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Continuing to learn after professor's death

By Domenica Ghanem
On May 1, 2014

When University of Connecticut professor Garry Clifford passed away recently, his political science class was in shock. However, the university made that the students were able to finish out the semester.
The department chose Professor Sherry Zane, a longtime friend of Clifford, to take over his Recent American Diplomacy class. Zane had taught a similar course, The Rise of America As A Global Power, and Clifford had trained Zane in American foreign relations when she was a graduate student.
Zane said they talked regularly about classes, teaching and research they were both working on and he was a mentor to her for 12 years.
"I was honored when they asked me to do it. Dr. Clifford was the only one who taught this course to the political science department for over 20 years," Zane said. "We both cared very much about teaching and I know he would have been concerned about his students and I wanted to help."
There are many challenges that come with taking over a class in the second half of a semester. Zane said one included making sure the students were able to transition without too much confusion and added stress.
"Professors have a vision that they want to share with their students about the material and we all have different ideas about how to achieve this," Zane said. "So coming into someone's classroom at the end of the semester could potentially be disruptive in terms of how the students have been taking in the material up until that point."
William Mulhall, a sixth semester political science major enrolled in the Recent American Diplomacy class, said the class has changed but the transition has been smooth.
Zane was already teaching 275 students in three courses before she took on this class and she didn't want the students to feel that she couldn't give them the attention they deserved. The department also hired a second TA to help.
Another concern is expectations of grading.
"By this time, students often have a good idea of the professor's expectations and I wanted to be consistent with Dr. Clifford's standards for student performance," Zane said.
Mulhall said preparation for exams has changed, but it is not necessarily easier or harder. He said Zane uses PowerPoint and videos while Clifford "would basically become a talking textbook" in class.
"Professor Clifford was one of the best professors I have ever had during my time at UConn and his classes are the reason I want to study diplomacy and international relations," Mulhall said. "But Professor Zane has done a great job with the class since Professor Clifford's passing."

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