LAS VEGAS — When asked what a family of educators would talk about around the Thanksgiving dinner table, David Holland didn't hesitate.
"Probably the food more than anything," the University of Nevada-Las Vegas history professor said.
At least one other topic was probably mentioned this year — Holland's recent recognition as the 2011 Nevada Professor of the Year.
Holland was selected from a pool of 300 top professors nationwide by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) to receive the prestigious honor. He and his wife traveled to Washington, D.C., before Thanksgiving to receive the award. While there, Holland attended a reception for honorees and visited with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.; and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.
It was a thrill to receive the recognition and make the trip, Holland said.
"It's hard to receive an award like this and not recognize the fact that there are many, many equally, if not better teachers in both my department and the university, not to mention the state of Nevada," he said. "You wonder a little about the process by which you were identified among hundreds of excellent educators, but I am pleased to bring a little bit of attention to my department and let people know we take our undergraduate mission seriously, so all those things were very positive."
Holland has taught U.S. history and religion at UNLV since 2005. He received his master's and Ph.D. at Stanford University, where he was also a lecturer. He received his undergraduate degree in history at BYU.
Holland said there were several critical moments early in his life that helped him develop a love of learning and history. It started with an emphasis on education at home.
"I definitely grew up in a home where education was taken seriously and teaching was valued," he said. "Is it any wonder how we all ended up in the same field?"
David's father is Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an LDS apostle and the former president of Brigham Young University. His older brother, Matthew, is the president of Utah Valley University. And his brother-in-law is a surgeon who is involved in medical education.
When David Holland was a sophomore in high school, he had an interesting history teacher named Paul Mitchell, who was also a gubernatorial candidate. The Holland family moved to England the following year and Holland's new history teacher was a follower of communism.
"You had two ends of the political spectrum there and I learned early on the ways in which history can shape people's perspectives," he said. "Those back-to-back experiences really solidified my interest in history."
Holland's fascination with history intensified when he was called to serve an LDS mission in Czechoslovakia.
"It's a nation that was very much shaped by its own history, the heartache and the triumph of its particular past," he said. "When I came home, I realized I needed to know more about American history."
As a college student, Holland said his most formative experience came as a research assistant to Richard L. Bushman as the author wrote his biography of Joseph Smith, "Rough Stone Rolling."
"Watching him work and seeing what it was a skilled historian did solidified my decision to pursue this as a career," Holland said.
In addition to teaching, Holland has served as an LDS bishop in his Las Vegas ward for the past three years. How does he juggle his career and religious responsibilities? Time management is always a challenge, he said, but both jobs overlap.
"One of a bishop's primary responsibilities is teaching, interacting with youth and young single adults, so I get the opportunity in my professional life to try and improve as an educator and as someone who can connect with that rising generation, and I think that translates in a pretty direct way to what I'm trying to do as a bishop," Holland said.
When asked what advice he would give educators, Holland mentioned another area where his duties as a bishop and professor overlap.
"I think the best skill a teacher can have is the ability to listen. When you listen carefully, you know what your students are comprehending, you know how they are likely to comprehend future information, and you know where the gaps are," he said. "So often as teachers we're inclined to talk more than we listen, but I think if you want to be an effective teacher, you've got to use your ears. Your ears are how you can help them reach that next level of understanding."
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