1987 _ Sophia Peterson, political science
1988 _ Carl Rotter, physics
1989 _ Judith Stitzel, English, women's studies
1990 _ Robert DiClerico, political science
1991 _ Pat Rice, anthropology
1992 _ Jack Hammersmith, history
1993 _ Richard Turton, chemical engineering
1994 _ Gail Galloway Adams, English
1996 _ Bernard Allen, history (WVU Parkersburg)
1998 _ Christine Martin, journalism
1999 _ James Harms, English
2001 _ John "Jack" Renton, geology
2002 _ Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, history
2004 _ Laura Brady, English
2005 _ Carolyn Atkins, speech pathology
2007 _ Ken Martis, geography
2009 _ Ruth Kershner, community medicine
Jim Nolan admits his story is the stuff of movies.
A Delaware cop takes drugs off the streets, polices local neighborhoods, works toward a Ph.D., makes it to the FBI and gives it up to teach students at West Virginia University about the realities of the criminal justice system.
Now he takes students into communities to survey residents about local problems and into prisons to live a moment in offenders’ shoes. He always sees some form of transformation in the students who realize during their studies that the number of years in a prison sentence isn’t the definition of justice.
It was Nolan’s own higher education experience that showed him his calling, and it is the act of passing on his knowledge to a decade of students that has earned him the title of West Virginia’s Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
Nolan is one of 38 state winners and four national winners announced Thursday (Nov. 18). He is the 18th WVU professor to receive the award since it began in 1981.
“We are proud of Dr. Jim Nolan for being named one of the best professors in the country and this year’s best in West Virginia,” said WVU President James P. Clements. “His award exemplifies the quality of our faculty and the quality of education offered at WVU.”
For Nolan the award is like his current career, an unexpected, pleasant event.
Click below to listen to an InsideWVU clip discussing Nolan's teaching philosophy.
[ Click to listen ]
“I was a cop, and I was happy doing it,” he said. “I was happy being a soldier in the war on drugs. And I did it pretty well.
“I worked hard, and I did wiretap cases and search warrants and thought that it was working. But once I was in graduate school, I realized it was like a joke what we were doing. It was a wake up call; I couldn’t go back.”
From that moment he left the drug unit behind, entered community policing a more preventative approach to coping with crime and completed his formal education that allowed him to become a professor. He has a lower pay grade and a different title, but his work is still about understanding crime.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he said. “In some ways though I’m doing the same thing I always did. It’s not like I was a cop and then I’m doing something different. I’m still doing investigations. I’m still working in the community. I’m still dealing with the topic of policing.”
“Jim Nolan’s students benefit from his real-world experience, which, when combined with strong academics, creates the best kind of education,” said Provost Michele Wheatly. “This award is well-deserved and is yet another sign that WVU’s faculty is among the best there is.”
Nolan’s list of contributions since he began teaching at WVU is extensive. In 2000 around the time he began at WVU, about 250 students had majors within the Division of Sociology and Anthropology. Now more than 900 students call that department their academic home, and most of them are criminology majors.
Click below to hear Professor Nolan discuss what he and his students have learned from working with prisoners.
[ Click to listen ]
He’s introduced courses that bring students close to the issues, people and problems they will face in law enforcement or as part of the criminal justice system. One is Inside Out, a national curriculum developed by faculty at Temple University, where he received his Ph.D. His version of the course brings college students to the Pruntytown Correctional Center in Grafton, W.Va., to learn from inmates what the criminal justice system is really like. Another is The Justice Roundtable, which works to alleviate problems identified in Inside Out and find solutions related to prisoner re-entry into society.
“I can’t think of education for its own sake,” Nolan said. “If it doesn’t benefit society in some way it’s virtually useless to me. One thing I like about being at a land-grant university is that idea, that mission.”
If you ask his students what makes him a talented teacher, it is not just his creativity in passing on material, but his attention.
Richie Rodriguez, a former student of Nolan’s who graduated from WVU and now works in a defense contracting firm, transferred to the University as an upperclassman. He arrived in Nolan’s class, knowing few people at the University among groups of students who had formed bonds in freshman year.
“His classroom environment makes getting to know people unavoidable, and many of the people I met in his classes remain good friends of mine today,” Rodriguez said.
His attentiveness to students further helped Rodriguez feel at home.
“He goes out of his way to get to know each of his students on a more personal level,” Rodriguez said. “He doesn’t just learn your name and face. He knows where you’re from, your family, your favorite teams, etc.
“All of this helps students become more comfortable in the classroom setting, and it also goes hand in hand with his teaching style because he will call upon a student at any time to get their insight on a subject. He instills the drive for his students to not only absorb the information he is giving them, but to also question it and see if it’s still relevant in today’s world.
Another of Nolan’s students Michael Lupi Jr. wrote in 2009 that Nolan’s criminology classes gave him more knowledge than all of his other classes combined.
“He was teaching us information, but he was also teaching us how to live a better life with everyone being seen as equal, and I really appreciated that,” Lupi said. “I took this class one year ago and ‘til this day, and probably for the rest of my life, I remember certain things I learned in that class about the proper treatment of people.”
Joan Gorham, an associate dean in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, nominated Nolan for the professor of the year award and calls him an “innovative and energetic professor.”
“His teaching at WVU is informed by both professional and academic experience, and he provides both to his students,” she said. “All of his courses, as much as possible, take the students outside the classroom to (in Jim’s words) ‘places where dialogue, action, and reflection are likely to occur.’ He is genuine, passionate, engaging an extraordinary asset to West Virginia University, and to the teaching profession.”
Through his second career, Nolan learned his own lessons. As a police officer, he estimates that he made more than 1,000 arrests, yet his only significant prison experience was while working a case in which the guards were found to be smuggling drugs.
“Now I’m inside a prison, and it’s in a much more positive light,” he said. “And I’m getting to know people as human beings rather than as potential suspects.”
He tries to impress on his students how situations influence people’s actions and that each person influences everyone else.
“If anyone’s failing, then we all fail,” he said.
Click below to hear Nolan explain how his division at WVU, including associate deans Joan Gorham and Fred King, helped him grow as a professor.
[ Click to listen ]
Nolan, who says he’s not a particularly skilled lecturer, believes this award is for his department that has worked together for students and allowed him the freedom and given him the support to do what he’s done.
“I’m accepting it for the department,” he said. “They have given me the opportunity to do what I do.”
By Diana Mazzella
CONTACT: University Relations – News
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