From Temple Times Archive, June 2004, Temple University
Republished May 23, 2017
Laura E. Little is not afraid to go to great lengths–or great distances–to get her message out to Temple University students. The James E. Beasley Professor of Law and 2004 Great Teacher Award recipient got word of her recognition while at Temple University Japan, and just before departing for a nine-day stint in China. She has also taught at Temple University Rome’s summer program. “Japan, China and Rome have all been part of my mid-life impulse to understand the international environment,” she said in a recent e-mail interview. “After 9/11, I resolved that I would try to learn more about international law and urge my children and students to become less insular.”
Little will be one of three Temple faculty members to receive the University’s prestigious Great Teacher Award on Thursday, April 8, during a Faculty Awards Convocation at Mitten Hall on Temple’s Main Campus.
Little graduated from Temple’s James E. Beasley School of Law with honors in 1985. After her graduation, she secured prestigious clerkships for a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and at the Supreme Court for the Honorable William H. Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States. During her studies at the University, she met her husband, Richard Barrett, who is an assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting transnational crime and an adjunct professor at Temple.
“Rich and I have shared teaching duties in all of these locations,” she said of her international experiences. “He and I actually shared a course [International Criminal Law] for two summers in Rome. He is here with me in Japan, and we are teaching our own courses. Our two children (ages 11 and 13 years) are with us, attending an international school and living with us in a tiny apartment.”
Despite the cramped quarters, she is enjoying her experiences in Asia. In Japan, she is teaching American J.D. students and Japanese lawyers who want to earn an American law degree and take the bar examination in the United States.
“Some of the Japanese lawyers are very well-established in their careers; I teach several CEOs and managing directors of information technology companies,” Little said. “I would describe nearly all my students here as self-starters, all of them having mustered the gumption to find themselves in an American law school classroom in Asia.
“In China, my husband and I are delivering lectures to various audiences, including judges, prosecutors, law students and Chinese officials,” she continued. “Most of our lectures are part of a rule of law initiative Temple Law has developed in connection with the United States State Department.”
Little is no stranger to recognition by her students and peers. She has won the George P. Williams Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching three times, in 1993, 1997 and 2001. That four-year interval is “not a coincidence,” according to her nomination packet.
Once someone receives the award, which is given by each year’s graduating Law School class to the faculty member who “has made the most significant contribution to the[ir] Law School career,” she cannot win the award again for four years. “In short,” her nomination packet continues, “whenever Professor Little is eligible to receive the award, she wins.”
She also has received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, and the Friel-Scanlon Prize for outstanding scholarship.
When Little is in front of a classroom, she is acutely aware of what it is like to be a student, she said. By putting herself in her students’ shoes, she is better able to convey to them what they need to understand difficult but important foundational concepts in her regular courses-Conflict of Laws, Federal Courts and Jurisdiction, Civil Procedure I (a required course for first-year law students) and Remedies.
“When I attack a problem or legal issue that I’m trying to teach for the first time, I am self-conscious about my own thought process and what my mind needs to do in order to understand the material,” said Little, adding that she used varying strategies for different learning styles. “I then try to reproduce that process in small increments as I plan my presentation of the problem or issue to the students.”
And one of the best parts of her job, she continued, is “standing in the classroom watching the light bulb go off for students as they first understand a difficult concept.”
Dozens of students, alumni and faculty members wrote in to support her nomination, and they uniformly praised Little’s ability to get these difficult concepts across.
“One of the traits that sets Professor Little apart as a master teacher is her enthusiasm and support when students seem to ‘get’ a concept,” wrote one student. “She genuinely rejoiced in students’ achievements and tried to assuage disappointments.”
“Professor Little takes classes fraught with abstract ideas and presents them in a clear, comprehensible way that empowers students with a knowledge of the class material,” wrote another student. “She brings an energy to these classes that invigorates otherwise dry subject matter-it is no wonder that students consistently fill her classes, even when those classes begin at 2:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.”
As a Temple Law alumna, Little received recognition from her colleagues both as a teacher and, in some cases, as a former student.
“I knew her as a student. I know her as a colleague,” wrote one fellow faculty member. “Knowing Laura in any capacity is a privilege . . . Laura is a model for what a university professor might be. She attains the standard of excellence we strive for.”
Little was modest about the recognition, as some of her colleagues and students predicted she would be. But she thanked everyone, and made special note of the influence of her colleague and former professor Robert Bartow in her teaching.
“The award is different from many because it is premised on the recommendations of students and colleagues,” she said. “I am honored to have gotten a vote of confidence from them.”