Assistant theatre prof receives award for innovative teaching

Peggy Mead-Finizio, an assistant professor in the theatre department, received the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) Innovative Teacher award.

Only one teacher and one graduate student per region are given the award. Mead-Finizio was a recipient for region three, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and western Ohio.

As part of the award, Mead- Finizio also won a year’s membership to the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) and free registration to its conference this year.

“The award is to acknowledge someone who uses innovation in their teaching,” Mead-Finizio said. “The application for the award is quite extensive.”

She was nominated by theatre professor Tommy Wedge and department chair David Rzezsutek.

“They had to write a letter of support; I had to provide a teaching statement and write a statement about why I feel I’m an innovative teacher or why my teaching is innovative,” Mead-Finizio said. “I had to look up what innovation in teaching is to find out how I fit into that category. The definition described what I was doing in my classroom already without me even realizing.”

Innovation in the classroom involves addressing different types of learning, such as the combination of verbal, visual and hands-on components.

“[When] we flipped to virtual, some of my classes were hands-on only, so I had to figure out how to (explain) hanging and focusing a light instrument and programming lights virtually,” Mead-Finizio said. “[I’m] constantly finding new and different ways to teach that material.”

She explained that another part of her job is putting together backstage crews and mentoring technicians for theatre productions.

In 2020, two productions were filmed at the same time for the virtual showcase.

“The learning curve was very steep, so a lot of innovation had to come out with that,” she said.

One of the things her colleagues praised was her innovation with the introductory theatre course.

“When it’s not COVID time, I have all the students from all the sections come into the black box theater,” Mead-Finizio said. “I do a lighting demo for hands-on experience that they might not get from looking at a picture or getting a lecture about lighting.”

Mead-Finizio said she is very grateful for the nomination and support from her colleagues.

“It’s always nice when there’s an affirmation that you’re doing something other people are acknowledging,” she said. “I love working with the people I work with and working at SVSU. I think the whole team we have in the theatre department is like a family.”

The award has inspired Mead-Finizio to do even more.

“When I was writing my innovation statement, I was like, ‘okay, this is what I do, but what more could I do?’” she said. “It has shifted my thinking on how to adapt to COVID.”

Holly Houck, a theatre and international studies major, described what it was like having Mead-Finizio as a professor.

“As a professor, mentor and director, Peggy helps you realize your full potential,” Houck said. “Working with her is an absolute treat because you get to share the immense love, energy and passion that Peggy pours into everything. There is no better learning environment than one where you can grow alongside your mentor.”

Houck praised Mead-Finizio for her teaching during the pandemic.

“It would be easy for theatre artists to accept defeat in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Peggy has moved mountains to provide her students an incomparable education, while caring for their wellbeing,” she said.

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