to receive this prestigious recognition. Details...

Arcaro receives the award Nov. 16 in Washington, D.C., along with other national and state-level winners. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) administers the U.S. Professors of the Year program, created in 1981 to increase awareness of the importance of undergraduate instruction at all types of higher education institutions.

Arcaro is recognized for his extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching, based on four criteria: impact on and involvement with undergraduate students; scholarly approach to teaching and learning; contributions to undergraduate education at Elon; and support from colleagues and current and former students.

Arcaro has taught at Elon for more than 20 years, and is known for going beyond the walls of the classroom to give students hands-on learning experiences.

“Having mastered the art of drawing the best from students, Dr. Arcaro understands that a faculty member must also be an adviser and mentor to his students and that much teaching and learning happens in informal situations,” Elon President Leo M. Lambert wrote in nominating Arcaro for the award. “His classroom is anywhere he can engage a student in meaningful interaction.”

Arcaro received Elon’s Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching in May 2005 for his commitment to students and his exceptional ability to engage them in their discussions and lessons. That same year he received the Excellence in Service and Leadership Award from Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences.

Arcaro has been a leader in international education at Elon, helping to create The Global Experience, an interdisciplinary course designed to provide Elon freshmen in all majors with a global perspective in their studies. To enhance the course, he co-edited a book and a CD of common Global Experience course themes.

In 2002, when Elon became one of 10 founding universities in Project Pericles, a national program to promote social responsibility and citizenship among college students, Arcaro took on a leadership role. As director of the project at Elon, he helped create the Periclean Scholars program. Each year, a group of sophomores chooses a project of global or local social significance and spends the next three years developing and implementing solutions.

The class of 2006 Periclean Scholars focused on raising awareness of the impact and severe number of HIV/AIDS victims in Namibia, Africa. Under Arcaro’s supervision and encouragement, the students visited Namibia to raise awareness, created video documentaries and public service announcements about the problem, and worked with Namibian government leaders and college students to organize an HIV/AIDS Youth Leadership Summit.

“In my nearly 30 years in higher education, Professor Arcaro’s Periclean Scholars program is the single most powerful, sustained, and globally influential act of teaching and mentoring I have witnessed,” Lambert said.

Students were so motivated by their experience that several are continuing their involvement after graduation. One student organized a garage sale and raised $4,000 to help a child-headed household in Namibia, which allowed the family to buy shoes, pay bills and continue their education, according to Lucy Steinitz, senior technical adviser for faith-based programs in Windhoek, Namibia.

Arcaro encourages Elon staff to make a difference through Project Pericles as well. He coordinates a service sabbatical program for Elon employees, allowing them to take a month’s leave of absence to perform volunteer service. Course enhancement grants are also given through Project Pericles to incorporate civic engagement objectives in the classroom, and the Periclean Award for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility is given to the faculty or staff member whose service to the broader community exemplifies the ideas of Project Pericles.

“The way he works is to challenge the people around him, expect the best, evoke a strong can-do attitude and equip the people around him – especially his students – with information, ideas, encouragement and support so that they can take the leadership themselves,” said Steinitz.

Arcaro’s students say he begins every class meeting by asking questions, rather than giving answers. He challenges conventional thinking and asks students to think outside their comfort zone.

Student Colleen Clark says Arcaro told her class that “talk is cheap,” and challenged them to take action, based on their convictions. She took that advice in accompanying him to an academic conference in Florida.

“Before going to this conference, he challenged me personally to use my time well while I was there … to make sure my voice was heard, and to make an impact,” Clark says. “Just through conversation, I was able to raise funds from the Association of Humanist Sociology for Elon’s AIDS relief and advocacy within Namibia. In addition, I raised money for Elon’s Hurricane Katrina Relief. Without Dr. Arcaro encouraging my full participation in the conference, and giving me confidence, I would not have been able to get such great results.”

Another example of Arcaro’s commitment to an engaged style of teaching and learning is a course he taught from 1998 to 2003 on triathlons. Students in the course learned about the history of triathlons, training and nutrition regimens, and the psychological challenges of the endurance race. The course required that students train for and participate in a triathlon, be a team member, or volunteer to help run a race. They also studied from a book Arcaro authored, “Dead Triathletes Speak: Voices from the Middle of the Pack.” Arcaro has been an active endurance athlete, completing the Boston Marathon and several other marathons and triathlons, including an ironman-length race. He trained alongside the students and helped more than 100 class members complete their first triathlons. As a result of the course Arcaro created, Elon students established an active triathlon club sports team.

Arcaro’s academic scholarship is in the area called humanistic sociology, and he has written a series of essays and made numerous conference presentations on the topic of “Being Human.” He believes social scientists should promote a global social structure that allows people to reach their full potentials – intellectual, physical and spiritual. He has published his work through his own creation, Carpe Viam Press, and has served as president of the Association for Humanist Sociology.

Elon faculty colleague Larry Basirico says Arcaro serves as a model for other professors – one who takes risks in his teaching and is not satisfied with complacency. Basirico says Arcaro also specializes in identifying “good thinkers,” students who like to take risks.

“A ‘good thinker’ is someone who is a risk taker and willing to take intellectual leaps,” Basirico says. “Tom gravitates toward these students and them toward him. He sees in them a promise and a passion that he has the ability to nurture and tease out of them. He has an enviable knack for being able to reach students, and students respect him for that.”

Elon now has two professors who have received Professor of the Year recognition. In addition to Arcaro, David Copeland, professor of communications, was recognized as Virginia’s top professor in 1998 when he taught at Emory & Henry College.

For a complete list of this year’s Professor of the Year honorees, click on the link below…