That is how Shyam Sharma, a doctoral student studying composition and rhetoric, described his teaching philosophy and his reason for pursuing higher education to the selection committee for the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award.

Sharma is one of eight graduate students nationwide who will receive the award this month at the annual AACU conference. The award recognizes leadership, a commitment to academic and civic responsibility and work with a strong emphasis on teaching and learning.

“He is truly a leader in helping others learn,” wrote Beth Boehm, English professor and interim dean of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies, in her nomination letter for the award.

Sharma said the award confirms his passion for teaching and that he has always valued the work of educators.

“As a graduate student who looks forward to assuming the role of a faculty member, hopefully soon, receiving such an honor makes me even more passionate about putting teaching on top,” Sharma said. “While I am also interested in research, service and leadership—which are some other reasons why I was nominated and selected for the award—I do not, and will not, see teaching as a ‘job.’ For me, teaching is a hobby that looks like work.”

Sharma has been at UofL for six years. A native of Nepal, he arrived with a master’s degree and teaching experience. At UofL, he earned a second master’s degree in English before pursuing a PhD in rhetoric and composition.

In the nomination letter, Boehm listed several examples to illustrate the quality of Sharma’s leadership and dedication to teaching.

  • As her research assistant, he helped her develop a SIGS program called The PLAN, which is designed to supplement the academic knowledge graduate students receive with practical knowledge
  • He worked with other graduate students and faculty to develop, organize and deliver an academic orientation for international graduate students to help them see how to transfer skills they bring from their home countries to successful study in the American university
  • He helped to develop and has delivered a “Technology for Effective Teaching” workshop designed to help beginning graduate teaching assistants learn not just how to use the technology available to them, but how to do so in ways that are instructionally sound.
  • He participated in an English department peer mentoring program, collaborating with his mentee on presentations and proposals.
  • He and his mentee are helping other units develop peer mentoring programs.

Sharma thanked his UofL English teachers, all of whom, he said, work hard to help students succeed.

“When I was a child, I used to hear my parents say, ‘We’ve given you hands and feet, it is for you to put on wings’. The metaphor was a reference to the idea that you can teach people but you cannot learn for them, that you can provide resources but not motivation, and so on. While my parents—whom I salute in the same breath as my teachers—were not wrong, my mentors and teachers here at UofL make me think that they are also capable of installing wings on their students,” Sharma said.