David Vail receives prestigious Teaching Excellence Award in Agricultural and Rural History

KEARNEY – University of Nebraska at Kearney faculty member David Vail has been given the prestigious James C. Giesen Teaching Excellence Award in Agricultural and Rural History.

An employee at UNK since 2016, Vail was recognized at the Agricultural History Society’s recent meeting in Stavanger, Norway.

An associate professor of history, Vail’s specializations include environmental and agricultural history, public history and history of science, technology and medicine.

Vail was recognized for his “innovative approach” to teaching and “transformational impact” on students at UNK.

In his undergraduate courses, he engages his “student-colleagues,” as he calls them, in substantive research using physical objects and digitized collections that he has curated, including a collection of crop-dusting publications.

“Whether he is teaching a course on the history of science and medicine, or a survey of U.S. history, he weaves urgent questions about the connection between land use, chemical applications and human health into his teaching,” the selection committee said when honoring Vail.

Using what he calls the “collective wisdom model,” Vail organizes students into teams to research topics in a way that maximizes their analytical approach by drawing together their individual strengths.

“On the graduate level, he not only engages students in critical reflection on the readings through author visits but also encourages the teachers in his courses to consider how they might further incorporate agricultural history into their lesson plans,” said the committee.

“Beyond engaging students in critical analysis of the agricultural past and present, Vail has established himself as an attentive mentor who is invested in the academic as well as emotional well-being of his students, many of whom are the first generation in their families to attend college.”

UNK graduate student Megan Launchbaugh added: “As a lifelong resident of an agricultural community, this course (Readings in Agricultural History) deepened my appreciation for the complexity of the relationship between people and the land, and the diversity of influence that exists within that relationship.”