April 14, 2011

Youpa honored for teaching in Core Curriculum

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Andrew Youpa, associate professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, isn’t one to walk past a problem as if he didn’t see it.

Youpa is this year’s Outstanding Faculty Member Teaching in the Core Curriculum. The annual honor, one of SIUC’s Excellence Through Commitment awards, goes to a faculty member who teaches at least one of the broadly based foundation courses required of all University students to graduate.

Chancellor Rita Cheng will host a reception honoring Youpa and other recipients of Excellence Through Commitment awards on April 19 in Morris Library.

In his description of his course design and syllabi, included with nomination documents for this award, Youpa noted that, while he enjoyed teaching an introductory philosophy course (PHIL 104: Introduction to Ethics) he found himself disturbed at how little students seemed to know about “the founding principles and values of our nation.” Rather than lament this gap in students’ preparedness, he created a new course format for use in PHIL 102: Introduction to Philosophy, centered on the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution. With this new format, students examine the 17th and 18th century philosophical origins of our American democracy and apply those principles to current issues.

Youpa’s ability to relate difficult philosophical concepts to modern life has won him fans among graduate and undergraduate students alike, and among philosophy majors and non-majors. Students who contributed letters of support for Youpa’s nomination for this award invariably stated that while his upper-level philosophy classes were among the most difficult they had taken at SIUC, they were also the most inspiring and rewarding. The students attribute this to Youpa’s teaching style, and his openness to and compassion for his students.

Allison Zilka, a senior philosophy major, said one of Youpa’s 300-level philosophy courses was “one of the most engaging philosophy courses that I have taken… due to (Youpa’s) ability to relate the concepts directly to the students’ lives.” She went on to say that not only did Youpa help her navigate the difficult readings required for his class, but also that the techniques he demonstrated for doing so have given her the ability to tackle difficult readings in other classes.

Other students refer to Youpa’s courses as “the most informative and engaging… that I have taken in my entire academic career” and “one of my favorite courses.”

“He broke down the seemingly lofty texts… so that class could truly grasp the material,” Karon N. Fowler, a senior majoring in English, wrote in a letter of recommendation. “He was able to increase the class’ confidence in the face of challenging material… (and he) did not merely introduce the material, but he also encouraged us to take the analytical plunge.”

Students consistently relate that Youpa goes out of his way to be accessible, and to engage all students in classroom discussion.

“No student is allowed to be a wallflower in his classes,” noted Kandace D. Riddle, an SIUC cum laude graduate in philosophy and currently a graduate student in the department. “He has given up weekends and evenings to ensure that those who need his assistance and guidance are able to receive it,” she wrote.

She noted, further, that Youpa actively seeks out themes and topics of relevance to students as part of his effort to help students understand and related to philosophical concepts. His efforts in this regard, she said, are apparent in his role as adviser for The Philosophical Society, a registered student organization.

“He is not an advisor in name only but is fully engaged with the club,” she wrote in her letter of recommendation.

Phil Hocher, a senior majoring in history and philosophy, also praised Youpa’s involvement with the philosophy student organization, noting further that Youpa helped him with ideas regarding his history classes as well as with philosophy.

Youpa’s ability to relate to his students is no accident. In his statement of teaching philosophy, Youpa described his teaching role as one “to facilitate an intelligent and stimulating dialogue between my students and the greatest thinkers of the philosophical tradition.”

“In my experience there are no tricks -- no gimmicks for doing this well,” he wrote. “What is required is a solid understanding of the philosophical material as well as the students. Both are necessary. There must also be a sincere interest in the dialogue itself.”

Youpa’s students indicate across the board that they value his sincerity, his interest, and his genuine interest in their success as students.

Youpa earned his doctoral degree at the University of California at Irvine. He joined the faculty at SIUC in 2003.

He earned several fellowships as a doctoral student. He has two journal articles forthcoming in academic philosophy journals, and previous publications in journals and book chapters examining various aspects of Spinoza’s theories, and other topics. At SIUC, he also serves as the director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Philosophy. He has served on several committees, including as co-director of the Humanities Forum and the College of Liberal Arts Council. He is involved with student research at both the graduate and undergraduate level, and co-directed a thesis for a student in the McNair Scholars Program.