Associate Professor of Classical Studies
Education: bachelor's degree from the University of Cincinnati; master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Wisconsin
The experience of developing a nuanced understanding of another language changes the way one thinks about and uses one's own language, said Dr. Holly Sypniewski, the 2010 Humanities Teacher of the Year at Millsaps College.
"I love teaching students how to read Greek and Latin and how to appreciate literature as it was written in its original language," said Sypniewski, associate professor of classics and chair of the Department of Classical Studies. "I teach all levels of Greek and Latin classes, a Roman civilization course, and study abroad courses in Italy. Teaching abroad is a favorite: nothing brings antiquity alive for students better than walking through the streets of ancient Pompeii, exploring the decadent Roman villas in the bay of Naples, or strolling down the Via Appia among Roman tombs and early Christian catacombs."
The Mississippi Humanities Council gives the award each year in celebration of Arts and Humanities Month. In connection with the award, Sypniewski lectured on "Who Needs Greek?" at Millsaps in November.
Sypniewski is known for her creative classes, conscientious mentoring, and outstanding leadership on campus, said Dr. David Davis, interim dean and vice president of the College. She has taught at Millsaps since 2002.
Sypniewksi earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Cincinnati and a master's and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. Her research has been published in respected journals and numerous conference papers. She was the recipient of the Millsaps Outstanding Young Faculty Award in 2006.
Dr. Catherine Freis, emerita professor of classics at Millsaps, said Sypniewski infuses students with joy and excitement whether she is teaching a civilization course on the ancient world, a Greek or Latin language course, or directing an honors project.
"Although she has high standards - and expects her students to work as hard as she does - she has a talent for keeping her students engaged by constantly inventing new and interesting class activities and assignments. She actually teaches her students to think and to write, as well as to master content. Many students who have taken a course with Dr. Sypniewski have confessed to me that before studying with Dr. Sypniewski they had no interest at all in the ancient world. These same students then pursued a classics major or a minor because Dr. Sypniewski had shown them how important a knowledge of the ancient world was for understanding our own times and our own lives. She is a true exemplar of a liberal arts educator and richly deserves to be recognized for her teaching."
Sypniewski has had an impact across the Associated Colleges of the South thanks to her leadership from 2002 until 2006 in the collaborative Sunoikisis Inter-Institutional Collaborative course and workshops.
"We developed highly successful interinstitutional Greek and Latin courses based on common syllabus and curriculum. These were taught in a virtual classroom with live video and audio lectures by leading researchers in Classics, and with interactive discussion with students and faculty at other campuses," Sypniewski said. "In their on-campus sessions, students read Greek or Latin in the original just as they would in any advanced translation course, but on a wider range of texts and themes than traditionally offered at small colleges. In addition to providing greater breadth, these classes required a deeper level of discussion and introduced new modes of analyzing texts. By pooling intellectual resources through technology, we offered students at the ACS schools a class as rigorous as those taught by large Classics departments at research universities but with the individualized attention of the liberal arts environment."
Millsaps senior Brandi Buckler said Sypniewski has the uncanny ability to both engage and challenge her students.
"Despite the fact that many of her upper level translation courses in Latin and Greek combine students at the 3000-level and 4000-level, she still manages to balance their varying abilities with ease. Her teaching is meticulous and her students can always depend on her precise lesson plans, clear-cut assignments, and consistently fair assessment," she said. "She goes out of her way to be unfailingly available to her students despite her many commitments outside of the classroom. After I took a semester off two years ago, I struggled to keep up with my peers in one of my translation classes. Instead of letting me fall behind, Dr. Sypniewski took it upon herself to meet with me for an hour every day before class until I had caught back up with my peers."
Philip Cortese, B.A. 2009, recalls one project as indicative of Sypniewski's approach to teaching. "After a semester of reading Cicero's forensic speeches - and imagining how they would have been 'performed' in court - she had each member of the class memorize a section of a speech to declaim before the class. As students of an ancient language, we had grown comfortable interacting with written Latin, but the prospect of pronouncing the words aloud was daunting.
"When the day of the presentations arrived, Dr. Sypniewski, decked out in full Roman toga, stood before us and recited a passage herself. Instead of simple recall, it was a dramatic interpretation that brought alive the ancient Romans as a vibrant and expressive people to whom we could relate. We students then declaimed our own passages and gained valuable insight into the original context of these ancient texts. This 'down in the trenches' approach was present in all of Dr. Sypniewski's translation classes. She was always right there with us, wrestling with the text and demanding superior academic work by constantly modeling the high level of intellectual engagement she expected."