April 03, 2008

Sociology's Miller wins Core Curriculum award

by Eric Welch

Michelle Miller

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Michelle Hughes Miller, professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is the recipient of the 2008 Outstanding Faculty in the Core Curriculum Award for her excellence in teaching within the broad-based foundation program.

She and other award winners will be recognized at the Excellence Through Commitment Awards dinner on April 22 in Student Center Ballroom B. She will receive $2,000 as well as a wristwatch from the SIU Alumni Association.

Miller, who has taught sociology at SIUC since 2000, earned a bachelor's degree in 1986 from Nebraska Wesleyan University. She then earned a master's degree in sociology in 1990 from the University of Nebraska Lincoln and a doctorate in sociology in 1997.

Since her arrival at SIUC, Miller has been instrumental in raising the bar for the department's instruction in core classes. Former students have described her as an outstanding teacher who cultivates lively discussion and makes everyone in the classroom feel involved.

In her core class – Soc 223: "Women and Men in Contemporary Society" – she challenges undergraduate students "to see other perspectives and their own potential to effect change in society." Miller has taught this stimulating course six times, yet some of her most profound contributions to the Core Curriculum have come through a graduate class she designed.

Miller felt the need for a new graduate seminar after her personal struggle in teaching a core course for undergraduate students from multiple majors and with varying levels of interest and motivation. Upon reflecting on her own experience, she began to worry about graduate students facing the same challenges but with far less training and experience.

"I discovered that frequently it was our most inexperienced teachers who were teaching the most inexperienced students in some of the most difficult classrooms," Miller wrote in her teaching philosophy.

Her solution was to create Soc 518: "Teaching Sociology," which helps graduate teaching assistants become better instructors and understand students and the dynamics of a diverse classroom.

Jennifer Dunn, associate professor of sociology, highlighted in her nomination letter the "remarkable transformation of our graduate assistant teaching in sociology core courses," since Miller's seminar began.

"I cannot overemphasize the significance of Dr. Miller's contribution to our teaching in the Core Curriculum. I wish I had been given the opportunity to take the Teaching Sociology seminar before I embarked on my own teaching career! Dr. Miller's students are fortunate indeed," she wrote.

The seminar, which has since become a required course for graduate students, challenges them to understand their students' strengths and weaknesses as well as their own and discover ways to capitalize on them. Through hands-on exercises, such as guest lecturing in other courses and peer mentoring, Miller's course helps graduate students understand who they are as teachers and perform at their highest potential.

"Dr. Miller is one of those rare professors who teach not only by imparting information, but by sharing her enthusiasm, her passion, and her vast knowledge of teaching pedagogy," wrote Ruth Chananie-Hill, a former graduate student, in a nomination letter. "However, she is not content to simply be a great teacher – rather, she mentors, trains, and inspires many others to carry that tradition forward."

Miller's efforts in training graduate teaching assistants have translated into a higher quality experience for undergraduate students enrolled in Core Curriculum courses in sociology.

In her nomination letter, Nicole Henderson, a former undergraduate student, wrote that Miller's teaching style "was a defining point in my career at SIUC."

"Dr. Miller breaks from mediocrity and brings her students with her in expecting nothing less than an exceptional education."