Faculty Excellence: The Jean Brierley Award for Excellence in Teaching
By Jim Graham, Editorial and Creative Services
March 4, 2009
Peter Fernald, professor of psychology, Lisa Nugent, UNH Photo Services
When Peter Fernald begins class, he does something so out-of-place in an always-online, multitasking world that it finds some students squirming in their seats.
He rings a chime, closes his eyes, and commences five minutes of classroom silence. Call it meditation, but Fernald thinks of it as an invitation to a quiet, uncluttered space that facilitates learning.
"I believe important learning, learning that influences how students live their lives, often occurs in moments of silence—a time for students' minds to reflect upon, and their bodies to resonate deeply to, what occurs in the classroom," Fernald explains.
With 45 years in academia, Fernald has a long list of titles—textbook author, published writer, researcher, practicing psychotherapist, nationally recognized teacher, and even former UNH soccer coach.
But what colleagues and students praise most often is an informal, approachable manner that finds him sharing the same energy, curiosity, and wisdom with undergraduates as with graduate students.
Robert Mair, chair of the psychology department, notes that many of Fernald's former students are now professors themselves, and return to Durham as guest lecturers. "When students come back 20 years later and talk about what they remember of their UNH experience, that's where Peter really shines through," Mair says.
Fernald hopes his students remember him not just for "showing enthusiasm," but for sharing his sense of "aliveness"—his risk-taking and passion for exploring better, more innovative ways to learn.
"I prefer to emphasize wisdom rather than knowledge," says Fernald, who teaches counseling and oversees the department's internship programs. "I have never liked the title 'professor.' I can share my experiences and ask questions, but I don't have much to profess."
When he's not working, Fernald still enjoys serving students—dinner. He and his wife host students at their Portsmouth home, strengthening the bonds that have many returning to UNH in years to come.