The Outstanding Lecturer Award recognizes a lecturer for excellence in teaching effectiveness and service to the San Jose State campus community. This year’s winner comes from the College of Humanities and the Arts.She will be honored at the 16th Annual Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon on March 11, 2015. Tickets are available for purchase.“I’ve known since I was five years old that I wanted to be a teacher,” says Cynthia Baer, lecturer in the Department of English and Comparative Literature and the 2015 recipient of the Outstanding Lecturer Award. “The reason I have this chalkboard in my office,” she says, laying a hand affectionately on the oversized and outdated piece of furniture dominating the room, “is because I totally love writing on it. That was playing for me as a kid: chalkboard lessons and mock quizzes.”
“I often tell my students that ‘education’ comes from the Latin root ‘e- ducere,’ which means ‘lead out.’ If you want to keep educating yourself, you have to keep leading yourself out from wherever you are now. You don’t stay in your comfort zone.”An SJSU alumna twice over, Baer began giving real quizzes in her first freshman composition class in 1981, at 22 years old, while pursing her master’s degree in English. “I showed up in a power suit with my briefcase,” she says, laughing. “I believed it would make people take me seriously. It didn’t work, but I think I still managed to get people excited about writing. I learned it wasn’t really about the power suit as much as it was about stimulating minds.”
Stimulating minds is what she has continued to do in everything from freshman English to upper-division literature courses. Baer’s extensive letters of recommendation from colleagues and current and former students deliver a consistent message: she is lauded for her energy, her commitment to students, her relaxed yet challenging style and her skill for helping students grasp not just the “how” of writing, but the “why.” Graduate student John M. Perchalski writes that she has “phenomenal and infectious enthusiasm for her students,” and multiple former students say that she directly inspired them to become teachers. Noelle Brada-Williams, professor and associate chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature, calls her “the very best lecturer who has ever worked in the English department.”
Baer is highly involved in her department. A member of multiple committees, faculty-in-residence at the Writing Center, Stretch English Pilot coordinator (her current “baby”) and the only lecturer participating in the Dean’s Leadership Academy this year, her investment in San Jose State is no surprise. Baer says she found her intellectual home and family here when she was an undergraduate. Now she relishes helping others do the same.
“What thrills me is the opportunity to usher students into a sense of who they are intellectually,” says Baer, “then helping them combine that intellect with their passions. I’m in this to help my students discover themselves, but I’m still discovering myself, too, and have been since 1977. Keeping that spirit alive is what keeps you going as an instructor for 30 or 40 years! I’m learning here just as much as I’m teaching here.”