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Center for Teaching Excellence

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Our History

The Center for Teaching Excellence opened its doors in January of 2006 with a mission to create opportunities and increase innovation within the classroom and beyond.

The Early Stages - DevelopmentHow the seed was planted.
Building Blocks - How the seed took root.
HighlightsHow the seed began to blossom.
PresentHow the plant is doing now.
Future - What’s next for the harvest?
Memories to Keep - Fun stories along the way.

The Early Stages - Development

How the seed was planted.

In the summer of 2006, four faculty members set out to create the foundation for the Center for Teaching Excellence. This included, but certainly not limited to:

  • Karl Heider, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology
  • Bill Hogue, Senior Clinical Professor, School of Library and Information Science
  • Gordon Smith, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science

This developmental blueprint consisted of numerous interviews with faculty, deans, chairs and graduate students from an array of colleges and departments.

Parallel to the time, Jed Lyons, a former Chair for the American Society for Engineering Education and Director/Professor  in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, was selected as the Faculty Director for the CTE.

"My responsibilities were to develop a plan,  to really establish a vision, mission, and develop programs that would address the goals that we had established." - Jed Lyons, Former Director, CTE

During the following September the CTE officially opened its doors in the Thomas Cooper Library building where it remains to this day. At that time, the layout consisted of three offices and a meeting/presentation room.

Including Lyons (who was a part/time Faculty Director), the staff consisted of:

  • One full-time Program Coordinator
  • One part-time program Coordinator
  • A graduate Assistant (to get the website started)

During this time there was a lot of skepticism;

“Did the University really need a Center like this?  How could the University afford something like this? How can an Engineer advise us on how to teach?”

Despite ongoing opposition, Lyons persevered and relied on a message that soon became the vision statement to guide him and his staff at the time.

Our vision statement went a little like this, the Center for Teaching Excellence we believe that everyone has the power to be an excellent teacher but it isn’t easy to stay committed to good teaching so that's why we offer a variety of resources to help. . . and you know that was actually inspired by a cereal box. Yes! Kashi cereal actually helped me come up with that, but it resonated well at that time.”  -  Jed Lyons, , Former Director, CTE

Building Blocks

How the seed took root.

Over the next three years, the Center for Teaching Excellence really began to prove itself necessary at the University.

In 2007-2008, the Center sponsored and cosponsored:

  • 15 colloquia, seminars and workshops
  • 11 events for new faculty
  • 5 cohort programs
  • 6 Teaching grants and technology loan programs

Getting people to come to anything was a challenge because we didn’t have a track record.”  - Jed Lyons, Former Director, CTE

In 2009, the Center began to expand not only in the office, but their online presence grew as well. The Center redesigned an online resource development Teaching Guide that featured tips and knowledge on common teaching challenges.

“We not only had to grow in person and with our seminars and programs, but we had to have a strong web presence as well.”  - Aisha Haynes, Assistant Director, CTE

The staff also began to grow in the 2009-2010 year with:

  • A full-time Program Assistant
  • Full Time Coordinator
  • A temporary non-classified employee
  • Part-time Web Developer


  • Faculty Director assigned on a part-time basis
  • Two Associate Directors each assigned on a one-fourth basis

In 2010-2011, The Center was running like a well- oiled machine, delivering ten conference style events, that included a New Faculty Orientation.

Before each semester the Division of Information Technology conducted a three- day professional development series with a set of workshops that were focused on Blackboard Educational Training, otherwise known as the B.E.S.T Institute.

Lyons sat down with the Director of Teaching and Technology Services, Chris Brown. They both brainstormed on how to celebrate the teaching excellence at the University during that time.

"What could we do? How could we promote teaching in a conference? Should it be a conference or a symposium? What month would it be in? October seems like the best month."

Then there was an idea,

“ Can we call it Oktoberfest?”

Immediately, there was rejection. They didn’t want the conference to have the wrong connotation. They continued to brainstorm.

How could we combine the B.E.S.T. Institute and October?

And suddenly, Oktober-BEST  was born..

One way faculty remembers us, is definitely OktoberBEST.” - Dr. Nathan Carnes , Associate Director, CTE

What was supposed to be a small -refreshment-type - event turned into an actual fest and the CTE’s staff at the time played well into the theme with fresh craft beer from their very own retired assessment director.

Although the CTE no longer serves beer, faculty who hail from different parts of the University system present and learn innovative teaching skills, win exciting door prizes, and celebrate teaching at this annual event each October.


How the seed began to blossom.

In 2012-2013, the Office of the Provost selected Christy Friend as the new Faculty Director for the Center for Teaching Excellence. With a background as a professor in the English Department at that time, Friend was no stranger to the services that were being offered and was determined to get to work and expand those services to faculty everywhere.

“When I arrived, the Center then was assigned to take on two big new areas. One was the training for Graduate Teaching Assistance and then the other was the preparation for online teaching. It was like CTE was one thing and now it was three. It was growing and I was excited.”  - Christy Friend, Former Director, CTE

The CTE began to expand, taking on new projects and continuing to meet new faces.

That year, the CTE sponsored and cosponsored:

  • 69 Seminars & Workshops
  • 5 Cohort Programs
  • 5 Grant Cohort Programs
  • 19 confidential consultations on pedagogy

The team grew as well adding:

  • Two Instructional Designers
  • Program Manager
  • Full time Webmaster
  • Program Director
  • Program Coordinator
  • Program Assistant
  • Three Faculty Associate Directors

The CTE redesigned and delivered the University’s Graduate Teaching Assistant Training Program; with the creation of a successful orientation, a brand new training course, and a workshop series.

Our role really is to introduce graduate students to teaching at USC and give them some resources on how to teach and options they may need as well, because this really is a big program. Every fall it’s about four hundred and fifty graduate teaching assistants, and every spring it’s about fifty.”  - Michelle Hardee, Program Manager, CTE

With the aid of a refreshed staff, the CTE also added professional development material through their website. In addition to a major redesign that improved user-friendliness and simplified event registration, they also collaborated with the Office of Student Disability Services and created a guide to make ADA-accessible course materials

“In that year, the University got a new CMS so we had to rebuild the website from scratch.  It was exciting, but it was a lot of work.” - Helena Johnson, Web & MultimediaDeveloper, CTE

That website was actually featured in Campus Technology Magazine which is a National Magazine.”  - Christy Friend, Former Director, CTE

In 2013-2014, the CTE significantly expanded its programming and services to support high-quality Distributed Learning. Our instructional designers helped the faculty with the development of over one hundred online and blended courses.

The CTE also worked with the Provost’s Distributed Learning Committee to begin a faculty-driven quality and accessibility review process. The CTE is also a part of the Office of the Provost, serving the entire USC community.

The design team conducted twenty-one training workshops while creating resources to introduce faculty to online teaching. Their initiative to encourage faculty to incorporate ADA accessibility into their courses landed them several campus/statewide recognitions and two invitations to present at national conferences.

That following year, 2015-2016 the Center for Teaching Excellence remained on a steady incline to the top against the challenges of attendance, participation, and engaging the middle population at the University with our abundant resources.

“You always have those three groups. Group one who is always ready for innovative learning and hungry for more and then you have group three who are kind of close-minded to participating in events and gaining more knowledge, and then you have that middle group. Group two. That’s the group that we really try to go after.”  - Christy Friend, Former Director, CTE

The CTE sponsored and cosponsored:

  • 111 Seminars and Workshops
  • New Faculty Orientation
  • Oktoberbest
  • Coordinated 8 teaching grant Competitions

In that year, in conjunction with the Office of the Provost,  the CTE launched a New Faculty Academy (NFA) Certificate program. NFA is an initiative designed to launch the careers of new faculty on a positive and productive trajectory by providing a series of professional development, networking and mentoring activities during their first year at USC.

In 2016, CTE also supported the Office of the Provost in launching the Garnet Apple Award for Teaching Innovation. This annual award honors the University of South Carolina’s most exceptional faculty who demonstrate a commitment to best teaching practices and record of developing innovative strategies to enhance student learning. Garnet Apple winners are nominated and reviewed by their peers. Up to six full-time faculty members from the Columbia and Palmetto College campuses receive this award each year. To-date, 32 faculty members have been honored with the award.

In the year 2016-2017, the CTE continued to facilitate programs for graduate students including six Teaching Assistant Orientation Workshops. 


How the plant is doing now.

In January of 2018, Professor Augie Grant was selected as the new Director for the Center for Teaching Excellence. Dr. Grant came to the position with a plethora of knowledge as a communication scholar and technology futurist in the College of Information and Communications.

The CTE now offers Certificates of Completion in partnership with other University offices which offer a selection of certificates for faculty, instructors and teaching graduate students that included the following:

  • Entering Mentoring
  • Fostering Productive Learning Environments (FPLE)
  • Integrative and Experiential Learning (IEL)
  • Mental Health and Well-being Competency Program for Faculty
  • Teaching Towards Inclusive Excellence  (TTIE)

The CTE launched a Virtual Reality initiative in 2018 creating a Virtual Environments Interest Group which plans ways to bring virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality into teaching and learning environments at USC. CTE hired virtual reality graduate assistants to help faculty with learning how to use the technology, established a VR Innovation Room with VR technology that faculty can checkout,  and hosted VR bootcamps and a very successful VR conference. 

Even though the University closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the CTE still managed :

  • 109 workshops/seminars and training sessions
  • 2703 participants across all sessions
  • 33 workshops led by GTA Training Program Manager
  • 450 grad students trained through New Teaching Assistant Programs

And so much more!

The Center continues to inspire excellence and innovation in teaching while creating and providing resources and opportunities that foster innovative and effective pedagogical practices among all who teach at USC.

"The philosophy that drives the Center for Teaching Excellence is that teaching is both a skill and an art. It is our responsibility to make sure every faculty member has the opportunity to become a better teacher. In addition to helping experienced faculty improve their teaching, we also provide orientation and training for new faculty members, including graduate teaching assistants and adjuncts, with the goal that everyone teaching at USC will have opportunities to learn more about teaching." - Augie Grant, Former Director, CTE


What’s next for the harvest?

Despite the implications of COVID-19, the Center for Teaching Excellence puts their best foot forward in completing the work that needs to be done at the University and beyond.

For 2020-2021, the Center hopes to enhance the pedagogical knowledge and effectiveness of all who teach at USC. They also want to continue to provide resources and services to support the development of high quality distributed learning courses.

The CTE plans to increase awareness among all constituencies and implement professional development programs for graduate teaching assistants.

Memories to Keep

Fun stories along the way.

“So I had just started, and I was hungry and I went to the  microwave  to warm up a Hot Pocket and the Hot Pocket literally started smoking. . . it was so embarrassing I could not believe it. The entire library had to be evacuated because of my one little hot pocket.” - Aisha Haynes, Assistant Director, CTE

“We got a squirrel in the ceiling one time and we would hear it, well Aisha would hear back her desk. But one day we had a grant meeting and they were in the conference room talking very seriously and the next thing you know this squirrel runs overhead and knocks the ceiling tile out over him and we are all sitting there horrified. We had to call animal control. They trapped this squirrel in the cage and we were all sad. We gave him a name, Kevin, and all lined up to say bye to Kevin after he was in his cage. Christy Friend, Former CTE Director

When we first started out we  always had a Christmas party or end of the year party and it was always a potluck and because we had no money we were only able to provide water bottles and Hershey kisses.” - Michelle Hardee, Program Manager, CTE

“I’m cheap so I only wanted Oktoberbest to be pretzels and some water maybe soda, but it turned out to be completely different. A full fest with food and beer.”  Jed Lyons, Former CTE Director

“Our staff just continues to be really close, we all respect each other and value what we bring to the table. It’s been fun to work with a family like the one we have here at the CTE.”  Nate Carnes, Interim Director, CTE

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.