Andrew Hollinger: High expectations and encouragement boost student writing skills

BY Cheryl Taylor

Andrew Hollinger, lecturer II in the Department of Writing and Language Studies at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, joins an elite group of 56 educators throughout The University of Texas System’s academic and health institutions being honored this year with the 2017 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.

Hollinger, one of four UTRGV faculty members to earn this year’s ROTA award, is a McAllen native entering his 10th year of teaching – four at the high school level, and five at UTRGV and legacy institution UTPA.

The realization that he was meant to be a third-generation educator did not occur to him until he was beyond the halfway point of a bachelor’s degree in architecture at Texas A&M University.

“The plan was to have my day job to inform and fund my writing habit until my writing took off,” he said. “Architecture is intense and creative – that’s what drew me to the discipline in the first place.”

Still, he put aside his 3-D models and dedicated himself completely to writing and teaching.

“My time studying architecture helped me understand how texts work,” he said. “Writing and architecture have a lot in common – primarily, they are both purposeful compositions that often carry the social burden of doing meaningful work. Writing, with its layers of purpose, audience, form and rhetoric, comes together in much the same way as a building.”

Hollinger is coordinator of the UTRGV First Year Writing Program, and he teaches those two courses required of all undergraduate students. His awareness of a student’s range of preparation going into the freshman year makes him well-suited to his role.

“The takeaway from my classes is to let things get messy,” he said. “Writing, and composition of any kind, is not a neatly-executed set of instructions or protocols. If you’re going to create something, get comfortable with experimenting, being wrong, starting over. None of those things is failure. It’s how good work gets done.”

Among Hollinger’s numerous initiatives are CompoCon, a four-part spring writing conference for first-year composition students, and RHETx, a TEDtalk-like series for fall first-year composition students – both innovative and exciting programs dedicated to heightening the first-year student experiences.

Hollinger demonstrates a commitment to undergraduate education and personal and professional growth by participating in and organizing professional development opportunities for high school teachers, college teachers and graduate teaching assistants.

In spring 2015, he launched the Writing Teacher Exchange (WTE), a program that groups a UTRGV writing instructor, a UTRGV graduate student and a Rio Grande Valley high school teacher in cross-institutional teaching groups.

“I am particularly proud of the WTE,” he said. “This program fits well into The Texas Prospect Initiative of Chancellor McRaven’s Quantum Leaps: WTE aims to create lasting relationships, professional empathy and pedagogical alignment between RGV high schools and UTRGV.”

Colleague Nicole Nicholson, a Writing & Language Studies lecturer, said Hollinger shares his assignments with other faculty in the Writing Program.

“These helpful examples, attractively designed and clearly worded, show that Andrew sets rigorous and high expectations of students while also encouraging them and helping them to keep writing anxieties at bay – an enviable combination,” Nicholson said.

Dr. Jonikka Charlton, associate vice president of Student Academic Success and dean of the University College, spoke about Hollinger’s contributions to a recent initiative to develop a curriculum for the House Bill 5 college prep course for high school seniors who have passed their state-mandated exams, but are not yet college-ready in reading and/or writing.

“Andrew’s experience as a high school teacher has been invaluable in this work, creating a textbook now available free to Valley students, along with professional development, at no cost, to the high school faculty who teach this course,” Charlton said. “We are gratified that state and national foundations which focus on college completion and college readiness have shown interest in our model.”

Hollinger has begun his doctoral studies at Texas Tech University, seeking a Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric.

UT SYSTEM REGENTS’ OUTSTANDING TEACHING AWARDS

Recipients of the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards will be honored at a banquet on Wednesday, Aug. 23, in Austin. Each receives $25,000 and a gold medallion. More than $18 million has been awarded to 1,700 deserving faculty members since the program began in 2009.

“It’s really wonderful to be able to point to moments of validation and appreciation,” Hollinger said. “Receiving the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award at the ceremony will be one of those moments for me.”

The Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award is the UT System Board of Regents’ highest honor, offered annually in recognition of faculty members who have demonstrated extraordinary classroom performance and innovation in undergraduate instruction at the UT System’s nine academic and six health institutions.

“The Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards is one of the nation’s largest awards programs to honor exceptional instruction in the university classroom,” said Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster. “It is a reflection of the value the University of Texas System and the Board of Regents place on extraordinary teaching and student success, and it represents our profound appreciation to these wonderful educators and the life-changing impact they have on students at UT institutions.”

A complete list of winners by institution is available at the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards website.