The University of Wisconsin System has selected UW-Sheboygan Assistant Professor of English Dr. James Reitter as one of four recipients of the 2011 19th Annual Alliant Energy Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Award.

As one of this year’s recipients, Reitter will receive a $3,500 award, funded by an endowment from Alliant Energy, which recognizes and rewards extraordinary teachers at UW System institutions within Alliant Energy’s service area.

Reitter was selected for the award out of thousands of UW System faculty across the UW System including all four-year institutions, the UW Colleges and UW Extension.

Award recipients are judged by a committee of UW System faculty on their commitment to teaching, effective teaching strategies and ability to inspire notable achievements by former students. Reitter is honored for his impressive dedication as a teacher and his ability to communicate his subject matter effectively and inspire students with an enthusiasm for learning.

Reitter came to UW-Sheboygan in 2007 from Lafayette, LA, where he served as an instructor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and completed his dissertation on “Modern Dragons: A History of the Crocodilian in the Western Mind.” He also holds an M.F.A. degree in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College of The City University of New York and a B.A. in English from the State University of New York at Oswego.

Reitter is the fourth UW-Sheboygan professor to be honored with the Underkofler Award. In 1991, UW-Sheboygan Professor of Spanish Alice Homstad received one of the first Underkofler awards, followed by UW-Sheboygan Associate Professor of Geography Karl Byrand in 2005 and Associate Professor of Art Tom Uebelherr in 2008. Reitter is the only faculty honored this year from the UW Colleges.

According to Jane Oitzinger, Chair of the UW Colleges English Department, which recommended Reitter for the award, Reitter has earned a reputation as an outstanding teacher in the UW Colleges and now – the entire UW System.

In her recommendation letter, Oitzinger states, “During his tenure progress review last year, the department’s Executive Committee praised Dr. Reitter for his clear and refreshing teaching philosophy. They found his self-analyses about teaching to be remarkably insightful and noted that he exhibits a rare openness to others’ ideas, colleagues’ and students’ alike. It’s clear in their evaluations that students respect him.”

Former Reitter student David Delehanty confirmed this statement in his recommendation letter, stating, “If I were to reflect upon the people who have shaped me into the person I am today, Dr. James Reitter would trump every other contributor, in fact it would be difficult to even consider further candidates. Dr. Reitter changed my path in life. He gave me a future.”

Delehanty, now a senior at UW-Madison said that his decision to retake an English course and select Reitter as the instructor was a pivotal moment for him.

“If I have not been placed under the wing of such a great professor, I would have never made it past my first year of college. Now I am a senior at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and every day, in every class I use the lessons I have from Dr. Reitter, especially the love of knowledge, and hope to one day become a professor myself,” Delehanty wrote.

Current UW-Sheboygan student Noelle Allison confirmed Delehanty’s feelings for Reitter, stating that Reitter’s efforts to engage students in their coursework through service learning has impacted her learning more than she ever realized.

“Dr. Reitter was always engaging us in what we were learning,” Allison wrote. “It is one thing to imagine something and then write about it. It is another thing entirely to actually immerse yourself in a topic such as nature, and write about it while experiencing it. … Dr. Reitter has helped me to develop an intense enthusiasm for literature simply by modeling that enthusiasm himself.”

Students aren’t the only ones bragging about Reitter’s commitment to his craft and his unique way of conveying material to students, his colleagues are raving as well.

According to Dr. David Louzecky, UW-Sheboygan Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the UW-S Committee on Professional Evaluation, Reitter was an excellent choice for the Underkofler Award.

“James teaches rigorous and well-organized courses. All indications – student evaluations, peer reviews and self-assessments—indicate that these courses are highly effective,” Louzecky said.

In addition to his devotion to student success, Reitter is also an innovator, having developed two new courses, Introduction to Folklore and Theme in Literature: Horror. He is also a productive scholar having authored peer-reviewed journal articles, a book chapter, major presentations at both national and regional conferences and a book of poems. He also finds time for service, both on the UW-Sheboygan campus and in the UW Colleges English department.

“How James finds time to ‘do it all’ is a mystery,” states Louzecky. “We are impressed by the balance of service and scholarship that James puts to use in his focus on phenomenal teaching.”

For Reitter, the award and accolades are humbling, especially since student success, growth and inspiration is all that matters.

“I feel incredibly fortunate – both to have been awarded this honor as well as to have been chosen from such an exemplary group of scholars and professionals,” Reitter said. “As most any educator will tell you, witnessing the intellectual growth of a student is the fuel that feeds us. Knowing that you have helped to foster that growth makes all the hard work worthwhile. To see a student realize how capable they are, initiate academic pursuits and to take ownership of their ideas is an exceptional experience and what propels me forward—an approach I learned from my mentor Gerhard Zeller back at SUNY Oswego. UW-Sheboygan is a terrific campus for such a scenario thanks to the cooperative efforts of the outstanding faculty and staff.”

Reitter will be honored, along with the three other award recipients, at a special awards ceremony and reception with UW System President Kevin Reilly on October 14 at UW-Madison. Reitter also will be honored during the 2011 Honors Convocation ceremony at UW-Sheboygan on May 3.

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