Having never led a classroom before, Maggie Vinter moved to Japan in her early 20s to become a teacher of English as a second language to middle schoolers.

“Seeing students go from not knowing to knowing—experiencing ideas as brand new—I found a love for teaching,” said Vinter, assistant professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.

Still, Vinter returned to her native England and did not immediately follow a path into education, briefly pursuing a law degree and working for an electoral reform nonprofit in Washington, D.C. 

“For a career, I thought I wanted to go home at 5 (p.m.) and relax,” said Vinter. “I resisted entering academia, but people I respect were persuasive. I’m glad I changed my mind.”

The feeling is shared by the graduate students who nominated Vinter for theJohn S. Diekhoff Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching, which she will receive during commencement on May 19.

Teaching graduate and undergraduate courses on pre-1800s literature, Vinter focuses on the histories, tragedies, comedies, romances and other aspects of early modern dramatists, especially Shakespeare.

In nominating Vinter, students cited the personal library of books she’s assembled so they can more easily access the material.

It’s but one way Vinter has sought to remove barriers for students who may be reluctant to embrace an era of literature that sounds different than their own, yet deals with common dramas inherent in all human affairs.

For class readings, each student is asked to respond with his or her impressions in writing, a method Vinter feels allows them to take intellectual risks. These pieces inform subsequent discussions and provide Vinter a surefire conduit through which to engage with quieter students.

“Dr. Vinter made me a better thinker and a better writer,” wrote a student nominator. “Although her grad-level seminar was as tough as nails, I am a stronger student as a result.”

Photo of the cover of Maggie Vinter's book, "Last Acts: The Art of Dying on the Early Modern Stage"

Student discussions have also served as an idea farm for Vinter’s research, including her first book—Last Acts: The Art of Dying on the Early Modern Stage (Fordham University Press)—published May 7.

“Pondering questions where we all care about the answers creates a special experience,” she said.

Vinter’s appetite to find new ways to engage with books and plays, which often are hundreds of years old, was a common refrain in student nominations for the Diekhoff.

In a recent seminar on theater and antitheater, Vinter paired video games, plays and theoretical writing to explore different types of performance. Students were also required to critique an in-person dramatic performance, applying theories discussed in class.

What’s more: In 2017, Vinter created “Hamlet: from Page to Stage to Screen,” an original course following the tragedy’s many reinterpretations, from Disney’s Lion King to interactive digital media.

“These materials are very much alive,” she said. “My teaching needs to be as well.”

About the award

The Diekhoff Award honors John S. Diekhoff, a distinguished scholar, teacher, mentor and administrator who served Case Western Reserve in several capacities during his tenure, from 1956 to 1970. He was professor of English, chair of the Department of English, dean of Cleveland College, acting dean of the School of Graduate Studies and vice provost of the university.

The Diekhoff Award, established in 1978, recognizes outstanding contributions to the education of graduate students through advising and classroom teaching. The annual award is presented to two faculty members who epitomize what it means to teach graduate students: to connect them with experts in their discipline, engage them academically in a forthright and collegial manner, and actively promote their professional development. In 2009, the Diekhoff Award was expanded to recognize two additional full-time faculty members who excel in the mentoring of graduate students. A committee of graduate and professional program students with the guidance of the Graduate Student Senate reviews the nominations and recommends winners.

These awards are presented during the Graduate Studies diploma ceremony.