Gem of the Day 2/7: SHSU Announces "Excellence in Teaching" Recipient

By: The Houstonian
By: The Houstonian

We've all had that class where students walk in, open up their laptops, and trudge their way through an endless PowerPoint slide. One political science professor's interactive lectures keep students away from constantly checking Facebook and Twitter.

Stacy Ulbig, Ph.D., was announced as the recipient of the "Excellence in Teaching" award for 2011.

"I couldn't believe I had been nominated, so when I actually won I thought there was some kind of mistake," Ulbig said.

Ulbig has the students' in mind when teaching; while doing so, she recognizes that the students' attention spans run short.

"It's not anything against the students," Ulbig said. "It's just human nature to be easily distracted. As a professor, my teaching philosophy is to give them purpose for their learning and to keep them interested."

Ulbig said that her philosophy on teaching comes from an understanding of the difficulty and frustration of going to college without "having a purpose for learning."

"I was a first generation college student," Ulbig said. "In my own experiences, I never knew why I was doing the things I was doing in class – all the reading and papers. It is so much easier for me to be motivated when I understand the reasons I'm doing something."

Ulbig said the last thing she wants to do is talk for an hour and a half so she gives in class quizzes, which students answer using answer clickers, to change the pace of class and get the students attention again. Students tell Ulbig that the quizzes make them stop and think about what they wrote down.

Ulbig has been teaching since 2001, previously teaching at Missouri State University before coming to Sam Houston State University in 2007.

"I love teaching because I receive instant feedback," Ulbig said. "The other parts of my job such as research and service can take forever for me to receive feedback. With teaching it is instant; I feed off of the students' energy. The students are teaching me too when they ask questions that I have to go look up to answer, I learn something new every day."

This is not the first award Ulbig has received; she has also been recognized in her teaching excellence by the SHSU department of Political science in 2010, and by the MSU College of Humanities and Public Affairs in 2005.

Frank Fair, a philosophy teacher, is the chair of the Excellence in Teaching committee. The committee is comprised of seven other faculty members nominated by the Faculty Senate and approved by the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

According to Fair, the process starts out with solicitations of nominations from students, faculty, and alumni. The committee then takes the nominations and narrows them down to a select few, anywhere between four to six people. They narrow it down by looking at the nominator's comments, and how many nominations each nominee receives.

"She is great, makes class interesting and is there for the students," one student said on the nomination form. "She learns with us by helping us be up-to-date with world and local news. She guaranteed I would pass the class, and I did! I couldn't ask for a better professor. She is definitely one of the university's best assets."

After narrowing down the nominees the committee requests documents from the nominees such as letters of recommendation and statements on what their focus is in the classroom, so the committee can better understand the nominees.

The committee then engages in peer evaluations where they go into the nominee's classes, observe and take notes.

"In the case of Ulbig, several people came back from evaluating saying, ‘Wow she did a nifty job in keeping the student's attention with the clicker questions.'" Fair said.

Once the peer evaluations are done the committee compares what they saw to what the nominee claims that there focus is to see if it truly matches up. The final vote is made after that, and the committee's recommendation of who should receive the award goes to the Provost and VP for Academic Affairs Jamie Hebert for approval.

"It is always a tough decision, but with the number of excellent professors that were nominated, we knew when making the decision we couldn't have gone too far wrong," Fair said.

Ulbig's path as a first-generation college student began at University of St. Thomas, where she received her bachelor's degree, and ended up at Rice University, where she earned her master's and doctoral degrees.

"I love teaching but it was never easy getting here," Ulbig said. "In my time at SHSU, it has really helped to have a good department chair to work with me and let me teach a range of classes."

Ulbig currently teaches introductory-level and advanced-level political science and statistics classes. In addition to the award, she will receive $5,000.

Student Nominations for the 2012 University Excellence in Teaching awards are now being accepted.

"I had to be stubborn and persistent and be willing to fail again and again," Ulbig said. "I love political science and sometimes I forget that not all of my students love it as much as I do."

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