Fremo Wins 2020 Swenson-Bunn Memorial Teaching Award

The Gustavus English professor was honored by students during the College's virtual Honors Convocation.
Posted on May 8th, 2020 by

Gustavus Adolphus College English professor Rebecca Fremo was named the 2020 winner of the Swenson-Bunn Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence at the College’s virtual Honors Day Convocation on Saturday, May 2.

Nominated and selected by students, the Swenson-Bunn Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence honors the memory of two Gustavus students and members of the Student Senate, Greg Swenson and Holly Bunn, who died in a car accident in 1989. It has been awarded annually since 1990 and was presented to Fremo by Student Senate co-presidents Monali Bhakta and Karrie Villarreal.

It was especially meaningful for Fremo to receive the award from Bhakta and Villarreal, both of whom she has had in class. “It’s been incredibly rewarding to teach these two women whose stories are so unique, who I admire so much for their work ethic and talent and grit,” Fremo said. “For them to honor me is really humbling. They inspire me.”

Gustavus English professor Rebecca Fremo.

During the video introduction to the award, Bhakta and Villarreal reflected on Fremo’s empathy and ability to build bridges with students from all backgrounds. “[She has] a talent for connecting with students on a personal level, and always takes initiative to develop sincere relationships with them,” Bhakta said.

“As COVID-19 has immensely interrupted life on the hill, and the College made the transition to online learning, [Professor Fremo] has taken initiative to ensure every student has a comfortable living situation before redeveloping the course curriculum,” added Villarreal.

Fremo acknowledges that the COVID-19 disruption has created some unique challenges to teaching and learning. “I’ve really tried to focus on equity and connection. Right away, it was important to find ways to support students with limited access to WiFi, those managing work schedules, or those who live in different time zones. I didn’t want to add to how difficult and uncomfortable this situation already is for all of us.”

As an English professor who focuses on the writing process in various forms, Fremo also spent time considering how workshop and discussion-based classes could be best delivered online. “I started with questions about what things are most fundamental to the learning process. What do students need? What can I add or take away? The most important things are to develop a sense of voice, an understanding of genre, and to learn to be a really great reader of other people’s work and your own work. You can pull back in some areas on exercises or even readings, but you can’t pull back on opportunities for students to write and talk about writing.”

“To put all of this simply, [Fremo] cares about each and every one of her students,” one of her students wrote in a Swenson-Bunn nomination letter. “She is never afraid to be real with her students about their work and about her own, whether that is in life or in the classroom, and it creates an environment that allows students to flourish and find themselves.”

“I’ve learned that teaching is really about relationships,” Fremo said. “Our best teaching comes from being able to communicate honestly and candidly with students.”

In addition to her work in the classroom, Fremo has served in a variety of faculty leadership roles on campus, including as director of the Writing Center and director of the Writing Across the Curriculum program. She recently published Moving This Body (Main Street Rag Publishing), her first book-length poetry collection. Fremo, who previously won the College’s Edgar M. Carlson Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2013, holds bachelors and master’s degrees from Virginia Polytechnic and a doctorate in English from The Ohio State University.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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