VFIC’s 2016 Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award goes to revered Sweet Briar College professor

Sweet Briar College professor of mathematical sciences Jim Kirkwood is the recipient of the 2016 H. Hiter Harris, Jr. Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award, given out annually by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges. The honor follows a 2016 Outstanding Faculty Award from SCHEV — the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia — announced last December.

Jim Kirkwood. Photo by Charlotte Barbour ’16
Jim Kirkwood. Photo by Charlotte Barbour ’16

“Jim’s extraordinary work in the classroom, on the campus and throughout the nation set him apart from the strong field of applicants,” said Mary-Beth Johnson, chief operating officer at the VFIC.

The VFIC’s Harris Award Program consists of three categories: Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, Rising Star and Excellence in Instructional Technology. Each year, the foundation selects one recipient for each award from nominations it receives from its 15 member colleges.

The reviewers make their selections based on a nominee’s impact and involvement with undergraduate students; his or her scholarly approach to teaching and learning; contributions to undergraduate education in the institution, community and profession; and endorsements from colleagues and current or former students.

“Jim’s ratings in these categories were very high — his nomination package really expressed his exceptional and exemplary dedication to, and success in, classroom teaching,” Johnson said.

Kirkwood has taught at Sweet Briar for more than 30 years and has published more than 10 mathematics textbooks on various topics, including calculus, real analysis, probability, mathematical biology and mathematical physics. His newest text, “Advanced Linear Algebra,” will be out in 2017. His original research was in mathematical physics, and he co-authored the seminal paper in a topic now called Kirkwood-Thomas Theory.

In addition to receiving a 2016 Outstanding Faculty Award from SCHEV — the commonwealth’s highest honor for faculty at Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities — Kirkwood has been awarded several National Science Foundation grants.

“I feel so honored to receive the VFIC award,” Kirkwood said. “Teaching at a small liberal arts college means lots of interaction with my students, which is incredibly gratifying in an of itself. To be recognized in this way, again, for something I enjoy doing is an added bonus.”

Kirkwood was notified of the award by Sweet Briar College president Phillip C. Stone yesterday and will be publicly recognized at a VFIC luncheon Nov. 10 in Richmond.