UCSC poet, lecturer, and alumnus Gary Young receives Dizikes Teaching Award in Humanities

Gary Young (photo by Jim MacKenzie)
Gary Young (photo by Jim MacKenzie)
Catherine Dohrer
Catherine Dohrer
Carina Muñoz
Carina Muñoz
Grace Breiger
Grace Breiger

Literature Department lecturer Gary Young has been selected as the 2019-20 recipient of the John Dizikes Teaching Award in Humanities.

Established in 2002 to honor outstanding teaching by humanities faculty, the annual award is named in honor of the late emeritus professor John Dizikes, one of UC Santa Cruz’s founding faculty members. It is designed to celebrate the Humanities faculty’s commitment to excellence in teaching and its impact on undergraduate students.

"I am thrilled, humbled, and deeply honored to be the recipient of this year's Dizikes Faculty Teaching Award,” said Young. “I met John when I was an undergraduate at UCSC in 1969, and have always held him as a standard to reach for as a teacher. I was moved when he asked me to blurb his last book, Love Songs: The Lives, Loves, and Poetry of Nine American Women. It means a great deal to be associated with his name.”

Young graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1973 and received his M.F.A. from UC Irvine in 1975. He has taught poetry as a lecturer in creative writing in UCSC’s Literature Department since 2005. Young is also the director of the Cowell Press, where he teaches printing and book arts.

In addition to being honored with a check for $3,000, the faculty winner is also entitled to select an undergraduate student to receive a $3,000 scholarship. This year, Young decided to split the prize between three of his students—Carina Muñoz, Grace Breiger, and Catherine Dohrer.

“Carina Muñoz is a graduating senior literature major with a creative writing concentration,” said Young. "Carina has been in many classes with me over the past several years, both in poetry workshops and at the Cowell Press, and the senior project she produced in my senior seminar class was just awarded the Best Poetry Senior Project Prize for this year. Carina is going to pursue an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Arizona State University in the fall.”

“Catherine Dohrer is a senior literature major who has also been very active doing exciting work at the Cowell Press for the past two years,” he added “And Grace Breiger is a rising junior art and literature major who has excelled in combining text and image in her book works at the Cowell Press.”

Young said that he had very few students who couldn't use some financial assistance, and choosing which students to receive the award was difficult.

“I decided to spread the wealth among three students because $1,000 is enough money to make a difference, and I felt it was better to help three students rather than one. All three of the recipients are superior students who can use the financial help, though as I say, I could have given this award many times over to other deserving students.”

Humanities dean Tyler Stovall noted that students and colleagues have offered high praise for Young’s exceptional generosity as a mentor to a striking number of students. 

“During the period reviewed for his last merit action, 10 of his students went on to M.F.A. or M.A. programs in poetry, a record that testifies to the effectiveness of his advising and support for graduate study,” said Stovall. "One student remarked that ‘Gary makes it a point to mentor all of his students equally and fairly. This connects to Gary’s extensive knowledge of other cultures and practices, and how he is able to not only learn about other people’s individual experiences openly, but to teach his students about inclusivity and how to take cultural and societal sensitivity into account inside of the classroom.’”

Young reflected on his own teaching style.

“The pedagogical philosophy I employ teaching creative writing at UCSC springs from a simple but fundamental truth about my students: there is no way to determine which of them will eventually become accomplished, recognized writers. Some students appear to be prodigies, while others struggle. Experience has proven that the prodigy may lose interest or hit a plateau in their artistic growth; the struggling student may simply be a late bloomer who comes to poetry slowly but irrevocably. Because it is impossible to predict which if any of my students might be destined to become great poets, I have to presume that all of them are budding poetic geniuses, and I teach each individual student accordingly. The essence of my teaching practice is straightforward and uncomplicated. I take my students’ work seriously.”

“Before I begin teaching any class I ask myself the same question: is this a course I would like to have taken when I was a student? I work hard to ensure that my answer is yes. I embrace the responsibility of in loco parentis, and I try to treat each of my students the way I would hope professors have treated my own children, with compassion, honesty, and dedication,” he added.


Recognition of Gary Young's Dizikes Award will appear in a special awards section of the Humanities Division website and as part of a virtual Spring Awards event, on June 5th at 4 p.m. recognizing student and faculty academic achievement in the Humanities Division at UC Santa Cruz. The program will include a special live message from Chancellor Larive.

Please RSVP here. You will be sent a link to the Zoom meeting request on June 5th at 10:00 a.m.



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