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Grinnell College’s Monessa Cummins wins national teaching award

Monessa Cummins, Associate Professor of Classics, and Jiayun Chen í19, a Classics and Art History double major, examine a marble Roman portrait head, believed to be from 1st century, in the print study room of the Burling Library Oct. 9, 2018. (Photo by Justin Hayworth/Grinnell College)

She exemplifies Grinnell’s commitment to faculty as experts, advisers and mentors

GRINNELL, Iowa — Monessa Cummins, associate professor and chair of classics at Grinnell College, has received the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) Award for Excellence in Collegiate Teaching. She accepted the award at the annual meeting of the society this winter in San Diego.

Cummins was selected on the basis of her achievements in the teaching of classics at the undergraduate level and in the design and successful implementation of new courses and programs.

This isn’t the first time Cummins has received national attention for her teaching. In 2014 Business Insider reported that she ranked third among the “25 Best College Professors in America,” based on student reviews at

In announcing her recent award, SCS President Mary Boatwright noted Cummins has taught almost every course offered by her department in her nearly 35 years at Grinnell. These courses range from “her original expertise in Greek poetry to Greek and Roman history and archaeology and art, and Latin and Greek, to study abroad in Greece.” In addition, Cummins led the classics department in creating a civilization-based track and multidisciplinary courses with subject matter that varies from the Trojan War to debates about cultural patrimony.

Boatwright also praised Cummins for:

  • Her high standards and the riveting way she conducts her classes, such that, to quote her nomination letter, “the students areall on and with her the whole time”;
  • How she incorporates a variety of newer teaching methods into her classroom, while also grounding students in the basics;
  • Serving as a role model to her students outside of the classroom, where she is known for her “humanity, her caring attitude, and her strictness”; and 
  • Her recognition among her faculty colleagues, who describe her teaching as “challenging, effective and inspiring.”

Cummins credited the award to Grinnell’s deep institutional commitment to teaching, as well as the many personal and professional connections she has made throughout her career. 

“I am honored to receive this award and I am indebted to many people for it,” Cummins said:

“My husband, Joseph, with whom I’ve talked endlessly about pedagogy over the years; senior colleagues in classics who fostered my teaching in the early days; current colleagues in classics, with whom I worked to develop new interdisciplinary offerings that the award’s selection committee cited as a curricular strength; my academic support assistants and the staff in Information Technology Services who have bailed me out of tight situations and headed off technological failures time and again; and donors to the department and to the college who have made interdisciplinary teaching and course-embedded travel a reality for students in classics and other majors.” 

In addition to a certificate, Cummins was awarded a $500 cash prize and Grinnell College received $200 to purchase educational resources selected by Cummins.

Cummins received her Ph.D. in classics from the University of Cincinnati. Her research focuses on Greek epinician poetry, a type of lyric poetry composed in praise of victors at ancient athletic games. In particular she studies this poetry within its historical and archaeological context.

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