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Department of English Language and Literature


    Each year, we are pleased to be able to give awards for excellence in both teaching and writing to First-Year English students and instructors.

    Instructor and Student Awards

    The excellence in adjunct teaching award is named for Elizabeth Collins Smith, who served the university for 33 years, 29 of which were in service the English department. During her tenure as Program Coordinator for First-Year English, prior to her retirement in 2016, Elizabeth became a fierce advocate for both freshman composition students and instructors, always available to listen and offer them words of encouragement and advice. For this reason, First-Year English dedicates their excellence in adjunct teaching award to her. It is especially fitting, because--like Elizabeth, our adjunct instructors are often our "save the day" people and the reason behind much of the FYENGL program’s success. They often step in at the last minute to staff newly opened sections and sometimes take on up to four classes, which can include multiple teaching preps. In other words, they, like Elizabeth, go above and beyond, always encouraged by their love of the profession and the students they educate.

    The Cile Moise First-Year English Teaching Award for graduate teaching assistants was established to honor the memory and contributions of Cile Moise, a beloved and highly effective instructor who taught in our program during the 1990s. This award is unique in that only English 101 and 102 students can nominate candidates for the award. Students who feel that their English 101 or 102 instructor is exceptionally dedicated to teaching and to students should send an e-mailed nomination to Elizabeth Smith, program coordinator for the First-Year English program. Please outline the qualities you find to be most effective in your teacher, provide specific examples of your teacher’s efforts in the classroom, and explain why you feel he/she deserves the award. Please include your name, telephone number, and e-mail address in your nomination letter and send it to with "Cile Moise Teaching Award" in the subject line.

    A native of Laurens, S.C., Irene Elliott earned a B.A. from Randolph-Macon Women's College. After earning an MA from the University of South Carolina in 1921, she went to the University of North Carolina, where she earned one of the first PhDs given to a woman at that university. She then came back to the University of South Carolina in 1924, where she served as professor of English and the first dean of women in the university's history. She served in that capacity until 1935, when ill health forced her retirement. However, in the wake of World War II, a shortage of English professors brought her back to the university in 1946, and she taught another 18 years until her retirement in 1964. The Irene Elliott Teaching Awards are open to any full-time instructor, graduate teaching assistant, or adjunct who has taught in the FYE Program during an academic year. There are two awards: one for first-time teachers and the other for experienced teachers.

    In April 2013, FYENGL lost a dear friend and colleague, Grace Hagood Downs. Grace was a Ph.D. student in composition and rhetoric, focusing on digital pedagogy, and a dedicated and beloved teacher. The 2012 winner of the Elliot Award for excellence in teaching in FYENGL, she also represented USC at the 2012 Digital Media and Composition Institute (DMAC) at Ohio State University, taught introductory and upper-level courses focusing on multi-modal composition, and worked with colleagues at USC to develop educational videogames.  In honor of Grace’s commitment to multi-modal composition, we are pleased to announce the creation of the Grace Hagood Downs Award for Digital Composition. Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, this award will recognize excellence in undergraduate student work in the creation of virtual texts. Submissions can include websites, films, videogames, or other multimedia projects created for English 101 or 102.

    Each year, the First-Year English program solicits submissions from instructors and students for the Hortense Skelton Award. Chosen by a panel of First-Year English instructors from a pool of instructor and student nominations, these represent the best essays written in ENGL 101 each year. The award is named for Hortense Skelton, who lived in Anderson SC from the 1920s to the 1990s. The prize came to be named for her because a member of the English department graded a set of papers while visiting family in Anderson. Tensie, as she was called, picked up the set of papers, read through them, and proceeded to tell the faculty member, one by one, how he had been too hard on this student, had failed to encourage that student, had not commented on the wonderful sentence by another student, and had generally marked up the set of papers from the perspective of a nitpicky sourpuss, oblivious to the encouragement and guidance that all young people need. The faculty member provided the funds for the first few iterations of the award and decided to name it for Hortense, recognizing that students could not have a more passionate unknown advocate or a more sensible approach to teaching writing.

    Starting from the 2015-2016 academic year, the First-Year English program annually solicits submissions from instructors and students for the Christy Friend Award. Chosen by a panel of First-Year English instructors from a pool of instructor and student nominations, these represent the best essays written in ENGL 102 each year. The 102 award is named for Christy Friend, who previously served as the Director of First-Year English and was instrumental in shaping USC's Rhetoric and Composition course as we know it today. She received her Ph.D. at the University of Texas in 1997 and has devoted her career to the study of composition and pedagogy. She's co-authored both The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers and Beyond Words. Currently, she serves as the Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and inspires faculty throughout the USC campus to be passionate and innovative teachers. She is a legend of a teacher, in her own right, among English department graduate students, impressing them at countless First-Year English orientations by her ability to memorize names of new instructors so quickly. As for Christy Friend's classes, one grad student famously described each one as "a big hug" — because she said you couldn't leave the room without feeling empowered.


    Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.