March 20, 2008

Wiesen wins Outstanding Teacher Award at SIUC

by Andrea Hahn

Wiesen Jonathon

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Historian S. Jonathan Wiesen is the recipient of the 2008 Outstanding Teacher Award from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The recognition is part of the University's "Excellence Through Commitment Awards Program," which began in 2004. The honor includes a $7,500 monetary award, $7,500 in other-than-salaries support, a certificate, the title of Distinguished Teacher, a reserved parking space for one year and a wristwatch provided by the SIU Alumni Association.

Wiesen and other Excellence award winners will be honored at an Excellence Through Commitment Awards dinner on April 22 in the Student Center.

Wiesen, an associate professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts, specializes in modern European and especially German history, with emphases on consumerism and the Holocaust. His recent scholarly activities include co-editing the Duke University Press volume, "Selling Modernity: Advertising in Twentieth-Century Germany," participating in a panel on everyday life in National Socialist Germany at the German Historical Institute in Paris, France, and the forthcoming publication of his article, "Service above Self: Rotary Clubs, National Socialism, and Transnational Memory in the 1960s and 1970s" in the Oxford journal "Holocaust and Genocide Studies."

As a teacher, Wiesen handles a core curriculum world civilization class, upper division undergraduate courses on topics including the Holocaust and consumer culture in modern Europe, senior thesis courses and recently a graduate seminar in comparative fascism. He also is the director of undergraduate studies for the Department of History. This blend of classroom responsibility plays to Wiesen's strength as a versatile and engaging teacher.

In fact, his teaching methods in History 101B – the world civilization survey from 1500 to the present – earned recognition from the Center for Educational Policy Research as "one of the top examples of best practices in a national study of World History courses."

Praise for Wiesen's ability as a teacher universally attests to his passion for his subject and his accessibility to students. Several of the letters in support of Wiesen from his colleagues and former students emphasized his ability to engage his students in discussion, even when the topic is difficult or controversial.

"It is clear that Wiesen's students feel comfortable enough to ask lots of questions, and to speak their minds on the most sensitive of topics," Marji Morgan, formerly the SIUC history department chairperson and now dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Central Washington University, wrote. "Wiesen is a master at relating one student's comments to another's, and at getting students to respond to each other as well as to him."

"He demonstrates both in and out of class – even when the student catches him at that moment when he is pre-occupied with other tasks – that he genuinely cares," Michael Batinski, current chair of the history department, wrote in his letter supporting Wiesen's selection as outstanding teacher.

Kathleen Plesko, Disability Support Services director, recalled that Wiesen had gone out of his way to help a history student who had been called for military service in Iraq. The student returned for his last semester at SIUC with a debilitating injury that made speaking nearly impossible and mobility an extreme challenge. In addition, the student was so self-conscious about his condition that he preferred to take courses at home – a request Plesko stated was beyond the obligations of the University to meet. However, she said, Wiesen, having met the student, found a way for him to enroll in the history classes he needed for his major and to take them from home – the "only way that seemed endurable to him," as Plesko described it.

Batinski also recalled Wiesen's actions in helping the student, commenting in his letter that Wiesen is a "teacher-citizen who seeks to make his classroom a place for inclusion and engagement for as many students as possible… Wiesen enters the classroom with a deeply ingrained sense of purpose."

One of these students, Nathan Caldwell, now a seventh-grade social studies teacher in South Carolina, stated that of all his courses at SIUC, Wiesen's were the most helpful as he prepared for his career. Besides teaching the material, he said, Wiesen made it relevant, challenging the students to face "the critical questions and deeper issues with which the study of history must concern itself – the philosophical underpinnings behind the movements and events of the past that attract and require attention today."

Batinski also referred to Wiesen's "dedication to the task of recruiting new students," which includes letter writing, recruitment fairs, and meetings with new majors at the start of each academic year. Wiesen also works with graduate students, has directed two masters' theses and has served on several doctoral dissertation and exam committees, as well as working closely with graduate teaching assistants. During his tenure as faculty adviser for Phi Alpha Theta, the history honors society, the SIUC undergraduate history journal "Legacy" was born.

Wiesen does not limit his teaching skills to SIUC. He is mindful of the greater Southern Illinois community as well. Batinski noted Wiesen was instrumental in bringing a traveling museum exhibit, "The Rescue of the Danish Jews from Annihilation," to the University Museum at SIUC. Wiesen used the opportunity to talk to several middle school classes that visited the exhibit about the lives of children in Nazi Germany.

Even the BBC called on Wiesen's expertise, inviting him for a radio interview in 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the freeing of Auschwitz.

Wiesen was the Outstanding Teacher for the College of Liberal Arts in 2006 and in 2001 captured the George S. and Gladys W. Queen Award for Outstanding Teacher in the History Department. Brown University, where he earned his doctoral degree in 1998, also acknowledged his teaching ability with the Clare Gregorian Presidential Award of Excellence in Teaching, a university-wide award presented annually to two graduate students.

Wiesen has been part of SIUC's history department since 1998, after serving as a visiting professor at Colgate University. He earned his bachelor's degree with highest distinction from the University of California-Berkeley in 1990, going on to earn his master's and doctoral degrees from Brown University in 1992 and 1998 respectively, adding in his participation in the Education Abroad program at the University of Sussex. At present, he is at work on his book manuscript, "Creating the Nazi Consumer: Cultures of Marketing in the Third Reich," in addition to classroom and departmental responsibilities.