April 11, 2008

Graduate students honored for teaching abilities

by Tim Crosby

Hicks Melissa

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Officials at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will honor two graduate students for their outstanding abilities as teachers as part of this academic year's Excellence Through Commitment Awards.

Melissa J. Hicks, a doctoral student in sociology, is this year's outstanding graduate teaching assistant. Laramie Dean Carlsen, a doctoral student in theater, is the outstanding graduate assistant teaching in the University Core Curriculum.

The Excellence Through Commitment Awards recognize ongoing contributions by tenured and term faculty, staff and graduate assistants throughout the University. Colleagues and supervisors make the nominations while the office of the provost and vice chancellor coordinate the awards, which are then submitted to the chancellor's office.

The University will honor all of this year's winners at a dinner set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 22, at the Student Center. Hicks will receive $1,000 and a certificate; Carlsen will receive $500 and a certificate.

Here's a look at these two winners:

Melissa J. Hicks' values as a teacher include enthusiasm, preparedness and understanding, and she tries to create a reciprocal relationship based on respect in the classroom.

"Without this component, I believe that a classroom will not achieve its full learning potential," Hicks wrote in her teaching philosophy statement. "In addition, an enthusiastic teacher can foster the same type of enthusiasm in students. If I am excited about a particular topic, there is a better chance that students will be more apt to tune in and ultimately be motivated to learn."

Hicks entered the doctoral program in sociology at SIUC in 2005. She previously earned a Master of Science degree in sport studies in 2005 at SIUC. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in sport and exercise science in 2003 at Gannon University in Erie, Pa.

Last fall, Hicks taught a Core Curriculum sociology course titled "Women and Men in Contemporary Society." The preceding two semesters — spring 2007 and fall 2006 — she taught the Core Curriculum class titled "Introduction to Sociology. In spring 2006 she taught the graduate seminar titled "Gender and Sport" together with another graduate student instructor. Previously, Hicks taught "Diversity in Sport" and physical education courses.

Darren E. Sherkat, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts, said Hicks is active in the department's "Teaching Sociology" workshop in which students learn from peers and act as mentors. Hicks was an active leader in the course and served on several important committees, he said.

Hicks deserves the recognition she is receiving, Sherkat said.

"She has made enormous contributions to the University through her teaching," he said. "What she has done for both the Department of Sociology and the Department of Kinesiology is above and beyond the call of duty. I hope such commitment will be recognized and rewarded."

Hicks is the daughter of Jan and Tom Hicks of Newfane, N.Y. She plans to graduate in May 2009 and pursue a career as a university professor and researcher.

Laramie Dean Carlsen is an outstanding, enthusiastic graduate teacher and theater member who serves as an inspiration to others, his supporters said.

A doctoral student at SIUC since 2005, Carlsen earned a Master of Arts degree in 2005 at the University of Montana and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2002 at the same university. He specializes in queer theater and performance, theater pedagogy, documentary theater and playwriting.

Carlsen has taught theater 101 since arriving at SIUC, said Anne Fletcher, associate professor in the Department of Theater in the College of Liberal Arts, who supervises Carlsen and serves on his dissertation committee.

"Laramie is truly outstanding for a number of reasons," Fletcher said. "His enthusiasm for the material and for his students never waivers, he continually raises the bar for the other graduate assistants and mentors them, and he has a sincere interest in the machinations of a university curriculum and the place of general education in a liberal arts setting that surpasses that of many faculty members."

Carlsen has put his own stamp on the theater class he teaches, becoming an invaluable means of testing and improving the delivery of the class content, Fletcher said. Working on a modest grant, Carlsen helped students save money by creating a more affordable course packet and paired core objectives with course learning objectives.

"Laramie is a fabulous collaborator and I thoroughly enjoyed all the hours we spent planning and typing," Fletcher said.

Carlsen is a leader among theater department graduate students, impacting the entire program with his example, Fletcher said, while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.

"He is the consummate instructor who understands where his courses fit in the overall curriculum and who approaches his discipline-specific study as a humanist, utilizing the theater to explore history, current events, critical thinking, aesthetic valuing and humanist principles," Fletcher said. "He considers course content as a vehicle to open and transport his students' thinking.

"Laramie exhibits all of the qualities we look for in our colleagues. He balances scholarship, teaching and service," she said.

Carlsen will graduate in May. His long-term plans include moving to Denver to pursue acting, writing, directing and the chance to work with the gay and lesbian community. He also hopes to work on a novel he began last winter.

A native of Richey, Mont. who spent 10 years in Missoula, Mont., Carlsen is the son of Les and Sally Hickok Carlsen of Circle, Mont.

Laramie Carlsen Dean