| by Jason Warburg

News Stories, People

Shen, Grace
Professor Xiaoyan (Grace) Shen (right) with Yamei Zhao, a visiting student from Shenzhen University in China, in March 2020.

Professor Xiaoyan (Grace) Shen of the Middlebury Institute’s MA in Translation and Interpretation program has been honored with the Institute’s Faculty Excellence Award for Academic Year 2021–22.

“The selection committee was particularly impressed by the combination of empathy, lightheartedness, and frank, constructive feedback that Grace brings to her teaching,” noted Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Institute Jeff Dayton-Johnson. “One committee member described her approach as ‘coaching, in the best possible sense of that term.’” 

This observation is a direct reflection of Professor Shen’s teaching philosophy. “In Chinese, 教育 (education) literally means ‘teaching and nurturing,’” she says, adding that her goal is to foster “an empowering community in which the students’ experience is more ‘living in translation’ and ‘growing in translation’ instead of getting ‘lost in translation.’ This humanistic approach, I believe, is going to further consolidate our world-class Translation and Interpretation program.”

Shen’s approach is based on turning what she describes as “stumbles” into learning opportunities within a supportive classroom environment. “I believe that progress is possible only when we grasp at a deep level what caused our missteps. Translation and interpretation training—in particular interpreter training—involves performance of a series of complex cognitive operations in public. Students are constantly challenged and critiqued by professors and their peers, which is an integral part of the learning process, but, in the meantime, also a source of stress. Nevertheless, when students feel they are supported instead of judged by the professor and their peers, the whole class becomes a collaborative learning community aspiring towards shared goals.”

When students feel they are supported instead of judged by the professor and their peers, the whole class becomes a collaborative learning community aspiring towards shared goals.
— Professor Xiaoyan (Grace) Shen

Nominations for the Faculty Excellence Award were opened to the campus community in February, with nominees then considered by a selection committee made up of two faculty members, two students, and one member of the Institute Leadership Group. After narrowing the field to a short list of finalists, the committee reviewed recent student evaluations and observed each finalist in the virtual instruction setting before reaching their decision.

Dayton-Johnson noted also that “The committee was impressed by Grace’s commitment to student-centered learning and dedication to excellence and mastery. One committee member observed that she was engaging with students ‘as colleagues,’ and another praised the specific and supportive feedback she provided to individual students.”

A Supportive Learning Environment

Asked to name her favorite part of teaching at MIIS, Shen focused on “those human moments in class sessions, such as when students received applause for their performance in class from their fellow classmates regardless of their impressive performance or stumbles, and when we laughed together in class. Translation and interpretation training is often seen as a lonely and strenuous quest, so it’s meaningful to have a student’s success celebrated by the whole class.”

As this year’s recipient of the Faculty Excellence Award, Professor Shen will receive a cash award and will be invited to give the faculty address at December 2022 Commencement.

For More Information

Professor Xiaoyan (Grace) Shen