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Award-winning excellence: Lisa Hagan

2019 Faculty Senate Teaching Excellence Award winner says her own experiences as a student taught her to be a better professor.

By Doug McPherson

May 20, 2019

Lisa Hagan teaching a course.Lisa Hagan, Ph.D., professor of Psychology, is a 2019 Faculty Senate Teaching Excellence Award winner. Hagan works to improve the lives of children by tackling issues such as cognition, infant attachment, emotional development and education in her Metropolitan State University of Denver classroom. She also conducts research on pedogogy within higher education, constructivism and children’s risk-taking.

Hagan’s effective teaching methods and practices inspired one nominator to dub her an “artist of student engagement” and say she “brings relevance and authenticity” to her classes.

The Early Bird caught up with Hagan to learn about the experiences that helped her build a practical teaching philosophy and why she was honored to receive a 2019 Teaching Excellence Award.  

What initially sparked your interest in teaching?

I’ve always known I wanted to be an educator. I remember playing teacher as a kid. If I weren’t teaching, my guess is I’d be working in research in childhood development for a nonprofit.

Lisa Hagan teaching a course.How do you build relationships and rapport with your students?

Much of how I teach comes from the mistakes of my predecessors during my undergraduate experience in Ohio. I had the worst psychology professor ever, so I try to create an environment where students feel comfortable and not judged. Especially during the first week, I want to build an atmosphere of trust by being approachable, by learning their names and by asking them about their goals for the class.

How do you challenge students to make connections between learning and life?

Again, it stems from my undergraduate experience, where there was a focus on broad theories but no applications of those theories. I left one class (after a semester) feeling like I didn’t know anything about how to actually help a child. My goal is to get students to love psychology – nobody loves theory. Research shows we remember things better if we can apply them to our lives. And we’re more motivated to learn something if we can see the direct application.

Why do you find being in the classroom so rewarding?

I was telling a colleague the other day that I have a very difficult time being present in the moment most of the time, but when I’m in the classroom, I’m in the flow and I love what I do, especially the individual interactions with students. And with the class as a whole, I like when there’s a kind of a group dynamic where I can see they’re enthusiastic about what they’re learning – that gets my fire going.

What does winning the Teaching Excellence Award mean to you? 

I’m excited to be recognized after 15 years of teaching here. I know if you are a professor at MSU Denver, you are really good and you care about teaching, so it makes this award that much more meaningful.

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