Marty Feeney has been throwing Mason jars around his classrooms for 30 years, and he has yet to hear the sound of shattering glass. Part of that can be attributed to the accuracy and skill he’s gained over the course of three decades. But more often than not, it’s the soft hands of the students willing to go to any length to make a tough catch since the jar, after all, is their personal prize.
“I’ve only had one jar break in the 30 years I’ve been tossing them to students,” Feeney explained. “Students always mention the jars. I tell them they can fill them up with root beer.”
Regardless of what the students do with them, the flying Mason jars represent Feeney’s belief in keeping his classroom engaged and energized. For the adjunct professor of communication and media studies, it’s also a unique way of grabbing students’ attention, while at the same time recognizing them for their work.
Every two weeks in Feeney’s public speaking course, students present in front of the entire class. Those deemed to have done the best job in a few separate categories win a trophy. Which, in this case, is a Mason jar — which Feeney buys in bulk from his local Ben Franklin store.
Feeney began his awards ceremonies many years ago by giving away college mugs. However, that all changed when he was at a thrift store and noticed these “unique and durable” Mason jars. According to Feeney, the jars seemed to be the perfect prize. An unusual trophy? Perhaps. But at least it’s rooted in tradition.
“I’m trying to shake it up,” Feeney said. “I want to break down the walls of the classroom. Class doesn’t have to be deadly dull. Liven it up! Only one time in 30 years have I had someone say that they didn’t want their Mason jar. The student already had four, and he wanted another student to be able to receive one.”
That generosity and family spirit is common in Feeney’s classes. Through exercises and interactions in class, the students are able to get to know each other in a more in-depth, personal way, which creates a comfortable atmosphere for presentations. And for catching jars.
Sophomore Tara Maurer is the recipient of three Mason jar awards, but the bigger prize was the confidence she gained in public speaking.
“Professor Feeney always has an interesting story to tell,” Maurer said. “I came into this class knowing no one. When I left, it was like we were a family.”