Whenever Ethel Young-Minor enters her classroom at the University of Mississippi, she brings a smile, a positive attitude and an enthusiasm for her subject matter that students find contagious.
Colleagues across campus have taken notice of Young-Minor’s lively teaching style, and alumni cite her as a major influence on their own successes. Thursday evening, at the university’s 68th Honors Day Convocation, Chancellor Dan Jones introduced the associate professor of English and African-American studies as recipient of the 2011 Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award.
“This one is amazing because it is voted on by professors from across the university,” said Young-Minor, a Memphis native who also serves as senior fellow for the Luckyday Residential College. “This is the ultimate statement from students, alumni and your peers from across the college. It’s really a humbling honor.”
In many ways, Young-Minor is exactly the kind of teacher the award was created to honor, Jones said.
“She takes her job seriously, but everybody notices her infectious laugh and boundless energy when she’s working,” Jones said. “She is noted for her uncanny ability to connect with students as individuals, and that’s what makes her perfect for her role as the senior fellow of the Luckyday Residential College.”
A member of the UM faculty since 1996, Young-Minor teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Southern literature and the Harlem Renaissance. Students praise her as a powerful educator, motivator and mentor.
“I looked forward to attending her class, and she truly made learning an enjoyable experience,” one student wrote in her nomination letter for the Hood award. Another marveled that, “Students are drawn to her lectures like bees to a honeycomb. Her classes are described as invigorating and seldom boring.”
Young-Minor learned about teaching at an early age from her parents, both of whom were Memphis educators who often mentored students outside the classroom.
“I believe that we have a responsibility to teach whoever shows up for our classes,” she said. “You don’t get to choose your students, so you have to go in there and teach whoever chooses to come to your class. I greet my students every day. I want them to know they’re important to me and that I’m glad they’re there to learn.
“I always feel like it’s my responsibility to turn ‘D’ students into ‘C’ students, ‘C’ students into ‘B’ students and ‘B’ students into ‘A’ students. If I can make all of them ‘A’ students, then I feel like I’ve really done my job.”
The secret is to always give your best in class because students appreciate that honesty, she said.
“I try to show up every day with all of who I am. I bring all my experiences, all academic knowledge, and the students really honor that.”
Young-Minor earned her bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Tennessee and her master’s and doctoral degrees, both in English, from Bowling Green State University. Since joining the UM faculty, she has been a leader in efforts to improve student writing and helped develop the University Quality Enhancement Plan, which aims to strengthen student writing across all academic disciplines.
She was named the 2003 Liberal Arts Outstanding Teacher of the Year. In 2001, she was faculty adviser for the university’s Gospel Choir that was nominated for a Grammy Award.
An ordained minister, she is co-pastor of First United Christian Church in Batesville with her husband, Julius, a UM admissions specialist.
Each year since 1966, the university has recognized excellence in teaching by presenting the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award. Based on nominations from both students and faculty, the award includes a personal plaque and a check from the chancellor. Recipients’ names are also engraved on a plaque listing previous winners, which is displayed in the J. D. Williams Library.