Two will be honored at convocation with Distinguished Teaching Awards

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.--Western Michigan University will honor two faculty members in the School of Communication next month for being exceptional educators and mentors and demonstrating outstanding dedication in their work.

Sue Ellen Christian and Dr. Autumn Edwards, both associate professors of communication, will be recognized as the recipients of this year's Distinguished Teaching Awards during WMU's Academic Convocation at 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10, in the Dalton Center Recital Hall. The annual event includes WMU President John M. Dunn's State of the University address along with the presentation of other campus-wide awards honoring this year's Emerging Scholars, Distinguished Faculty Scholar and the recipients of the Distinguished Service and Make a Difference awards.

Initiated in 2006, the Distinguished Teaching Award is the highest honor given by the University to recognize faculty members for their work with students. Christian and Edwards join 19 other faculty members who have been honored since the start of the award program. A similar program, the WMU Alumni Association Teaching Excellence Award, was conducted between 1966 and 2001 and honored 131 faculty members.

Photo of Sue Ellen Christian


Sue Ellen Christian

Christian, a former Chicago Tribune reporter who teaches journalism at WMU, was praised by her nominators for bringing real-world experience to the classroom and helping her students build the skills they will need to succeed in today's news world. A faculty member since 2001, Christian has had a profound and lasting impact on her students.

"Professor Christian's greatest qualities as a teacher are believing in her students and giving them the tools to be great journalists," said one alumna who is now a professional journalist and remains in touch with her mentor. "I chose WMU for its journalism program because I knew I was going to be a journalist. Professor Christian knew it, too, and did whatever she could to help me succeed."

Her ability to build a positive teaching environment, her commitment to her students and her ability to connect with them and to stay connected over time also were noted as among her teaching strengths.

"In the early stages of my college career, Professor Christian introduced me to the world of journalism," wrote a current student. "Throughout my time at Western, Professor Christian has served as a resource, a mentor and a friend."

In addition, Christian was singled out for successful work in building bridges between college journalists and budding high school writers by developing a collaborative project in which they focused on diversity and producing a series of publications that focused on the topic of teaching tolerance. 

An alumna and area teacher worked with Christian on a five-year, grant-funded project to link the two groups of students in an effort known as Communicating Common Ground. She praised Christian for her dedication to bringing a new generation into the industry and giving them a thorough grounding in some of the important issues of today and the future.

"Working with Sue Ellen on these projects was so inspiring," the teaching colleague wrote. "She was taking journalism to a new arena...using storytelling to explore topics in diversity and using passion to inspire not only her own students at WMU, but also high school students in Kalamazoo Public Schools."

Christian earned a bachelor's degree from Hope College and a master's degree from the University of Michigan. She was a staff writer at the Chicago Tribune for 10 years before accepting a faculty appointment at WMU.

Photo of Dr. Autumn Edwards


Dr. Autumn Edwards

Edwards, whose focus is on interpersonal communication and communication theory, was lauded by those nominating her for the passion and ability she demonstrates to help students understand cutting-edge theoretical concepts and their use in the research lab as well as their value when applied in an organizational setting.

"Having had Autumn as an instructor for two graduate-level courses in communication where we deal with high-level discussions of quantitative methodology and theoretical concepts," wrote one graduate student, "it amazes me how easily she can transform confusing textbook language into clear and concise conceptualizations of the material."

Another student noted Edwards' classroom style and teaching methods and commended them as inspirational. The student first encountered Edwards in a large lecture class and went on to see her teacher become a mentor.

"In a lecture class of over 100 students," the student wrote, "Dr. Edwards managed to create an engaging learning environment that fostered both critical thinking and creativity...Dr. Edwards has fueled my desire to continue my education in graduate school and has allowed me to realize my potential as a student and communication scholar."

Edwards also was praised by a colleague for helping create a course that is now a required course for all majors and minors and for co-creating a research lab used by graduate students to conduct experiments and surveys. The second function of the lab is to teach interested undergraduates the basics of research. The colleague nominating Edwards asserted that lab function was its "most important."

And as the faculty member who teaches the introductory course to the school's master's program, Edwards also is known for helping graduate students develop a strong research foundation and also for generating interest in research among undergraduate students.

"Dr. Edwards creates an open intellectual environment that really sets the tone for the entire program, " one of her students affirmed. "Dr. Edwards does not discriminate against those she may disagree with: in fact, Dr. Edwards often takes interest in them as a way of expanding her own intellect."

Edwards earned a bachelor's degree at Texas Tech University, a master's degree from the University of Kansas and a doctoral degree from Ohio University. She held graduate teaching and research positions at both Kansas and Ohio before coming to WMU in 2005.

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