Viterbo’s Teacher of the Year: Susan Cosby Ronnenberg
Centuries-old British literature can be very intimidating for many students. Fortunately, there is an associate professor of English at Viterbo University who connects the material to modern times and the lives of students, making it much easier for them to understand and appreciate.
That teacher is Susan Cosby Ronnenberg, Viterbo’s 2008 Teacher of the Year. She was presented with the honor at the annual Rose Awards ceremony in May.
“I was honored and surprised,” Cosby Ronnenberg said of receiving the award.
“When they were reading the description of the winner, I didn’t realize it was me until they said my name. I was stunned to be included in the ranks of the winners of this award, and the students who nominated me were very excited.”
Cosby Ronnenberg, 41, was promoted to associate professor this past spring. She teaches Shakespeare, history of the English language, composition, and honors English. She also teaches in the School of Adult Learning. Her ability to make the material relevant to the lives of students is just one of the things that makes her a very popular member of the faculty.
“In addition to her ability to make any subject interesting, she really takes a personal interest in students outside of class,” said Lindsey Bush, one of the Viterbo students who nominated Cosby Ronnenberg for the award. “She was extremely helpful in answering all my questions about graduate school, and she even put me in touch with a Viterbo alum who is attending the same school and program I will be.”
Bush graduated in May with a degree in English. She plans to earn a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in English before embarking on a career teaching university literature.
“Susan is definitely a mentor for me,” Bush said.
Cosby Ronnenberg, herself a first generation college student, is part of the dedicated faculty at Viterbo who genuinely care about student success. She is also a shining example of Viterbo’s proud emphasis on academic distinction, which is recognized each year at the Rose Awards.
Growing up in the small town of Sims, Ark., Cosby Ronnenberg discovered a love of Shakespeare through her oldest sister. “She was an Anglophile,” she said. “She loved all things British, including Tolkien and Shakespeare.”
Cosby Ronnenberg earned an undergraduate degree in English from Hendrix College, a small, private, Methodist school in Arkansas. She went on to earn a master’s degree in English from Southwest Missouri State University and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Oklahoma. Her love of literature was enhanced throughout her collegiate career. “I had great teachers in college,” she said.
After earning her doctorate, she stayed on at Oklahoma, accepting a full-time administrator position as the director of a women’s center on campus and teaching an occasional class.
She found the work to be rewarding, but she wanted to teach full-time. “A small school similar to Hendrix College was just the type of place where I wanted to be,” she said, “with a more personal environment for students, faculty, and staff.”
Viterbo University certainly fit the bill when she began as an assistant professor of English in 2002.
“I found the faculty and the campus community to be very warm and welcoming,” she said, also adding that she learned a great deal from fellow faculty members.
There was a transition though, she remembered with a smile.
“It took a while to read the students,” she said. “Students in the Southwest talk a lot, and students at Viterbo are more quiet. Classes can be different every year, depending on the students enrolled.”
While some students may be apprehensive about finding themselves in a Shakespeare class on the first day, she is quick to allay their fears.
“I tell them that if you’ve had a bad experience in high school, I can change that,” she said. “Shakespeare wrote for everyone.”
Cosby Ronnenberg describes her class format as “conversational” as she and the students discuss and analyze the reading. She constantly seeks new ways to engage students and to make her courses even better.
“I try to give students a confidence in their understanding of the texts and the time period, and to develop their ability to analyze the material knowledgeably,” she said.
During her career at Viterbo, Cosby Ronnenberg has had to deal with a number of personal tragedies. In the summer of 2002, her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and he died later that year during finals week. Her mother passed away in fall 2004. Her oldest sister died in April 2006 from lung cancer. These events did bring her closer to her other sister. They also had an effect on her career.
“I have a great empathy for non-traditional students who may be dealing with children, work, and aging parents,” she said.
Whether it is designing a new course, discussing literature with senior English majors, or meeting new freshmen in a composition class, Cosby Ronnenberg knows her career choice was definitely the correct one.
“I just like teaching,” she said.