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As new Menschel fellow, Feldshuh plans to apply acting course techniques to teacher training

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Blaine Friedlander

Professor David Feldshuh has been selected as the Menschel Distinguished Teaching Fellow for 2011-12 in the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE).

The yearlong fellowship engages a distinguished faculty member in promoting the teaching mission of the university by acting as the faculty liaison with the CTE to develop new programs to improve faculty teaching.

"We are very eager to draw on Professor Feldshuh's impressive abilities and commitments as a teacher next year," said Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Laura Brown, whose office supports the center.

The center was launched in 2008 as a resource for the academic community, offering a variety of programs, services and workshops that support teaching and student learning. The Menschel fellow has the opportunity to implement a project through CTE that will enhance campuswide engagement with teaching. The fellowship includes a $10,000 stipend funded by a donation from the Menschel family.

Feldshuh, previously honored for excellence in teaching with a Weiss Presidential Fellowship, teaches directing and acting in the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance. He also is a practicing physician and has served as artistic director of the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts for 27 years.

"Professor Feldshuh brings an extraordinary record of excellence in teaching and a strong commitment to student learning," CTE Director Theresa Pettit said.

"The [CTE] is really a remarkable initiative in its mission, the opportunities it creates and the way it functions," Feldshuh said. "There are so many great teachers at Cornell. It's wonderful to have an organization that can harvest their insights and the techniques of exceptional teaching and share them throughout the community. I'm honored to be able to play a role in that process."

Feldshuh said his CTE project will be linked to a new course he is creating for students interested in public speaking. The course, Acting in Public: Performance in Everyday Life, applies aspects of actor, director and playwright training to public presenting.

"There's a craft involved in it, and techniques that can be taught to assist the teacher to convey more fully the excitement that they have for their subject," he said. Techniques include "awareness of your audience, stage presence, projection, focus, the power of silence and stillness, creating a storyline through which information can be linked, use of the voice, use of gesture -- it's ultimately training the person and giving them more self-awareness without self-consciousness."

Professor of neurobiology and behavior Ronald Harris-Warrick was the first Menschel fellow, appointed for 2010-11.

"I've had the opportunity to appreciate the broad variety of things the CTE offers to the faculty and graduate students to help them be better teachers," Harris-Warrick said. "Some people are naturals and quickly figure it out, and others are not, but anyone can benefit by learning what the tricks of the trade are. I've been teaching at Cornell for 30 years and have learned a tremendous amount by working with CTE."

Harris-Warrick's CTE project, the Cornell Teaching Partnership, is a pilot program that "pairs brand-new assistant professors in an informal mentorship or partnership with some of the best teachers we have at Cornell," he said.

There are eight trial mentorships this year, he said. "I'll get feedback from them, do the final design and roll it out in the fall for anyone who wishes to have that opportunity."

Harris-Warrick said of Feldshuh: "The nice thing about him is that what he teaches is very different from what I teach. It's wonderful that the Menschel fellows have these complementary elements. I'm hoping that we will build up a cadre of Menschel fellows that represent many different aspects of teaching."

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