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Today@Sam Article

'Excellence In Teaching' Winner Shares Methods Of Success


Feb. 3, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Meredith Mohr

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Flipping through PowerPoint slides in a routine class presentation, Stacy Ulbig surveys her students sitting scattered in the rows of an upstairs classroom. She knows that in a few moments, as college students are apt to do, their attention spans will run short and their thoughts will be directed elsewhere from her political science lecture.

“It’s not anything against 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.”

To combat this she employs a number of methods of teaching—including color-coded guidelines, discussion outlines and regular in-class quizzes. Quizzes are given one question at a time during the lecture, allowing students to earn extra points and work together on the answers.

“The last thing I want to do is hear myself talk for an hour and a half, “ Ulbig said. “So when I give in-class quizzes, which they get to answer using answer clickers, the change of pace gets their attention again. Students tell me that it makes them stop and think about what they just wrote. And I don’t have to shove information at them.”

It’s this formula for teaching that has lasted and proven successful over the past decade of her teaching career—and one that’s earned her recognition for her work, including most recently Sam Houston State University’s prestigious Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award.

An associate professor of political science, she has been teaching since 2001, previously teaching at Missouri State University before coming to at SHSU in 2007. Ulbig also has been recognized for her teaching excellence by the SHSU Department of Political Science in 2010 and by the Missouri State University College of Humanities and Public Affairs in 2005.

Her teaching philosophy, she says, 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.”

This teaching philosophy rings true for Ulbig’s students as well.

“During the fall semester I took Dr. Ulbig's class on 'Political Attitudes and Behaviors,' and I must say that I have never been more impressed with a class in my life,” one student said in her 2011 nomination. “Dr. Ulbig not only made the material relevant, but also made it easy to understand without taking away the challenge that belongs in an upper level course. Dr. Ulbig's teaching is unquestionably excellent, but she is more than a great lecturer. Her positive impact on teaching extends well beyond the classroom to her students, colleagues, and scholars of teaching.”

Ulbig said using creativity in her teaching methods has, in turn, fostered creativity from her students.

“I have a lot of students who want to course contract my classes,” Ulbig said. “My rule is I don’t want to read another term paper. I’ve had some really fun projects because of that over the years. I had one student last year write and record a rap song about the Declaration of Independence.”

Ulbig’s path from a first-generation college student to the holder of a doctorate included stops at the University of St. Thomas, where she received her bachelor’s degree, and Rice University, where she earned her master’s and doctoral degrees. She currently teaches introductory-level and advanced-level political science and statistics classes.

“I had to be stubborn and persistent and be willing to fail again and again,” Ulbig said of her challenges as a first-generation college student. “I love political science and sometimes I forget that not all my students love it as much as I do. I love teaching, but it was never easy getting here. 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. They let me go where I’m good and teach what I love to teach. Their cooperation really speaks for the university as a whole.”

Ulbig said she appreciates SHSU and services such as the PACE and DELTA Centers for their resources for teaching online and experimenting with new teaching methods, and noting that SHSU has consistently been “a big college with a small-college feel.”

“That’s the sort of reputation I hope we hold onto, even as we grow,” Ulbig said. “Part of what I love about teaching here is that a lot of students at SHSU are those who are fresh to higher education, first-generation students or wide-eyed freshmen. I understand that. I was there once myself. I’m not going to dumb it down for them, but I try to teach them how to do well on their own. Sam Houston is the kind of school I should have gone to but didn’t know about. It’s a good fit for me.”

Back in the classroom, not only is Sam Houston a good fit for her, but her students say she is a good fit for the university.

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

Student nominations for the 2012 University Excellence in Teaching award are now being accepted.

Each student is eligible to recommend one faculty member, who should be currently teaching at SHSU as a full-time employee; have been teaching at SHSU long enough to establish a consistent pattern of excellence; and be someone who has not yet been honored with the award.

Past winners include: William Abbott, Elizabeth Andrews, Gary Bell, Kimberly Bell, Harry Bohan, David Burris, Charles Capps, Adrian Cooley, Richard Cording, Caroline Crimm, Earline Dolive, Jerry Dowling, Frances Elmer, Coralie Emmons, Frank Fair, William Fleming, Gaddis Geeslin, David Gerling, Kenneth Hendrickson, John Holcombe, Rita Huff, Virginia Irvin, William Jasper, James Johnson, Stanley Kelley, Doug Krienke, Maniam Balasundram, Valerie Muehsam, Thom Murray, Mary Ann Nolteriek, James Olson, Mary Frances Park, Phillip Parotti, Ralph Pease, Wayland Pilcher, Mozelle Powell, Debra Price, Daniel Reeves, Marcus Rigby, Carol Sangster, John Snelgrove, Sam Souryal, Victor Sower, Donald L. Stalling, Susannah Ural, Bill Waldron, Laverne Warner, Maynard Yoes, and Stacy Ulbig.

Nominations can be made online at https://samweb.shsu.edu/vote02wp through Feb. 27.



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