April 19, 2010

Walker to receive term faculty teaching award

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Pam Walker is bucking trends. Her American Sign Language classes are “bursting at the seams” and they tend to stay that way all through the semester. Her teaching evaluations “almost hit the ceiling.” Coincidence?

David DiLalla, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, doesn’t think so, nor does the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures (DFLL). Walker was the college’s pick -- and the University’s as well -- for the 2010 Excellence Through Commitment Term Faculty Teaching Award.

Walker joined the department in 2003, and has, as DiLalla’s nomination letter states, “become an extremely popular and well-regarded instructor.” Her popularity is not because she teaches an easy class. On the contrary, students often find American Sign Language (ASL) to be a challenging course in more ways than expected.

DiLalla referred to Walker as “an excellent citizen of the college,” referring to her annual guest-lecture in Bryan K. Crow’s speech communication class, a volunteer activity she eagerly accepts as her opportunity to share ASL with a wider audience.

For his part, Crow notes that his Speech Communication 440 students love Walker’s guest lecture. “We usually end up keeping her well past the half-hour that I request because they have so many questions, and because they get so excited by her energetic style of involving them in learning signs right off the bat.”

David M. Johnson, acting chair of the department, said he’d heard about Walker, her enthusiastic students, and the need for more ASL classes before taking the acting chair position.

“I can now report that these rumors are entirely reliable,” Johnson wrote in his letter supporting Walker’s nomination for the award.

He further noted that Walker favors a language immersion teaching style, and teaches most of her class in ASL, with her students signing along with her throughout the class or interacting with each other as another method of language acquisition.

“I’ve just read through a large sample of Pam’s student evaluations from the last few years,” he wrote, stating that he’d never seen “such evidence of student excitement, involvement and love for the subject matter and the class… By far the most common complaint on her evaluations is the lack of more classes in ASL.”

Natalie Pereies, a former student, said Walker was a direct inspiration for her own foray into graduate studies in deaf education at Gallaudet University, adding that she continued to rely on Walker for inspiration and guidance even when she was no longer Walker’s student.

“SIUC is lucky to have Pam as an instructor,” she wrote. “She truly cares about her students and their successes, regardless of their majors. She goes above and beyond what most professors would do for their students.”

Walker’s teaching experience includes nearly 15 years teaching elementary school students who were deaf or hard of hearing while she lived in Georgia and Massachusetts. When she came to Southern Illinois, she continued to teach very young children, but not ones who needed ASL. A combination of patience, opportunity and luck led to Walker taking over as ASL lecturer at SIUC.

“I love my current job,” Walker enthuses in her biographical sketch, bringing her engaging humor to what is for many a dry bones document. “I get to teach the language I love. I get to make people laugh. I think if people are laughing, more receptors are open in their brain. I have no research to back this up, but it does make my classes more fun.”

Walker engages her students outside class as well. She founded the weekly “Deaf Chat” meetings, which encourage students to meet and talk in ASL. She noted that deaf members of the community sometimes attend, giving the students a chance to communicate with “native ASL users.” She also advises the ASL Club, a registered student organization.

Walker recently participated in a seminar, “Interpreting for the Theater,” at The Juilliard School in New York City. She worked on Broadway and learned from several of the nation’s top interpreters, and has already vowed to make the experience beneficial to her students.

Walker holds a National Interpreting Certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and is a member of that registry as well as the Illinois Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. She serves on several committees at SIUC, and serves the area community through theater and religious interpreting for the deaf.

Chancellor Samuel Goldman will host a dinner honoring Walker and other recipients of Excellence Through Commitment awards on Tuesday, April 20, in the Student Center. Walker will receive a certificate from the chancellor and a free parking space for one year.