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Jonathan Cortez '21 PhD, Selected for Teaching Award

Recognized for their exemplary ability to teach both skills and content, Jonathan Cortez '21 PhD is the recipient of a 2021 Excellence in Teaching Award, which was presented at the University Awards Ceremony. They are a doctoral candidate in American Studies who will be graduating on May 1. This award recognizes outstanding pedagogical achievement by a graduate student in any discipline.

Students often remark on Cortez’s ability to help them improve their writing and thinking skills, while at the same time introducing new concepts. They connect class materials to current campus and national events and engages students in difficult conversations about race and racism.

“I want students to leave my class having learned something new about history, about themselves, and about the world in which they live. This is my mission as a teacher: to provide students with accurate histories through which they can learn more about themselves and reckon with the present moment,” shares Cortez.

Through their words, their passion for teaching is apparent. Cortez guides students through a course, helping them to develop skills along the way, providing them with additional resources as needed. They adapt their teaching and assignments to reflect current events and they make sure the course content is accessible to all. Cortez is constantly mindful of allowing all students to be heard and included within the discussions in a variety of formats. In their courses, students wrote and performed spoken word poetry, painted murals, made zines, wrote one-act plays, sewed clothing, wrote short stories, and curated social media posts. 

Many students may come to Cortez’s courses having never studied a particular topic before. He is able to encourage students to critically think what beliefs and opinions they may have held up to that point and to continually ask questions. One student in Cortez’s pre-college course, Black Panthers, Brown Berets: Radical Social Movements, describes how she was excited to do her work each night and return to the classroom for discussion. 

Cortez shares this was their favorite course to teach thus far. “Beyond the content covered on the syllabus, the most important discussions, in my view, are the ones where students push their thinking to make historical connections between the social movements of the late twentieth century and the present moment,” they say. 

Alongside their teaching, Cortez’s “dissertation shows extraordinary promise, and relies on entirely unique and new archival discoveries,” says Matthew Guterl, Chair of American Studies and Professor of Africana Studies and American Studies.

Their dissertation shares the history of the rise of federally-funded migrant labor camps and their aftermath. Their work illuminates multiple moments during the early twentieth century when encampment – the concentration of populations – became the solution for the crises of immigration, labor, public health, and national security. Their dissertation is entitled, The Age of Encampment: Race, Migration, Surveillance, and the Power of Spatial Scripts, 1933-1950. He recently won the Immigration and Ethnic History Society’s Pozzetta Dissertation Award for this work.

Cortez has previously been awarded a Latino Museum fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution and a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship. Additionally, they earned a master’s in Public Humanities on the way to his PhD. Next, They will start a two-year stint as the César Chávez Postdoctoral Fellow at Dartmouth College.

Learn more about the other students selected for the 2021 Excellence in Teaching Awards.