Wiggins awarded for excellence
Published: Friday, May 11, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 11, 2012 12:05
Each year the University of North Carolina Board of Governors choose a recipient to receive the Annual Award for Teaching Excellence. On May 12, at N.C. Central University’s spring commencement Ira Wiggins will be receiving the award. Wiggins, an associate professor and director of the Jazz
Studies program will be recognized by the Board of Governors along with faculty, staff and students during the ceremony.
“Dr. Wiggins is extremely well-deserving of the UNC-BOG Teaching Award. I cannot think of another faculty member who is more deserving of this high honor. He is a dedicated, passionate, and nurturing teacher,” said college of liberal arts dean Carlton Wilson.
The award was established by the Board of Governors in 1994 to highlight the significance of teaching and to reward professors for their excellent achievement in the class room across the university system. Awards are given annually to a tenured faculty member at each UNC campus.
Potential winners must have taught at their current institution for at least seven years. Recipients also must have demonstrated excellent or exceptional undergraduate teaching over a sustained period of time, and nominations should document that record. Nominees must be teaching in the academic year in which they are nominated and no one may receive the award more than once.
“It is an honor to get an award for your passion and being recognized by my peers,” said Wiggins, who admitted that he never thought he would be awarded.
Wiggins said his decision to apply for the award came from Lenora Helms Hammond, visiting instructor and co-director of the NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble.
“Because she had faith in him in winning the award, he went ahead and put forth the effort in putting a portfolio together to present to the committee.”
He is 1 of 17 professors who were chosen for the award this year. “I am super thrilled that Dr. Ira Wiggins has been awarded the Board of Governors award for the State of North Carolina. I have had the privilege of working with him for almost 8 years now, and it has been a life changing experience to learn as a musician and educator under his tutelage,” said Helms.
Wiggins grew up in the farming community of Lenoir County in Grifton, NC. He was the son of sharecroppers and began working at the age of 7. He recalls the struggles his family faced with not having much money and what he and his siblings had to do in order to play.
“There were hard times growing up, at one point we didn’t have any running water and had to use the bathroom outside. My siblings and I had to be Creative about our play environment. We made baseballs out of twine that we used for tobacco crops.”
Wiggins upbringing taught him to be creative and hard working and has contributed to the man he is today.
“I have a great appreciation for things. My childhood helped me to be a creative person. You should be creative to find a way to make things happen.”
His interest in jazz came from his brothers and father who had an R&B group. During this time he received his first instrument, a drum set, when he was five years old. Later, he began playing the guitar and saxophone.
Wiggins began his academic career at NCCU where he graduated and received his bachelor’s degree in 1977. He then went to Virginia Commonwealth University for his master’s in Music and finally University of North Carolina, Greensboro where he earned his Ph.D. in Music Education.
Wiggins is responsible for developing the Jazz Studies program for undergraduates at NCCU in 1986 and 2008 created the Jazz Studies program for graduate students. NCCU is one of only two HBCU’s who offer a master’s degree with that concentration. “It is always a challenge because the jazz area is not as popular as hip-hop and r&b or marching band,” said Wiggins.
According to Wiggins, the jazz studies program serves as good training to prepare students for various fields. Many of his students have traveled to various countries such as Turkey, Australia, and Switzerland; along with some countries in South America where they have received top honors for notable performances. One of his previous students he states will go on to play the saxophone for Prince this summer and another will play the drums for singer, Macy Gray.
“I keep a log of what all of my students do after they graduate. I am proud of them and I am glad that what we are doing here in this program is helping to contribute to someone’s livelihood,” he said.
Along with the responsibility for the jazz studies program, Wiggins directs the university’s Jazz Ensemble and continues to play as a saxophonist and flutist while completing 15 albums.