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Z Society honors professors Dan Player, Tyler Jo Smith with Distinguished Faculty Awards

The award is given to faculty members who stand out as positive contributors to the University community

<p>The Z Society is one of the University's various secret societies.</p>

The Z Society is one of the University's various secret societies.

Each year, the Z Society — one of the University’s secret societies — awards the Distinguished Faculty Award to a member of the University faculty who serves as a notable leader and role model to those around them. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Z Society publicly announced its 2021 awardee, Tyler Jo Smith, professor of classical art and archaeology along with 2022 awardee Dan Player, assistant professor of public policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. 

In an email statement to The Cavalier Daily, the Z Society provided a variety of commendatory testimonials from students and faculty members who know both Player and Smith. 

Of Player, one student remarked on the professor’s commitment to extending his relationships with students beyond the classroom by supporting those he teaches in their personal involvements.

“I have heard from multiple acquaintances in my cohort that Prof. Player makes them feel heard, which is just one example of the inspiration he instills,” the student wrote. “He is always looking to uplift his students by going to student-run events, cheering us on at sporting events, or by acknowledging and sharing our successes.”

A colleague spoke of Player’s universal admiration among Batten faculty, highlighting his unique interests while also speaking of the respect Player extends to those he teaches and works with.

“While people might point to his soup dinners or banjo playing as some of their favorite things about Dan, what I admire most is his dedication to both his students and his family,” the contributor wrote. “He is led by a strong sense of integrity that sets an example for all of us”.

Player said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily that he is honored to receive the Distinguished Faculty Award, a distinction made all the more important because of the high caliber of faculty throughout the University deserving of recognition. Player gave credit to those he teaches for thoughtfully engaging with his material, and said he treasures the shared experiences with University community members that this award represents.

“The award included many kind comments from former students, and It was especially meaningful for me to hear some reflecting on the life lessons they had taken from one of our classes,” Player said. “That kind of learning doesn’t happen unless students are willing to immerse themselves in the learning experience,  so I recognize that much of the credit goes to the great people I’ve had the pleasure to teach. I just hope they also know what a lasting impression so many of them have left on me.”

Smith was the 2021 awardee of the Distinguished Faculty Award. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Smith was not publicly recognized until the release of the 2022 awardee. 

Smith, who makes an impact on both the graduate and undergraduate students she teaches, said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily that she was “humbled and surprised” to know that she had been chosen. Like Player, Smith credited her students with her success, emphasizing how privileged she feels to teach.

“Through working closely with majors in Archaeology, Art History, Classics, and many other fields, I have been afforded the opportunity to get to know my students well and to appreciate them for the awesome and talented people that they are,” Smith said. “Without all of them, I know this honor would have never been possible!”

One testimonial contributor called Smith “unparalleled” in her commitment to student success, a fact demonstrated by the regularly full enrollment of Smith’s classes. The writer said Smith makes traditionally dense topics engaging to all she teaches, particularly drawing attention to the way Smith begins her lecture on vase painting.

“Not every professor at the University starts off a lecture on vase painting with a clip of a modern Greek pop song,” the testimonial read. “As the director of the archaeology major, Professor Smith has fought tirelessly to advance the opportunities that students of the major can receive, whether finding the right excavation for a student (whether here in the States or abroad), to finding them funding to go to the dig, to finding them internships in archaeology. ”

One testimonial contributor characterized themselves as one such student Smith has impacted through her tireless support. 

“I am one of many students that have been able to pursue their dreams because of Dr. Smith’s hospitality and her commitment to our success,” the student wrote. “She takes a personal interest in her students as well as her fellow faculty, forming genuine relationships that outlast graduation and retirement.” 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article classified Prof. Smith as an Architecture professor. Prof. Smith is a professor of classical art and archaeology in the Art Department. The current version of this article reflects Prof. Smith's true title.