- Erin Kirkland/Daily
By Tui Glasgow-Rademaker, For the Daily
Published March 14, 2012
Amid the slew of students sprawled across the grass enjoying the warmer weather yesterday, a parade of students singing songs and carrying balloons ran across the Diag en route to Angell Hall to interrupt a lecture by American Cultures Lecturer Bruce Conforth, bearing the news that he had been chosen for this year’s Golden Apple Award.
The award, given annually by a University of Michigan Hillel student committee called Students Honoring Outstanding Teaching, is given to a University professor or lecturer who demonstrates an exceptional dedication to teaching.
This year, about 100 professors were nominated, according to members of SHOUT. The committee evaluates the quality of each recommendation to decide which professor has the strongest commitment to excellence in teaching before making their final decision.
Conforth, who has been teaching for more than 20 years and first started at the University in 2004, was also recently filmed by the MTV collegiate network mtvU for his notable last lecture he shares with students in his courses. When he’s not teaching, Conforth plays country and delta blues guitar music and serves as the Director of Curatorial and Educational Affairs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland.
Upon hearing the announcement, Conforth, who was unaware of his nomination, was in tears.
“I’m flabbergasted,” Conforth said in an interview after the announcement. “I think this is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me in my teaching career. It was the first time I was absolutely speechless.”
LSA senior Courtney Mercier, who is taking her second class with Conforth this semester, said she was not surprised that he was recognized with the honor due to his dedication to teaching.
“He’s such a great professor to receive this award,” Mercier said. “(In my first class with Conforth) he wasn’t just teaching to teach, he really wanted (us) to take something away from this and apply it to our everyday life.”
LSA sophomore Jill Effron agreed, expressing how much she admires Conforth’s unreserved and engaging teaching style. She recalled a time when he enthusiastically read poet Allen Ginsberg’s works aloud in lecture, unabashedly including all the explicit language in order for the students to get an authentic presentation of the work.
According to Conforth, relating to his students is something he ventures to do with every class. In his office — a room covered in brightly colored rock ‘n roll posters and relics of the hippie era — Conforth explained the way his own life experience permeates his lectures.
“I think the most important thing is just being honest about who you are,” Conforth said. “Students can sense when a teacher is being honest and real ... I am what I teach, I teach about what I love, and hopefully that comes across.”
Conforth’s classes are among the most popular at the University and in 2010, the waitlist for Conforth’s “Beatniks, Hippies and Punks” course filled to 50 students in just the first day of registration.
For Mercier, the content of the class combined with Conforth’s teaching abilities explains the draw of students to the course.
“I never thought that American folklore, beatniks, hippies and punks could be interesting,” Mercier said.