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South Campus at the university of Georgia is covered with leaves come Fall on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018 in Athens, Ga. Campus is mostly empty due to students leaving for Thanksgiving break. (Photo/Sidhartha C. Wakade, wakade98@gmail.com)

While University of Georgia students may not be staying in Athens for Thanksgiving break, they still have an opportunity to celebrate the holiday on campus for the 11th year in a row.

The Thank-a-Teacher initiative allows students to show appreciation for professors, instructors or graduate teaching assistants who have impacted their academic careers. Students can participate in the program by completing an online form, which can be filled out anonymously or with the option to include a name.

The submissions are collected at the end of each semester. The responses are then transferred into a thank you letter and signed by Megan Mittelstadt, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and Vice President for Instruction Rahul Shrivastav.

Mittelstadt has been involved with the initiative since 2017. She said educators may never know the impact they have on students' lives "unless the students have specifically sought them out to tell them." Because of this, she encourages students to take a small moment and recognize their teachers.

“The goal is to provide an opportunity for students to give positive feedback to acknowledge when someone has gone above and beyond to help impress upon our instructors that their efforts are being seen and to encourage them to continue putting in the effort,” she said.

Teaching and Learning Specialist Lisa LaCross has also been involved with the program in the past. She has worked to create the advertising plan this semester, which includes flyers posted in classrooms and university buses.

LaCross said one of her favorite parts of the program is the excitement that surrounds it. Oftentimes, recipients aren’t expecting the recognition, she said. While typically attached in an email, on certain occasions a letter is hand-delivered.

“I also really enjoy reading letters to past advisors and past thesis or dissertation advisors,” she said in an email. “These letters are really sweet because they reference the UGA educator’s multi-year impact on the student’s path to graduation.”

Christin Huggins, a lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies, has received many notes from her students over the years. She said the notes provide a “nice little bright spot” at the end of the semester.

“It's always nice to get some positive affirmation about your teaching abilities after receiving your course evaluations, which are not always as positive,” she said.

Department of Mathematics Instructor Erik Miller has also been a recipient of thank you notes. He values hearing students’ feedback and said he appreciates that students take the time to express their gratitude.

“It’s one thing to fill out evaluations, which are great too, but this is just something that goes above and beyond the call of duty, so it’s a way to let [your teachers] know that they had a big impact on you,” he said.

According to LaCross, CTL members receive more than 100 thank-you notes each semester. LaCross would like to see more students participate. Middelstadt is hopeful that this year could be the most successful yet and break the current record of 250 letters received in a semester.

The program accepts submissions year-round because of its rolling deadline. If a student submits a letter after they have already been distributed to faculty, it will be delayed until the next round of deliveries the following semester.