Pacific professor earns Phi Beta Kappa’s highest teaching award

Courtney Lehmann

English Professor Courtney Lehmann named Hasenkamp Award winner, the highest teaching recognition from the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa organization.

Courtney Lehmann wears many hats—figuratively and literally. She is an English professor, director of the Powell Scholars Program and a researcher. And recently, the Shakespearean hat-wearing Lehmann edged out two Stanford University professors to earn the highest teaching recognition from the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa organization.

In spring, Lehmann and University of the Pacific history Professor Bill Swagerty were selected from a pool of nominees from eight Phi Beta Kappa institutions in Northern California, including Stanford, UC Berkeley and UC Davis, for the Teaching Excellence Award. The two Pacific professors joined two professors from Stanford as the recipients. Lehmann was then chosen as the top candidate and Hasenkamp Award winner.

The Hasenkamp Award was established by Peter Hasenkamp in memory of his mother Inta, who served as recording secretary of the Phi Beta Kappa Northern California Association.

The Hasenkamp Award recipient exemplifies the ideals that Phi Beta Kappa champions: “Love of learning is the guide of life,” said Melissa X. Stevens, Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Excellence chair. The award recognizes an innovative professor who cultivates critical thinking, freedom of thought and academic excellence in captivating and engaging ways. For these reasons and many more, Lehmann is this year’s recipient, Stevens said.

Lehmann, who is entering her 24th year of teaching at Pacific, said she feels like a “giant slayer” after being selected for the honor over her Stanford colleagues. She is particularly enthusiastic to gain recognition as an English teacher, as she was up against a neuroscientist.

“I’m just astonished,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be recognized at that level. Pacific is a smaller university and we’re up against these giant institutions. This award is validation of everything that I do at the university. The Hasenkamp Award goes beyond teaching and touches on a variety of qualities that I’ve always aspired to. To be a winner of something aspirational for me—it was surprising.”

“I want to dedicate this award to all of my students, who are first and foremost, an extension of my family,” Lehmann said in a video for Phi Beta Kappa. 

Lehmann said the award legitimizes her work in “counter-memory,” which she described as the idea to contest the dominant historical narrative. Her research includes being one of only two scholars in the world to have seen and published an essay about Liz White’s all-Black production of Othello and studying South Asian women directors. The Hasenkamp Award also celebrates Lehmann, who is known for her flair and use of hats and props for the classroom, for her work directing Pacific’s Powell Scholars Program and ability to foster individualized learning—a cornerstone of a Pacific education.

“Dr. Lehmann is a dynamic professor who seeks to create pathways from the authors she teaches (e.g., Shakespeare) to her students,” wrote Stevens. “She employs many creative tools to achieve this, such as role-play, drawing, and letter-writing. She encourages her students to participate interactively, and this makes them feel personally invested in the coursework … Dr. Lehmann prioritizes equal opportunity within the classroom, as demonstrated by her unwavering support of minority students. She also trains her honors scholars to assist economically disadvantaged high school students in the local area.”

Both Lehmann and Swagerty were nominated for the Teaching Excellence Award by Sarah Hess ’21, a history graduate and Phi Beta Kappa member. Hess lauded Lehmann for her “holistic and meaningful education to each of her students” in her nomination letter.

“She consistently reaches out for us to check in with her and make sure our mental health is more or less stable; in addition, she truly welcomes us into her life with open arms,” Hess wrote. “Everything that she does contributes to an environment where students truly feel as though they can realize their full potential, and for this, I deeply thank Dr. Lehmann and hope that she can be recognized for her incredible academic achievements as well as what she has a knack for drawing out of each of her students.”