Ashley Cowden speaks to College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities Dean Rick Goodstein. At the start of the academic year, she was awarded with the Philip Prince Award for Innovation in Teaching.

Ashley Cowden speaks to College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities Dean Rick Goodstein. At the start of the academic year, she was awarded with the Philip Prince Award for Innovation in Teaching.

As Clemson’s 2012 academic year opened with the Victor Hurst Convocation, Ashley Cowden and the English department had extra reason for celebration. Cowden, a senior lecturer in English, was awarded the Philip Prince Award for Innovation in Teaching.

Cowden grew up in a Clemson Tiger family, practically in the shadows of campus.

“I grew up about 30 minutes from Clemson in a small town called Fair Play, South Carolina. My dad worked here a long time and just retired last year. Most of my family has obtained at least one degree from Clemson,” she said.

Cowden regards herself as a “very, very devoted Tiger fan” and takes every chance she can to cheer on her Tigers, including making the trip to Atlanta this year as the Tigers defeated Auburn University in the Georgia Dome.

The two-time alumna came to Clemson originally as an undergrad, pursuing a degree in graphic communications. Upon graduation, Cowden went to work in the industry before returning to Clemson. She came back to obtain a master’s degree in professional communication, a program in the English department. Her master’s program presented several career paths, and now looking back, she is grateful she chose the one she did.

“I taught as a grad assistant and never thought teaching would be my career path. I fell in love with teaching and couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” Cowden said.

Cowden serves as the director of the Client Based Program. She recruits clients to work with communication classes, including her own classes. The communication classes are typically junior- and senior-level courses where students are able to learn business and technical writing and apply these skills to situations outside the classroom. The class is structured so that a local nonprofit or campus department can come into class and present the students with a problem. The students then create and implement a solution for their “client.”

Her favorite part about the class is giving the students a hands-on learning experience and watching them go through the process.

“To see the students get excited about subject matter and then get excited about their project is awesome. I love being able to witness their growth and also to see how proud they are when they present their final client presentation. I enjoy the whole process; I really love the students’ growth, their enthusiasm and just how amazing they are when I get out of their way,” she said.

In addition to her normal teaching duties, Cowden is now serving as the assistant director of the Pearce Center for Professional Communication. A lot of her responsibility revolves around project management and monitoring the center’s internship program. She enjoys watching the students work hard, specifically in their Creative Inquiry class where they learn the fine details about publishing.

Cowden is very pleased with the Client Based Program, but gives a large portion of the credit to the late Summer Taylor, who was the professor who started the program.

“The Client Based Program was the vision of Summer Taylor. I have been program director since 2008, but she deserves a huge piece of this award. I am fortunate to have a part in continuing her legacy,” Cowden said. Taylor died in February 2011 after a brief illness.

As a result of her teaching and activities, Cowden was recently awarded the Philip Prince Award for Innovation in Teaching. She was nominated by her department chair, Sean Williams, and felt she had already won just by being nominated.

“Ashley Cowden is simply one of the best teachers I’ve ever known,” Williams said. “She challenges students with assignments that force them to be creative, practical and critical at the same time and does so with such concern for students that her evaluations from students are always among the highest in the department. Not only is Ashley a great classroom instructor, she’s also an excellent mentor for other faculty. Regardless of whether she works with faculty or students, Ashley’s commitment to excellence, creativity and deep interaction makes her a remarkable teacher.”

The award is named in honor of Clemson President Emeritus Philip Prince and is presented annually by Undergraduate Student Government. It is bestowed to an outstanding teacher who demonstrates creative and novel teaching in the classroom.

Cowden is appreciative of all her colleagues and students who helped her get to this position and receive the award. She is proud that her clients and students have come back and said they have had a positive experience. The award, which sits in her office in Strode Tower, is not only validation for her, but for the program as well.

“Even though I don’t need an award to give 110 percent in the classroom, this award continues to fuel my passion for teaching. The Philip Prince award makes me want to continue pushing myself to see what else I can challenge my students to accomplish,” she said.

Through all of her accomplishments, Cowden says she is “grateful, humbled and completely honored.” It is especially sweet that she is able to do all this at her alma mater, a place she loves.

“As a two-time alum and a faculty member, I have such a love for this campus, its students and the community. My students make my job easy, and they deserve much of the credit,” she said.

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