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Board of Governors
Award for Excellence in Teaching

Matt Mahar, Ed.D.
Department of Exercise &
   Sport Science  
College of Health & Human

Matt Mahar
"William Butler Yeats beautifully summarized my view of the relationship between the student and teacher when he stated, 'Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.' As I examine my teaching philosophy each year I find more and more meaning in this statement. One important interpretation is that when students are motivated to learn, education will follow. My own interpretation of this statement has led me to the belief that instilling in students a feeling of self-responsibility for their own education is one of the most important ways to ignite their desire to learn. . . .

We are stewards of our students' educational journey. Students are motivated to take self-responsibility for this journey by active involvement in learning, by developing confidence, by knowing that their teacher cares genuinely about them, and by linking their learning to something bigger than themselves (i.e., important contributions to society through scholarship). With just a little luck, the spark ignites and the journey becomes enlightening, exciting, and enjoyable."

Dr. Matt Mahar received his baccalaureate degree from the State University of New York at Cortland and the M.Ed. and Ed.D. from the University of Houston. He joined the East Carolina University College of Health and Human Performance faculty in 1993. Professor Mahar has previously received the Board of Governors Distinguished Professor for Teaching Award (1997-1998) and the East Carolina University’s Scholar-Teacher Award (2000). This year he is the recipient of our most prestigious award for teaching, the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Dr. Mahar’s commitment to teaching and learning is evident in his teaching, research, and service. His philosophy of teaching begins with the following quote from William Butler Yeats: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” The central tenets of Professor Mahar’s teaching philosophy are to help his students learn to think critically and to develop a sense of responsibility. These goals require that students move beyond acquisition of information “to become involved, self-directed, and independent learners.”  

He says, “To improve my teaching, I challenge myself to include one major innovation to each class each semester.” The list of those innovations is long and includes the involvement of students in community service and research projects, the creation each semester of workbooks with problems and activities for measurement and statistics courses, the incorporation of technologies in his courses, and the origination of the Activity Promotion Lab which is used for research and teaching. In addition, Professor Mahar regularly incorporates “research stories” in his classes:

Rarely does a class go by when I have not related a study to my classes to emphasize the concepts being covered. The usefulness of this approach is clear and dramatic for student interest and understanding. Student feedback invariably indicates that they find these ‘stories’ of research an interesting way to learn.

As his student letters of support attest, Dr. Mahar's teaching and research have motivated some of his students to pursue a doctorate and to enter the field of teaching.

While acknowledging that he demands a lot from his students, Professor Mahar cares about his students and their learning. “A note attached to my wall reads, ‘Remember, your students are experiencing this class for the first time.’ After many years of greatness, Joe DiMaggio’s response when asked why he played so hard in every game was, ‘There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.’ We should treat out interactions with our students similarly.”

The peer reviews of Professor Mahar’s teaching uniformly speak to his strong knowledge of and enthusiasm for his subject, his rapport with students, and his creation of a supportive environment for learning. The reviewers also note the organization of course materials and the use of media to emphasize course content.

Courses taught:

EXSS 6990, 6991 Practicum in Exercise and Sport Science

EXSS 6650 Seminar in Exercise and Sport Science

EXSS 6401 Assessment of Physical Activity and Fitness

EXSS 6300 Research Techniques in Exercise and Sport Science

EXSS 6201 Advanced Measurement in Exercise and SPort Science

EXSS 4804 Measurement and Evaluation in Exercise and Sport Science

EXSS 4800 Internship in Physical Activity and Fitness

EXSS 3804 Measurement of Physical Activity and Fitness

EXSS 1110 Physical Activity for Weight Management

EXSS 1010 Fitness Walking