BOONE, N.C. — Dr. Laura Ammon, associate professor in the Appalachian State University Department of Philosophy and Religion and director of the Watauga Residential College (WRC) in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, is the recipient of University College's 2023 Harvey R. Durham Outstanding Freshman Advocate Award.
The Durham Outstanding Freshman Advocate Award recognizes a full-time App State employee who has contributed significantly to improving the freshman experience on our campus. Faculty, staff, and administrators with sustained contributions to the freshman experience over at least a three-year period are eligible for consideration. Nominators are asked to consider persons who have demonstrated extraordinary personal commitment to freshmen, have provided effective classroom instruction to freshman classes, have shown dedication to programs that have supported and served freshmen, or have repeatedly exhibited exceptional individual commitment to freshman success.
Ammon was presented with the award at the 2023 Awards of Distinction Ceremony held on Thursday, April 27.
Ammon earned her B.A. in Liberal Arts and Music from Webster University, her M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago and her Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University. She joined the App State Department of Philosophy and Religion as an assistant professor in 2010 and was promoted to associate professor in 2015. During her time at App State, Ammon has taught a variety of religious studies courses and was inducted into the College of Arts and Sciences' Academy of Outstanding Teachers in 2013.
Ammon was appointed the director of WRC in Fall 2021, as the university was beginning to return to in-person classes and on-campus living. "It had the potential to be very overwhelming for all of us, but particularly these freshmen for whom the program at Watauga is specifically targeted," explained Ammon. In response to these challenges, Ammon immediately got to work planning a socially-distanced day of service to treat invasive flora at Strawberry Hill; purchasing outdoor canopies that enabled students to have class together; and working with University Dining to bring back the weekly communal luncheons with WRC students and faculty.
Ammon's priority is diversifying the Watauga community, in terms of race, gender, class and affinity. "A well-worn sentiment that influences my work as director of WRC is 'without a vision, people perish.' The vision of WRC that I embrace as director is that learning happens in community, and the broader the community the greater the learning," shared Ammon, who went on to describe her role as "an honor and a privilege."
In their nomination letters, WRC members praised Ammon, highlighting how her intentionality improved their experiences as first-year students at Appalachian. Below are excerpts from some of these letters.
"Director Ammon watches over every Wataugan in a deeply compassionate way I have never seen before from any professor. She reaches out to assure that individual students who haven't signed up for housing in the coming academic year have a plan and works with them to create one if not, offers up space, resources, and even her own physical labor to student-run events, and never fails to approach students she sees in public with a smile and warm greeting."
"Professor Ammon...has made it an effort to reach out and gain new relationships with every new freshman class that steps foot within the premises of the Living Learning Center, and doesn't fall out of contact with students over a short period of time, but continuously makes an effort to stay in touch with each student she runs into."
"No matter the time or the day, [Ammon] has worked with incoming freshmen to arrange tours and answer questions. She provides countless resources to incoming freshmen so that when they get here they aren't overwhelmed and know what is going on. An incoming Watauga freshman will know what to expect in their class and living on campus whereas a student anywhere else may be lost and overwhelmed."
"Professor Ammon has greatly impacted my stay as a freshman here at App State and Watauga. She has a great and open heart ready to drop whatever she is doing at the moment to help anyone, as well as an amazing dedication to the WRC."
"[Ammon] would, and she does, encourage all of us to engage with our peers and professors alike as equals—perhaps not in level of education or experience, but in the fundamentality of purpose that is shared between all those seeking a more learned and accepting world. She has devoted herself to this goal, creating inside the framework of a decades old program something new: a freshman experience unlike any other. In the WRC of her design, students are never without the resources, support systems and professional guidance they need to comfortably navigate college life."
"I remember coming into App State and the Watauga program and being simply terrified. I knew next to no one, and the adjustment was anything but easy for me. But I really clicked with Professor Ammon, as she was naturally welcoming at every Watauga event. She had the ability to make you feel at home and at ease in a place where so much is unknown. And not only was she so welcoming, she never turned that warm welcome off."
Congratulations to Dr. Ammon! The Durham Outstanding Freshman Advocate Awards comes with a modest stipend. To learn more about the award and view a list of previous recipients, visit universitycollege.appstate.edu/awards.
About the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
The Department of Interdisciplinary Studies offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in four program areas: Appalachian studies; gender, women’s and sexuality studies; global studies; and interdisciplinary studies. The department is also home to Watauga Residential College, an interdisciplinary, alternative general education program. The department promotes creative and imaginative engagement through a cross-disciplinary investigation of complex systems and problems. Learn more at https://interdisciplinary.appstate.edu.
About the Department of Philosophy and Religion
The Department of Philosophy and Religion invites students to explore the world, examine beliefs, understand a diversity of worldviews, and challenge the ideas and values that instruct our lives. The department offers a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies, as well as a minor in both of these areas. Learn more at https://philrel.appstate.edu.
About the Watauga Residential College at Appalachian
The Watauga Residential College is a specialized academic program where classes are discussion-based seminars that allow students to pursue topics of interest to them within the context of the class. This program provides an unusual opportunity for students to become engaged in learning at a deep level through class discussions and research projects. Watauga classes are interdisciplinary and this approach to learning requires students to integrate knowledge from a variety of disciplines to gain a complete perspective on a topic. Learn more at https://watauga.appstate.edu.
About University College
Formed in 2007, University College consists of the university’s general education program, faculty and student support, and co-curricular programming and support – all designed to support the work of students both inside and outside the classroom. All students at Appalachian begin their education in University College and benefit from its programs until they graduate. Learn more at https://universitycollege.appstate.edu.
By Lauren Andersen
May 23, 2023