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'Mecca' Teaching Award Inspires Professor Beyond the Classroom

Dr. David Coffey

Dr. David Coffey

Dr. David Coffey has joined the 'holy grail' of teaching.

As a recent recipient of the Cunningham Outstanding Teacher/Scholar Award, David joins the ranks of the esteemed few and proud at UT Martin. The history professor and chair of the Department of History and Philosophy is in good company with his wife, Julie Hill, an associate professor of music and director of percussion studies, and five others within his department along with other colleagues.

"You don't just throw your name in a hat and expected to be chosen," says David, who was nominated for the annual award once before.

The visionary behind the accolade, the late James R. Cunningham, recognized what a financial hand up could do when he, as a student, received a $100 award. It changed his life. Cunningham attended UT Martin, then UT Junior College, before graduating from UT Knoxville in 1941. After a stint in the military, he continued his education in Knoxville and earned a law degree in 1947. He flourished as the leader of litigation for the legal division of Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati.

Striving to be the Best
Cunningham's legacy is helping build other legacies "and making it possible for professors to refine their craft and continue to build their credibility beyond the classroom," David says. The award's financial stipend gives David the ability to access research materials and the freedom to take historical digging jaunts to places such as Europe and Virginia.

"The award is confirmation of what I am doing," he says, "and encouragement for me to continue what I am doing."

His latest work, the editing of a multi-volume encyclopedia on the Civil War, will appear later this year. David's contributions to the publishing world are numerous and include authorship of "John Bell Hood and the Struggle for Atlanta;" "Soldier Princess: The Life and Legend of Agnes Salm-Salm in North America, 1861-1867;" and "Sheridan's Lieutenants: Phil Sheridan, His Generals, and the Final Year of the Civil War."

"I can become a better historian," David says. "I am not simply teaching from a textbook, but I am researching and writing my own books, which directly enhances the learning environment of every student I teach."

He fans the history flames of many students like Adam Wilson, who began his collegiate journey at UT Martin in math, but, after his first encounter with David in a U.S. history course, he was convinced to follow his passion. After receiving his bachelor's degree in history from UT Martin in 2005, Adam went on to the University of Mississippi where he received his master's degree and doctorate in American history. Like David, who remains a mentor, Adam teaches at the UT Martin Jackson Center.

"I strive to be as welcoming and attentive to my students as David was to me," Adam says.
"Since I teach U.S. history, I sometimes feel a weird, déjà vu moment in my lectures and have to wonder if I am repeating the same lecture points from my notes or from memory from one of Dr. Coffey's lectures.

"He has an immense influence on my life."

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