A POLITICAL MACHINE

WCU’s Gibbs Knotts is named a top teacher in the UNC system

By BILL STUDENC MPA ’10

Gibbs Knotts, recipient of the UNC Board of Governors Award
for Excellence in Teaching, meets with political science and
public affairs students.

From helping students earn co-author bylines on editorial columns in newspapers across North Carolina to guiding a classroom in designing a residents satisfaction survey for a neighboring municipality, Gibbs Knotts, associate professor of political science and public affairs, has earned a reputation as one of Western Carolina’s top teachers since his arrival on campus in 2000. Ten years later, Knotts is recognized as one of the best professors in the entire state after being named a recipient of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“Dr. Knotts’ excitement for teaching is not only contagious, but also inspiring,” Chancellor John W. Bardo said. “He motivates students to become engaged individuals who are active participants in their learning. Gibbs also moves student growth and learning beyond the classroom by utilizing service-learning projects.” In one project, Knotts’ students designed, implemented and analyzed a survey for the Downtown Sylva Association. “This hands-on experience gave students a chance to better understand the course’s learning objectives while at the same time assisting a local community organization,” Bardo said.

Former student Wade Livingston ’04 MAEd ’06 said Knotts’ personality makes him stand out. “His demeanor was special – it encouraged students to speak up in class, and his courses took on more of a seminar feel, as opposed to a series of lectures. Dr. Knotts infused humor into his courses and, most importantly, was always encouraging,” said Livingston, who earned his doctorate at Clemson University, where he is associate director of community and ethical standards. “I have witnessed professors scold students for not understanding a concept – not Dr. Knotts. He understood the root purpose of the college classroom: to foster student learning. With Dr. Knotts, it was never about ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – it was about the cognitive journey students embarked on as ‘citizens’ within his class.”

Abrahm Saunders ’06 said choosing to take Knotts’ popular class in Southern politics was one of the best decisions he made in college. “A professor’s combination of knowledge and passion for the subject matter is the recipe for making the classroom experience special. Dr. Knotts definitely possessed this combination. I admire how dynamic he was in the classroom. He facilitated productive classroom discussions, shared interesting stories and encounters with politicians to underline a point, and used other methods of teaching – like the use of technology – that made it possible for students with various learning styles to be able to learn in his class. Finally, his good-natured, nonjudgmental personality created an environment where all points of view were welcomed,” said Saunders, a student success specialist at Ohio Dominican University.

Leslie Fleisher ’05, a retired teacher who decided to work on a master’s degree in public affairs, called Knotts the finest teacher he has ever had. “I have never been more privileged as a student than to have been taught by Dr. Gibbs Knotts. He is a teacher that comes along only once in a generation.”