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LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 13, 2024) — In March, the University of Kentucky Alumni Association honored six recipients with this year’s Great Teacher Awards.

Launched in 1961, they are the longest-running UK awards recognizing accomplished and passionate educators.

In order to receive the honor, teachers must first be nominated by a student. The UK Alumni Association Great Teacher Award Committee, in cooperation with the student organization Omicron Delta Kappa, then makes the final selection. Recipients receive a commemorative award and stipend.

Zada Komara, Ph.D., senior lecturer in the Lewis Honors College and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Anthropology and the Appalachian Studies program, is one of the distinguished 2024 Great Teacher Award recipients.

“For me, teaching is first and foremost about community building, and education follows from that,” Komara said. “The more community building you do, the more real you are with people, the more connection you try to make — the easier it is for everyone to teach and learn transformatively. I really believe in that, and I feel absolutely privileged to teach in Lewis Honors — a place where people are there to do the good thing.”

Komara’s research focus is archaeology of the recent past in Central and Southern Appalachia, oral history, public history and general material culture studies. Her work focuses on early 20th-century company coal towns and explores the entanglement of material culture (the everyday goods that populate our lives) with persistent stereotypes and narratives about the Appalachian region. She also administers the UK Appalachian Center’s Coal Camp Documentary Project, a collaborative documentation effort focusing on company coal towns in Kentucky’s 54 Appalachian counties.

As a senior lecturer in the Lewis Honors College, she teaches courses like Ritual, Myth and Magic; Pseudoscience & Society; Modern Material Culture and the Archaeology of Us; Race and Gender in the Material World; and Encountering Appalachia: Film, Photography & Material Culture.

Jack Goebel, a junior physics major and student in the Lewis Honors College, nominated Komara for the award. He says he wanted administrators to know what a gifted teacher she is.  

“Dr. Z is a great example of exactly what the Lewis Honors College offers,” he said. “She puts an amazing amount of effort into her pedagogy and how she’s actually teaching her students. I have described it before as sort of a scavenger hunt of learning — she puts all these breadcrumbs out for you, and you go along the path thinking that you discovered it yourself, but she actually was the one laying it out for you. She’s an amazing professor.”

Komara says bringing her “authentic self” to class helps in making connections with students and enhancing their learning experience.

“I always liked in the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ movie, where she said, ‘if you're going to present publicly, you make them laugh or you make them cry,’ and I always thought, ‘why not do both?’” she said. “Present things with so much gravitas that people are moved emotionally. But also, make them laugh. Make them want to participate. Make them want to have fun, make them feel weird and uncomfortable and delighted and joyful.”

To learn more about what makes Komara a “Great Teacher,” check out the video above. 

In the coming weeks, UKNow will continue to share videos featuring this year’s Great Teacher Award winners.