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Alumna named one of America's best teachers

In the last 21 years, students have sent so many letters of appreciation to University of Rhode Island Professor Cheryl Foster that they fill a big cardboard box. But now the entire nation knows that Cheryl, who gained her PhD in Philosophy at Edinburgh in 1992, is one of the best teachers in America.

Cheryl Foster

At the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards, Cheryl, a philosophy professor and associate director of the URI Honors Program, was named one of only seven teachers nationally to receive the Sondheim Award and one of only two university professors to receive the award.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., announced the 2013 winners from a pool of hundreds of nominees. The awards were created in honour of Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday in 2010.

“Teachers define us,” said Sondheim in a release issued by the Kennedy Center. “In our early years when we are still being formed, they often see in us more than we see in ourselves, more even than our families see, and as a result, help us evolve into what we ultimately become.”

Box of notes

Cheryl is more than a teacher. She is an activist; a revolutionary waging class warfare on a system rigged against kids like me.

Rachel WalsheFormer student

Cheryl says the appreciation of her students strikes at the heart of what she does—work to help students develop so they can discover their own goals. A founder of URIs National Scholarship and Academic Opportunity Office, where she worked until 2005, Cheryl recently returned to the Honours Program as associate director with a special academic advising role for freshmen and sophomores.

“I have a whole box of notes from students who have written to me over the years,” she says. “I have kept them all. On my hard days, I go look at some of them and they remind me why I do what I do. The students are very generous.”

'More than a teacher'

And the testimonials from students and colleagues show why Cheryl was chosen for the prestigious accolade.

“Dr. Cheryl Foster is a treasured colleague and phenomenal teacher and scholar who challenges students to pursue their dreams,” says Winifred Brownell, dean of URI’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Students praise the transformational nature of her teaching and advising and describe her as passionate, creative, brilliant, articulate, inspirational, accessible, and engaging.”

Former student Rachel Walshe, who came to URI on a scholarship, is equally complimentary:

“Cheryl is more than a teacher. She is an activist; a revolutionary waging class warfare on a system rigged against kids like me,” she says.

Dr Cheryl Foster is also the recipient of an American Philosophical Association’s Teaching Award Citation in 1998, and the College of Arts and Sciences Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising in 2008.