David W. McCreery— 2003 Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award

Award Citation:

It is with great pleasure that the Archaeological Institute of America names Professor David Warren McCreery as the winner of the Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for 2003.  Professor David Warren McCreery is a specialist in the Early Bronze Age archaeology of the Near East with an emphasis on palaeoethnobotany and early agricultural practice.  He has worked in Cyprus and Jordan since 1975, and he is currently the co-director of the Tell Nimrin excavations, a position he has held for the past thirteen years.

After receiving his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, he continued to study at universities in Geneva, Leiden, Zurich, Heidelberg, and Edinburgh.  He then moved on to Amman, Jordan, to become the Director of the American Center of Oriental Research from 1981 to 1988.  In 1988 he joined the faculty of Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, where he is a professor in the Department of Religion.

Among his many professional contributions, Professor McCreery has been active in several organizations, including the American Schools of Oriental Research, the American Center for Oriental Research, and the AIA.  He has been the President of the Salem Society of the AIA since 1997.

The Teaching Award Committee chose Professor McCreery for this award from a field of outstanding candidates because of his record of undergraduate teaching at Willamette University.  His nomination was accompanied by an unusual number of supporting letters from administrators, colleagues, and students familiar with his teaching.  These letters document, to quote from his nomination, his "strong commitment to quality undergraduate education in a small liberal arts school where he distinguishes himself as an educator by consciously integrating his own research and the most current research of others into course development and classroom teaching, and as a result encourages and inspires young undergraduate scholars to pursue archaeology and to contribute to the enhancement of the discipline.”

McCreery offers a two-semester sequence in archaeology every year (with an emphasis on Syro-Palestinian Archaeology) as well as courses in religion, Hebrew, and archaeological methods.  He also conducts a campus dig and takes students with him to his excavations in Jordan.  He emphasizes hands-on training in field techniques and laboratory work.  Students stress his "innovative teaching methods, including oral final examinations, writing-centered projects, and laboratory training in the analysis of soil samples (among other things)."  They find his courses to be “challenging, interesting, and exciting.”

In addition to being described as committed and innovative, David McCreery is also described as "kind," "attracting the best students," and “stimulating students to think in new ways.”  His courses are characterized as “legendary.”  He has been known to conduct excavations on the Willamette campus where students excavate the “ancient buildings” belonging to the university.  Once he led his students in discovering forgotten nineteenth century time capsules providing them with, in the words of one writer, an “unforgettable taste of the excitement of discovery in archaeology.”

Students are unanimous in their praise.  One letter informs us that to explain why Prof. McCreery should win this award was like being asked "…to explain in 500 words or less why Michelangelo is a great artist...there are too many wonderful things to say!"  He embodies, we are told, the "special Willamette spirit of caring, competence, creativity, and compassion."  Professor McCreery is also characterized as a "catalyst for interest” in archaeology for the larger community.  As the enthusiastic President of the Salem AIA society, he oversees a program with up to 13 events per year that attract an average attendance of more than one hundred people for each session.

In short, it is abundantly clear that Professor McCreery is the kind of teacher who has made the discipline of archaeology “come alive” for generations of undergraduate students.  The final word best comes from one of the letters of support, where the writer says, “I look with some envy at the courses he has taught and the excavations he has directed…sometimes one would like to turn the clock back and be an undergraduate again oneself, just to experience the sudden enthusiasm that comes from being in the presence of a person of rare knowledge who possesses the capacity and desire to share his understanding with others as David McCreery does in every avenue of his professional life.”

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