Columbia College professor named to The Chronicle of Higher Education list of Teaching Innovators

(Columbia, S.C.) Columbia College professor and director of the honors program, Dr. John Zubizarreta, has been named to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s first-ever list of Teaching Innovators. “Faculty members who are using fresh approaches in their classrooms to help their students succeed,” and “those who are in it for the long haul, who constantly review their teaching to find what works, who deeply want to connect with their students,” are those who are recognized as innovators by The Chronicle.

It is not a “top 10 list” although there are 10 teaching innovators. Rather, The Chronicle seeks to highlight some of the faculty from across the nation who might be flying under the radar. Nominations were sought across social media, from teaching advocates and from higher education leaders. A group of editors and reporters from The Chronicle made the final selections.

Dr. Zubizaretta, or “Dr. Z” as he is called across campus, has been with Columbia College (SC) since 1988, serving as a professor of English and director of its honors program. He was the Carnegie Foundation/CASE U.S. Professor of the Year for Baccalaureate Colleges in 2010-11. Brynna Gregg, a senior majoring in English said of Dr. Z, “He regularly pushes us to reflect on how we learn, how learning in one class connects to learning in other classes and to our personal lives, and why our learning is important in the first place.”

“Lecture is a venerable form of teaching,” Zubizaretta says. “I had great lecturers in school, though I don’t lecture much myself.” Instead, he establishes an online forum for each course in which students trade ideas and reflections. He calls it “an incredibly rich pedagogical tool.”

Zubizarreta’s journey is a uniquely American story. His parents emigrated from Cuba a few years prior to Castro’s 1959 revolutionary march to Havana. He was born in New York City’s Harlem, where his family lived until his early teen years. The young family later moved to New Jersey, staying there until his junior year of high school, and then moved to Miami, Florida, to be near other family members who had left Cuba.

Zubizarreta knew from a young age that he wanted to be a teacher. He describes himself as an average student, who, after high school worked to pay his way through Miami-Dade Junior College. There he met Dr. Margie Buhr, who nurtured his growing love of language and literature and planted the seeds for his interest in interdisciplinary learning. Buhr would later help to fund Zubizarreta’s graduate work at the University of South Carolina, following the tragic death of her college age son. Upon his completing his undergraduate degree at Florida International University, he entered the University of South Carolina graduate program, earning a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in literature.