Higher education’s “hidden curriculum” can either help or hinder students.
Franklin & Marshall College’s Associate Professor of Classics Alexis Castor, who also chairs the department, is on a mission to change that.
Because of her dedication to teaching and mentorship to students, the College awarded Castor the Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching.
Castor is the 84th recipient of the honor, the College’s highest for teaching. It is funded by the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation.
A member of the F&M’s faculty since 2000, Castor’s colleagues have lauded her innovative teaching strategies and impressive record of mentoring students through the Booth Ferris and Posse Scholar programs.
“Alexis Castor is an exceptional teacher, particularly in the way that she builds trust with students,” said Gretchen Meyers, associate professor of classics. “I have observed how often students seek her out; and when they do, she drops everything to be truly present for them. There is no doubt that she is a gifted educator in the classroom; but it is truly remarkable how many students find a deep, human connection with her that goes beyond the courses she is teaching.”
Castor mentors 10 students from F&M’s 13th Posse cohort from New York, a role she felt drawn to “after being made aware of the special challenges that they were encountering as first-generation students, and my discovery that many aspects of college life that I had taken for granted were hidden from them,” Castor said.
Her “tough love” approach has helped students uncover opportunities and resources available to them. A member of Castor’s first Booth Ferris cohort described the impact.
“Professor Castor is vastly knowledgeable, but knows how to relate to her students,” the student wrote. “She sympathizes with us, but keeps a firm grasp on reality and what we need to do to succeed. Everything can be going wrong in our lives, but when we vent to her, she doesn’t pity us; she asserts our strength to persevere. For some of us, especially myself, she is the wise friend, teacher and parent we have always been missing in our lives.”
In the classroom, Castor’s colleagues applaud her willingness to take risks in revising, designing and implementing new curricula, especially in emerging technology and high-impact practices.
“I think I'm a better teacher because of Alexis Castor. She is constantly reinventing and rethinking her courses and pedagogical strategies. I have learned so much from years of talking with her about ideas for assignments or classroom activities,” Meyers said.
Castor’s dedication to develop new courses reaches beyond the usual themes of classics, such as last semester’s “Race and Ethnicity in the Ancient World.”
Her expertise in the field of classics is demonstrated by her published works, presentations and continuous research focused on understanding ancient Mediterranean societies through their burial practices and jewelry.
Castor often involves students directly in the research process, and has mentored students to present their original research in national and regional forums, including Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies and the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States.
In both her teaching and adviser roles, Castor’s rapport with students shapes the success of their learning experience.
“Every generation of students asks different questions,” Castor said. “They really drive the way I deliver the material and renew my study of ancient cultures.”
Castor mentors 10 Posse Scholars, a role she felt drawn to “after being made aware of the special challenges that they were encountering as first-generation students, and my discovery that many aspects of college life that I had taken for granted were hidden from them,” she said.