Professor Honored With UVA Student Council Distinguished Teaching Award

Cynthia Nicoletti

Cynthia Nicoletti is the Class of 1966 Research Professor of Law. Photo by Dan Addison/University Communications

June 2, 2020

Professor Cynthia Nicoletti, a legal historian and professor of law at the University of Virginia, has been named a recipient of the UVA Student Council Distinguished Teaching Award.

The award is given annually to recognize a teacher who makes a positive and lasting impact on the University by developing relationships with students through the creation of an engaging and challenging classroom atmosphere. Eleven recipients of the award are chosen by a selection committee composed of undergraduate students who consider both quantity and quality of nominating letters.

“It’s truly an honor to receive this award, particularly at a time like this,” Nicoletti said. “I was surprised, but elated, to hear that my students had selected me for this award and that the Academic Affairs office had selected me. The classroom experience was under so much stress this past semester, and I don’t know of any professors who didn’t worry about finding a way to connect with students in these difficult circumstances. I have to say that my students were amazing, and their hard work and dedication made it possible.”

Katie Chang (Col ’22), the UVA Student Council’s chair of academic affairs, said Nicoletti stood out in the selection process in her demonstration of effective personalized teaching methods.

“She stayed highly engaged with her students, and her nominators called her class ‘among the most rewarding academic experiences [they] had,’” Chang said. “She exemplifies our award goals in creating a learning environment catered to the academic needs of each student and the clear positive, lasting impact that she leaves on her students.”

A student nominator in Nicoletti’s course Global Legal History, co-taught with UVA history professor Paul Halliday, said her detailed feedback on assignments and her engagement with the student commentary was inspiring.

“Her attention to every student as well as the consideration she gave to our arguments has been instrumental in helping me grow as a scholar,” the student wrote. “Both oral and written feedback in papers, final exams, and class participation was tailored to us as individuals, which made it critically helpful in improving writing and argumentation over the course of the class.”

Nicoletti said the course was a new subject for her, and the class was challenging since they covered several hundred years of history and stretched the globe.  

“My students really invested their all in the class,” she said. “They were imaginative and adventurous, and this made all the difference.”

Nicoletti is the Class of 1966 Research Professor of Law. Her book, “Secession on Trial: The Treason Prosecution of Jefferson Davis,” won the 2018 Cromwell Book Prize, given by the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation each year for excellence in scholarship to an early career scholar working in the field of American legal history. She has received numerous awards and fellowships, including the William Nelson Cromwell Prize for the best dissertation in legal history, awarded by the American Society for Legal History in 2011. The dissertation, completed for her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia, served as the foundation for her book.

Recipients are currently scheduled to receive the award at a fall ceremony.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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