Sweet Receives Acorn Award for Teaching Excellence
2005 Acorn Award recipient Dr. Charlie Sweet, interim chair of EKU's Department of English and Theatre with graduate student Marlowe Moore, who represented him with the award.
For the third time in 11 years, an EKU faculty member has earned the Acorn Award, presented by the Kentucky Advocates for Higher Education to the professor who best demonstrates excellence in service and commitment to students.
The 2005 Acorn Award winner is Dr. Charlie Sweet, Foundation professor and interim chair of EKU’s Department of English and Theatre.
Sweet joined the EKU English faculty in 1970, intending to stay only about five years.
“Nobody stays in the same job for 36 years if they don’t love their job,” Sweet said. “The one thing that always stands out is at the graduation ceremonies when the president asks all the first generation college kids to stand. I came out of that idealistic ’60s generation that felt it could really make a difference.”
And make an impact he has – not only on the lives of his students but also on his EKU colleagues and his profession.
“Simply put, Dr. Sweet is a students’ teacher,” said Marlowe Moore, a graduate student in English/creative writing. “What adds to Dr. Sweet’s uniqueness … is his constant challenge to himself and to his students to strive for personal and professional growth.
“He truly likes to see his students succeed, and he consistently works to that end – much to the benefit of the English Department and the entire university.”
At the same time he has drawn the best out of his students, he has helped countless colleagues improve their own teaching skills.
“He has personally observed the classes and mentored all of the new teachers in the department,” said Dr. Paula Kopacz, professor of English. “He researched and devised an assessment rubric for these observations so that teaching became a professional skill in our department rather than merely a subjective opinion.
“He has set a standard of high teaching expectations for all of us, and has not left the classroom in order to raise the bar,” added Kopacz, who team-taught an American Literature course with Sweet. “No one knows more than Dr. Sweet about gothic literary conventions and the history and analysis of the short story genre, but he doesn’t lecture students. He asks leading questions, phrased in such a way that students can answer them, and he draws out of them information they didn’t realize they had. It really is a marvelous gift.”
President Glasser said: “Dr. Sweet is richly deserving of the Acorn Award because he demonstrates the very best in teaching, service and scholarship, and cares so deeply about his students and his work. He is known as an innovator and a teacher of boundless energy (and) he always seems to find the time to work with students in his office or mentor younger colleagues toward more effective teaching.
“He represents what is best about EKU and his profession," Glasser added, "and all of us feel a sense of pride that he has received such a prestigious honor.”
Sweet said he finds it difficult, if not impossible, to define his teaching style.
“I have been outside and inside so many boxes that I can only be descriptive,” he said.
One of the keys to his rapport with students is his mastery of pop culture. He cites as examples the television show “24,” which uses “the unity of time that Aristotle proposed,” and rap music, which “has the basic rhyme scheme of Neoclassic poetry.
“While I am building from what they know to the great unknown, I am insinuating myself into their world in order to break down their preconceptions that college professors are the original Geek Squad.”
Sweet’s publications “run the gamut from the creative to the critical, from the theoretical to precise analysis of particular works,” said his EKU colleague and long-time mystery writing partner, Dr. Hal Blythe, an Acorn Award recipient in 1996.
Sweet has more than 600 items in print, including nine books, with his 10th and 11th books in production, and “stands at the cutting edge of so much teaching theory,” Blythe said. For example, Sweet created for New Forums Press a series of non-theoretical books offering practical teaching tips.
Under Sweet’s leadership, EKU has launched a low-residency Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing.
In addition to Sweet and Blythe, EKU health education professor Dr. Merita Thompson also earned an Acorn Award.
“The real strength of EKU is its dedicated faculty,” Sweet said. “If a student goes to EKU, he or she has the potential to have a tenure-track professor in every course.”
Sweet received his bachelor’s degree from Washington & Lee University, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Florida State University.