April 20, 2020

Vern Harner, a doctoral candidate at the School of Social Work, was awarded the prestigious UW Excellence in Teaching Award for extensive knowledge and mastery of information related to trans and disability rights education, innovations in course design, and the ability to inspire, guide and mentor students so they can achieve more equitable outcomes in the classroom. 

Harner is only the second doctoral student in the School’s history to receive the award, one of the highest teaching recognitions given at the UW. Each year, two graduate students from the Seattle campus who best exemplify meaningful and creative teaching approaches are selected. 

Harner received an MSW from Arizona State University, focusing on community and systems-level practice, and is currently pursuing a PhD in social welfare at the UW. Drawing on extensive experience advocating for trans and queer issues, their current work focuses on trans intracommunity support and knowledge. Harner was also a research associate on the Trans Bodies, Trans Selves research team and hosts T-Time (trans open-office hours) throughout the academic year.

Harner, who is chronically ill, knows what it’s like to be constantly worried about health issues and had experience in designing classes around student accessibility. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Harner’s students could request access to classroom discussions via Zoom or other alternative methods. When the University moved all instruction online as part of statewide social distancing, the transition for Harner went so smoothly that the doctoral candidate was asked to share tips on virtual teaching with student needs in mind. 

The Excellence in Teaching Award, administered by the Center for Teaching and Learning, recognizes the contributions of graduate student instructors to the scholarship of teaching and learning. Award recipients must demonstrate exceptional mastery of the subject matter; ability to engage with students both inside and outside the classroom; innovations in course and curriculum design; and exemplary service as a mentor, collaborator and consultant to faculty members and teaching assistants.