This year, two University of Richmond faculty members, law professor Julie McConnell and management professor Jeffrey Harrison, have been selected as two of just 12 recipients of the Outstanding Faculty Award, a state honor.
The Outstanding Faculty Awards are the highest distinction for faculty at Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities, granted by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Nominees are chosen by their institutions, reviewed by a panel of peers, and selected by a committee of leaders from the public and private sectors.
These two professors have been recognized for their exceptional work in teaching, research, and public service.
Before Julie McConnell began working at UR’s law school, she was a prosecutor for five years in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and a public defender for six years before that.
In higher education, however, she discovered a new calling, she said.
“I was really drawn to the idea of working with students to help shape their professional identities, help them to see that they can use their law degree to help bridge the justice gap in our community,” McConnell said.
UR, where she’s now been a professor for twelve years, was an ideal place for this goal, she said.
“I went to the University of Richmond Law School, so I’m a proud Spider. And I have lived in this community now for a very long time and am very dedicated to working in the Central Virginia area,” she said.
McConnell gives back to the off-campus community along with her students through the Children’s Defense Clinic she directs. It is a litigation-oriented clinic that advocates for the needs of impoverished children in the community who appear before the court as well as post-conviction challenges for adults originally sentenced when they were minors, according to its website.
For McConnell, the greatest reward she gets from directing the Children’s Defense Clinic is watching that moment when a fire is ignited in students, by way of their community engagement, she said.
Through the Children’s Defense Clinic, McConnell and the students who volunteer have represented parents trying to gain custody of their children and prevent them from being deported, individuals who were given harsh sentences when they were children and are seeking a second chance, and families in need of legal services.
“All of these things are opportunities for the students to help others and to address injustices in the system in a positive way. I think that’s probably the most meaningful thing to me, to help students realize that they have a powerful tool in their toolbox that they can use to change people’s lives for the better,” McConnell said.
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In the future, McConnell hopes to continue to provide opportunities for students to grow their professional identities while serving their community.
Jeffrey Harrison always wanted to be an educator and has been one at UR for 18 years.
“The University of Richmond is like no other, especially the business school,” Harrison said. “I have wonderful colleagues to work with, we get a lot of support from the administration, and I just really love my students.”
One part of his job that makes him particularly proud is hearing about the successes of his students long after they’ve left his classroom.
“I really love it when my students get back to me after they are already out in their careers and tell me how well they're doing,” he said.
Harrison also acknowledged his students, as well as the greater UR community, as a critical part of his journey to receiving an Outstanding Faculty Award.
“I think this honor is a validation of the quality of students and colleagues and support from the administration that I receive, because I could not have done this alone,” he said.
Beyond his incredible students and the pleasure he gets from teaching, he also enjoys watching businesses embrace stakeholder theory, one of his research interests.
Stakeholder theory involves treating stakeholders the way you would want to be treated to make a more positive impact in the world, he said.
When Harrison first entered the business profession and started researching strategic management, he discovered there was a heavy emphasis on shareholder primacy, which states that firms exist to serve their shareholders.
Instead of following suit, Harrison collaborated with others in his field to begin fighting for stakeholders and their place of importance in firms. He’s made notable progress with this, especially in the classroom, he said.
“I have integrated stakeholder theory into all of my textbooks and everything I teach. The students are very comfortable with it,” he said.
Going forward, Harrison wants to contribute to the university for as long as he’s able.
Both McConnell and Harrison will officially receive the award in March.
Contact features writer Grace Randolph at email@example.com.
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