CDS Instructors Alex Harris and Christopher Sims Receive Undergraduate Teaching Awards from Duke University

Alex Harris congratulates Duke senior Addison Navarro at the CDS Certificate in Documentary Studies event in April 2015, flanked by CDS undergraduate director Christopher Sims (l) and certificate student Jamie Bando (r).

Alex Harris congratulates Duke senior Addison Navarro at the CDS Certificate in Documentary Studies event in April 2015, flanked by CDS undergraduate director Christopher Sims (l) and certificate student Jamie Bando (r). Photograph by Eddie Vaughn.

Congratulations to two undergraduate instructors at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Alex Harris and Christopher Sims, who recently received university-wide teaching awards at the end of the 2014–2015 academic year.

Alex Harris received the Robert B. Cox Award in the Social Sciences for “a commitment to teaching over time and a willingness to invest substantial effort in meeting the school’s instructional needs.” The award recipient is chosen from the regular rank faculty at Duke—Harris is Professor of the Practice of Public Policy and Documentary Studies—based on criteria that includes a professor’s ability to encourage intellectual excitement, foster critical inquiry in the classroom, lab or studio, and integrate teaching and research, among other factors. “Alex’s work ethic and astonishingly creative portfolio creates in student minds an indelible first impression of the rigorous nature of artistic epistemology, coursework, and production,” writes CDS director Wesley Hogan. “His generosity with students—his constant willingness to share his time, focus, and creative vision both in and outside the classroom—shapes their thinking about the power of photography to change society.”

Harris, who has taught at CDS since its inception twenty-five years ago and at Duke for more than thirty-five years, writes, “As a teacher of documentary studies, I tell students that the world we move through is more complicated than anything we can create to describe it; but that it is our very human impulse to try! I teach students some technical skills, show them a broad range of possible influences, and then try to establish an atmosphere in which students can do their own best work. My job is to help students to see qualities in their work they might not otherwise recognize, and then to follow Flannery O’Connor’s dictum for a teacher of writing: ‘He can’t put the gift into you, but if he finds it there, he can try to keep it from going in an obviously wrong direction.'”

Undergraduates from Christopher Sims’ DOCST 332S Farmworkers in North Carolina course and high school students from SAF’s Levante youth group, Camp New Hope, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, January 2015

Undergraduates from Christopher Sims’ DOCST 332S Farmworkers in North Carolina course and high school students from SAF’s Levante youth group, Camp New Hope, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, January 2015

Christopher Sims, who was named undergraduate education director at CDS in the summer of 2014, received the Betsy Alden Service-Learning Award. Each year Duke Service-Learning presents the Alden Awards to recognize one graduating senior, one faculty member, and one community partner for their outstanding commitment to the ideals of service-learning. Faculty are selected for meaningful integration of the service experience with course content, consideration of, and ongoing commitment to, the needs of the community partner(s), and impact of the community partnership(s) at Duke or in the local community, among other factors.

For the 2014–2015 academic year Sims was a member of the inaugural cohort of Service-Learning Fellows and in Spring 2015 he taught a Farmworkers in North Carolina course (DOCST 332S / CULANTH 236S), which carries the Service-Learning label. His course received support from CDS, Duke Service-Learning, the David L. Paletz Fund for Innovative Course Enhancements from Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, and the Weil Initiative from Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (I&E). Mendal Polish and Hector Morales, Jr., worked as Service-Learning Assistants for the course. Sims was cited by Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) for his class’s work with that organization, for the “kind of intentional dialogue and meaningful partnerships” that make “all the difference in forming diverse coalitions for social change.”

Sims writes, “CDS has a long tradition of offering innovative service-learning courses all the way back to the 1990s and we currently have among the largest contingent of service-learning classes on campus. This award is really recognition of many people’s work at CDS over many years to offer our students rich and meaningful ways to connect their educational experiences and creative expression to broader community life through documentary fieldwork projects, as well as the important work of Student Action with Farmworkers.”

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