Hilton is Outstanding Teacher for 2019-2020

Hilton is Outstanding Teacher for 2019-2020

May 14, 2020

Maryville College has announced that it intends to hold commencement exercises for the Class of 2020 on Dec. 19, but announcement of the winner and runner-up of the annual Outstanding Teacher Award—an expected part of the commencement program—was made during the College’s May 9 virtual commencement ceremony.

Dr. Nikki Hilton, assistant professor of psychology, was named the winner, while Dr. Drew Crain, professor of biology, was named runner-up. Recognition is based on a nomination ballot from the junior and senior classes.

Dr. Dan Klingensmith, vice president and dean of the College, made the announcement.

“Every year at Commencement, as we celebrate the achievement and hard work of our seniors, we also recognize the commitment and passion of the teachers who have sought to prepare these graduates for lives as citizens, leaders and educated persons,” the dean said. “In announcing the Outstanding Teacher Awards this afternoon, we commend two members of the faculty in particular for their exemplary teaching.”

Hilton wins in first year

In recognizing Hilton, Klingensmith described the first-year faculty member as spirited and animated.

“Among the many things [students] praise in particular is her energetic greeting at the start of an 8 a.m. class,” he said. “They also like her use of a variety of teaching techniques in order to keep them engaged and their attention focused, and her patience and empathy for their personal situations as students.”

The dean added that students were impressed with Hilton’s commitment to learn their names and get to know them personally in one semester. In just her first year at the College, she has shown excellent teaching in introductory psychology and abnormal psychology, as well as courses in her area of expertise, which is counseling psychology, he said.

“It is rare—very rare indeed—for the Outstanding Teacher Award to go to a faculty member just completing his or her first year. But I’m delighted to announce that this year’s Outstanding Teacher is Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Nikki Hilton,” Klingensmith said.

Crain is runner-up

Dr. Drew Crain, professor of biology and runner-up for the award, was praised by students for “his deep knowledge of his subject and especially his enthusiasm and passion,” Klingensmith said.

Crain teaches courses in animal physiology and developmental biology, has a “wonderful knowledge of birds,” leads a course that addresses the tensions between religion and science, and frequently gets students out of the classroom and into nature to study biology, the dean said.

A member of the faculty since 1998, Crain is committed to continual improvement, which is evident in his administration of course evaluations following exams and not on the last day of classes.

“[He wants to] find out whether students felt his final exam was a fair test of what the course had covered,” Klingensmith explained. “And then he uses that information to adjust his teaching and expectations for the next time.”

This is the fourth time Crain has been recognized as a runner-up. He was winner of the Outstanding Teacher Award for the 2014-2015 academic year.


Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”