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Pierce recieves Sheedy award

Irena Zajickova | Thursday, September 17, 2009

Richard B. Pierce, history professor and director of Notre Dame’s Africana Studies program, has received the 2009 Charles E. Sheedy Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

The Sheedy Award, which is awarded annually to an Arts and Letters faculty member who has “profound influence on undergraduate students through sustained exemplary teaching,” is named for a beloved former dean of the College of Arts and Letters.

Pierce, who has been a Notre Dame faculty member for 12 years, said his initial reaction to learning that he won this year’s Sheedy Award was one of shock.

“I was surprised and humbled,” Pierce said. “Surprised first and humbled thereafter.”

Pierce received his undergraduate degree at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind. and his Ph.D. from Indiana University in Bloomington. He is a lifelong Indiana resident and was born in Ft. Wayne, about two hours southeast of Notre Dame.

Pierce said he did not always plan to go into teaching, but that his career choice came down to a decision between two post-graduate paths.

“I’m here accidentally. We talk to students all the time about planning things and how to situate yourself for grad school. I did none of those things. I’m here by the grace of god,” he said. “It came down between law school and grad school and I was more intrigued with graduate school and the exchange of ideas. I haven’t regretted it.”

This semester, Pierce is teaching a freshman University Seminar in Africana studies, which he will also teach in the spring. He said he is excited to help introduce Africana studies to a new group of Notre Dame students.

In the past, Pierce has taught both history and Africana Studies courses, and has tried to teach courses that include aspects of both subjects.

Pierce said of all the courses he has taught, he finds it difficult to choose a favorite one. For him, the courses he has most enjoyed teaching have more to do with the students taking the class than with the subject matter.

“It’s not about the content of the course, it’s really about the students in the course,” Pierce said. “The courses that are most memorable to me are the ones with the best students in the class.”

In addition to teaching, Pierce is a fellow in the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies, teaches in Notre Dame’s Pre-College summer program, advises the Africana Studies Club, and is a member of the faculty board of athletics, where he serves as a liaison to the women’s golf and basketball teams.

Pierce is also researching the history of corporal punishment in American families.

“Basically, what’s the history of Americans spanking their kids?” Pierce said. “Why do we do it?”

Pierce has been conducting research over the past two years and hopes to eventually publish a book on the subject.

In his free time, Pierce enjoys playing golf and spending time with his three children. He also enjoys reading, but joked that reading has become less of a hobby since he started teaching.

“I used to love to read, but reading’s my job now, by and large, so I had to come up with a new hobby,” Pierce said.