The Office of the Provost at the University of Rhode Island recently honored Cranston resident Roberts Burns with its second annual Part-Time Faculty Teaching Excellence Award.
Burns has been a part-time faculty member at URI’s Harrington School of Communications and Media for close to 30 years.
“While many deserving part-time faculty members were nominated, Professor Burns stood out,” according to Vice Provost Matt Bodah, who chaired the selection committee. “Bob is the type of faculty member that we all wish we could be, someone who not only educates students in a particular field but truly makes a difference in their lives.”
A lecturer in the Harrington School’s Communication Studies program, Burns has been teaching public speaking at the college level and coaching professional clients for more than 30 years. Drawing on his own experience as a child who was bullied for his stutter, he combines that personal experience with scholarship in communication studies to educate students in sound techniques for public speaking, instilling in them the self-confidence to overcome their anxieties and become successful public speakers.
One student described in their nomination how instrumental Burns’ instruction had been in helping to prepare them for their future career.
“As a nurse at Rhode Island Hospital, it is imperative to communicate with my patients,” she said. “I just want you to know that Professor Burns has had a great impact on my life by providing me with the tools necessary to communicate effectively with my patients and fellow co-workers.”
Another student mentioned having to make a presentation at a professional conference and turning to Burns for help. She wrote: “He went above and beyond … When the time to present came, I was still quite nervous. As I started my opening, I was overwhelmed at the number of people in the audience and could hear my voice shaking. However, 10 seconds into the presentation my preparation paid off and I was able to compose myself and deliver a fantastic speech. With Professor Burns’ help I grew from being an anxious wreck presenting in front of a small group to being able to deliver a professional presentation in front of a large audience.”
A third student explained in their nomination how Burns helped change their outlook and, in fact, credited Burns with motivating them to stay in school and graduate.
“Believe it or not, I was going to drop out before fall semester,” the student wrote. “I was severely depressed and found it hard to grasp the essence and meaning of living a full life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I give Professor Burns full credit for convincing me that it is worth learning something new every day and it is worth experiencing fresh and pure happiness in our time here on earth.”
In addition to a luncheon in his honor, Burns received an honorarium and was recognized at this year’s commencement ceremony. His name has been inscribed on a plaque honoring each year’s award winners, which will be placed in the Great Room of Green Hall.