The Board of Governors of the 17-campus University North Carolina system has selected UNC Pembroke history professor Dr. Weston F. Cook Jr. to receive its 2014 Award for Excellence in Teaching.
A Board of Governors’ committee selects one tenured faculty member on each UNC campus for the award, which was established to underscore the importance of teaching. The Faculty Awards Committee at UNCP recommended Dr. Cook as the finalist for the award.
The winners receive a bronze medallion and a $12,500 prize. Dr. Cook will preside over ceremonial events at UNCP for the 2014-15 academic year as the University Marshal and will be the commencement speaker at two winter 2014 events. The award will be presented at UNCP’s Undergraduate Commencement on May 10 by a Board of Governors member.
Dr. Kenneth Kitts, provost and vice chancellor of Academic Affairs, said the university community is “very proud” to have Dr. Cook represent UNCP as the 2014 recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award.
“Dr. Cook’s impact on this university spreads far and wide,” Dr. Kitts said. “When he’s not in the classroom sharing his knowledge and love of history with students, he’s often talking about teaching with colleagues, who frequently quote him.”
Over the course of his 20-year career in the History Department, the Middle East scholar has continued to captivate students and colleagues alike with his dynamic, compelling teaching style while enlightening them in the histories of the Ottoman Empire, India, Iran, Africa, Medieval Europe, Islamic civilizations and the pre-modern and modern Middle East.
The underpinnings of Dr. Cook’s teaching philosophy derive from his understanding that “history, after all, is rooted in storytelling, the work of bards and shamen and poets,” Dr. Cook said. He says his lectures are designed “to give color and life to...the past on the terms of those who lived it at the time…and meet the people of the past as people like themselves.”
Dr. Cook’s intention is to give students “a sense that what happens in the world really matters to us,” he said. “That is just one of the gifts of history – it illuminates.”
“To put the flesh on the bones” of the past, Dr. Cook incorporates a variety of methods, including extensive reading, map work, and critical interrogation of concepts and texts during classroom discussions. In all his courses, Dr. Cook demands that students “develop analytical capabilities that are critical [to become] informed world citizens.”
He supports his students’ progress at every step in their development, which is evident in the generous office hours he maintains for students. “I am willing to tutor, mentor, advise or help in any way I can, but you have to come see me. We do a tremendous amount of work in terms of retention and advising to help students succeed.”
Like many of Pembroke’s students, Dr. Cook was a first generation college student. He joined the ROTC at the University of New Hampshire as an undergraduate while the U.S. was in the early stages of the Vietnam War. After earning two master’s degrees at the University Wisconsin Madison, Dr. Cook went on active duty, eventually joining Defense Intelligence where he engaged in the Foreign Affairs Officer program, learned Arabic and was stationed in Morocco. There, he spent time in libraries that contributed to his doctoral dissertation and later book (“The Hundred Year War for Morocco; Gunpowder and the Military Revolution in the Early Modern Muslim World”).
A Ph.D. from Georgetown University in Middle East/Islamic history in 1989 was followed by a stint teaching at the United States Military Academy (West Point). In 1992, Dr. Cook retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel with 21 years of service. He accepted an appointment at UNCP in 1994 and is now a full professor.
“This is a wonderful department, and I love my colleagues,” he says. “I love being in Pembroke, and it’s wonderful to have a reward like this.”
A colleague in the History Department noted that, “Weston’s pedagogical style is simple yet effective; he is so good at what he does that, armed with only brief notes and a few paper maps, he tackles some of the most complicated and challenging problems of world history and current affairs.” While another colleague notes “students find him enthralling.” Still another emphasized that “Dr. Cook’s dedication to excellence in teaching extends far beyond the narrow confines of the classroom. He gives an extraordinary amount of time providing written feedback on student assignments, offering praise, constructive criticism and tips for improvement.”
A former student said of Dr. Cook’s class “was like being a kid going to story time with someone who made the subject fun.” Another student said “he made history come alive in his class. In short, Dr. Cook is the teacher I want to be.”
Long valued in the university community for his work in the classroom, with students and in the community, Dr. Cook is a three-time recipient of UNCP Outstanding Teaching Awards, and a recipient of the Adolph L. Dial Award for Community Service.
Dr. Cook is the faculty advisor to the Student Veterans Association and was a recipient of the UNCP Student Veteran Association Faculty Appreciation Award. He is a dedicated and prolific scholar with dozens of papers, articles, book chapters and reviews and presentations to his credit.