Pamela Wojcik, professor and chair of the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre, has won the 2020 Sheedy Excellence in Teaching Award — the highest teaching honor in the College of Arts & Letters.
The Sheedy Award was created in 1970 and honors Rev. Charles E. Sheedy, C.S.C., who served as A&L dean from 1951 to 1969.
“It is deeply humbling to receive this award,” Wojcik said. “I was truly shocked when I heard — there is excellent teaching happening all across campus, and it’s very hard to imagine that I’m doing anything better than the many, many people doing wonderful work in the classroom.
“I am also very honored to be among the amazing faculty who have won before me, including Peter Holland and Jim Collins from FTT, as well as the many faculty affiliated with Gender Studies who have won in recent years.”
Wojcik, who joined the Arts & Letters faculty in 1998, focuses her research on American film, with particular emphasis on issues of space, gender, performance, and genre. She teaches both introductory and advanced film courses on a variety of topics — including the history of the movie musical, the career and image of Frank Sinatra, and the construction of masculinity in American film.
“I have known Pam as a colleague for more than 20 years and, during that time, I have seen her evolve from a very competent instructor to a truly inspiring classroom teacher and exemplary mentor,” said James Collins, professor and past chair of FTT. “Her courses exemplify the kind of dynamic interplay between research and teaching that has become a hallmark of Sheedy Award recipients.”
A guiding light
A past president of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, Wojcik also won a Guggenheim fellowship this year for her current book project, Unhomed: Mobility and Placelessness in American Cinema. That project explores America’s ambivalent and shifting attitude toward placelessness through marginalized figures — including tramps, hitchhikers, the homeless, and contemporary youth.
While Wojcik’s research often informs her teaching, she works to ensure that her courses span a wider range of genres, cultures, and time periods than her work outside the classroom.
She also enjoys the opportunity to teach introductory seminars such as Global Cinema History and Critical Approaches to Screen Culture that are unrelated to her research.
“I love teaching these courses because I get to meet students early in their FTT careers and expose them to theorists and films they might not otherwise encounter,” she said. “The Global Cinema class is especially rewarding — even though I do not write about silent cinema, I love it and delight in breaking down the students' initial resistance to it.”
Wojcik’s influence on her students not only begins early in their time at Notre Dame — but often extends beyond it. One recent alumnus who nominated Wojcik for the Sheedy Award wrote that she has served as a “guiding light” both while he was on campus and after his graduation.
“Professor Wojcik is among the first whose opinions I seek out after I watch a new film, and among the first whose recommendations I revere when I want to fill blind spots in my continual learning,” he wrote. “Years out of schooling, I still keep in constant touch with Professor Wojcik because her role as a mentor in my life did not end when I left the classroom — in fact, it has only grown.”
“Years out of schooling, I still keep in constant touch with Professor Wojcik because her role as a mentor in my life did not end when I left the classroom — in fact, it has only grown.”
— a 2017 graduate who wrote in support of Wojcik's nomination for the Sheedy Award
The essence of teaching
Wojcik appreciates the supportive community she’s found at Notre Dame — among faculty and students — and she is inspired by her students’ passion and commitment. In FTT, where students combine film production classes with critical studies, she finds it especially rewarding to see how things they learn in one sphere inform the other.
Through the years, her teaching style has remained consistent, she said, but her expectations and tone have shifted.
“When I started, I expected students to be pretty much like me, so I became frustrated when they did not engage with the material the way I thought they should,” Wojcik said. “As I got older, I realized that if they were not engaging, it was my fault, not theirs. I also saw them more as whole people and recognized that my class was a small part of their world and that I needed to acknowledge their larger interests and other demands on their time and attention.”
For Wojcik, that has resonated more than ever this year — and receiving the Sheedy Award in 2020 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is especially poignant, she said.
“It is a particularly interesting year to be reflecting on teaching and thinking about what that means,” she said. “This is the year in which you really have to boil it down to its essence and consider what’s most important in what you’re doing — and that’s finding a way to make connections with our students, despite the barriers we’re facing.”
Wojcik accepted the Sheedy Award during a virtual ceremony on November 17.
A legend in her own time
That connection has had a powerful impact on her students. One 2020 graduate wrote in her nomination letter that as her senior thesis advisor, Wojcik offered exceptional insight into her work while allowing her to chart her own course.
“Because of Pam, I have become a better writer, a better scholar, and a more critical consumer of media,” she said. “Pam’s guidance on my senior thesis pushed me in directions I could have never imagined on my own and has deepened my passion for academia to the point that I plan on returning to pursue graduate school in the next few years.”
Collins had the opportunity to observe Wojcik’s teaching firsthand last year when he team-taught an innovative, one-credit course she developed on the multiple screen iterations of A Star Is Born. It was the second time in recent years that Wojcik has created a course in direct response to student interest — she also developed a one-credit seminar examining Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.
What he saw was masterful, he said, and has inspired his own teaching.
“The fact that she developed these courses, above and beyond her regular teaching assignments — just for fun, as she put it — is testimony to how utterly joyful teaching has become for her,” Collins said, “which is exactly the approach to pedagogy that one encounters only in teachers who become legends in their own time.”
“The fact that she developed these courses, above and beyond her regular teaching assignments — just for fun, as she put it — is testimony to how utterly joyful teaching has become for her, which is exactly the approach to pedagogy that one encounters only in teachers who become legends in their own time.”
— James Collins, professor and past chair of FTT