2010 Mrs. A.B. 'Dolly' Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching: Susan M. Sipple
Innovative approaches in the classroom are a hallmark of the teaching style of Raymond Walters College Associate Professor Susan M. Sipple.
Date: 5/4/2010 12:00:00 AM
By: Ginny Hizer
Phone: (513) 745-5706
Photos By: Dottie Stover
There’s a fine balance between being casual and nurturing with students, yet ensuring they are challenged academically. Some students mistake the friendly professor with an easy grade, while others chafe at the high caliber of work demanded; either way, it’s often an uneasy equilibrium.
Yet Dr. Susan Sipple, Associate Professor of English at Raymond Walters College, is able to attain it. Time after time, students comment on Sue’s dedication and commitment to her students, noting that, while Sue is tough in her grading and course expectations, she also helps students achieve success. As one former student noted, “Sue bends over backwards to give you every tool you need to accomplish your mission…She truly wants her students to succeed and goes many extra miles to help make that happen.”
Such extraordinary measures Sue frequently undertakes range from offering Saturday writing clinics, meeting one-on-one with struggling students and, one method repeatedly cited by students, her decision to provide audio commentary on students’ work. For each paper, Sue tapes her comments onto a CD and hands this to the student, thus the students receive formative, individualized feedback in place of the usual handwritten margin and endnotes. Students are partial to this process, as indicated by one student who shared, “Each time she handed me a CD, I couldn’t wait to hop in my car and put it on the CD player to listen to what she had to say…. This is by far one of the most creative and effective ways to grade papers.”
Her interest in this innovative method “grew out of my frustration with the limitations of handwritten notes,” Sue explains. “I found that I had neither the time nor the space to say all the things I wanted to say regarding a student’s paper. My use of the audio technique has allowed me to give specific feedback to students, and to truly teach in the midst of my commentary.”
Sue has become somewhat of an expert on this and other innovative teaching methods - such as critical thinking, study abroad, grading methods - developing an academic website on it, publishing several online tutorials for other faculty, and presenting numerous times at international, national and state conferences.
In addition, Sue is very involved with faculty learning communities devoted to improving teaching, including: Ohio Teaching Enhancement Program; Critical Thinking Faculty Learning Community; Peer Review of Scholarly Teaching; and the September Institute. She takes evaluation and continued growth personally, as well, opting to use the IDEA Center Evaluations, a much more extensive student evaluation that ranks professors against others in their field nationally.
Sue holds a doctorate in English from Miami University and a Masters degree in English and bachelor’s in Communications English, both from Gannon University. She joined UC’s College of Arts and Sciences in 1998 and transferred to RWC in 2000, earning a tenure-track appointment in 2003. At RWC, she teaches a wide variety of classes such as Topics in Literature I, II, III; American Writers I, II, III; 20th Century Short Story, Novel, and Drama; Introduction to Liberal Arts; Preparatory Composition; and English Composition 101, 102 and 103.
However, she often bridges her course topics to a larger world, as a colleague notes, “engaging students in critical reading of literary texts within social and historical contexts and asking students to apply contemporary literary theory to the texts they read.”
For many students, especially those new to college-level courses, such an approach is novel. But it is appreciated: “Sue taught us that the things and subject matters we studied in her classes were not only academically relevant, but in an even broader sense, are whole-life related. We learned in our analysis of literature to apply the lessons learned to our own lives, our communities, and the bigger world so that we can make a difference in our lives and in those around us using our new learned critical thinking skills as the foundation for pertinent analysis of situations.”
Sue makes those connections on an even grander scale in her role a co-leader of several Summer British Study Abroad programs. Twice leading groups of students overseas, in 2005 and again in 2007, Sue delved into the process, auditing a history class on the Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany and serving as a fellow in the Holocaust Educational Foundation’s Institute on Holocaust and Jewish Civilization in 2008 (a series of seminars on the Holocaust taught by experts in their fields) held at Northwestern University. She used those experiences to craft two new classes for the Study Abroad program, WWI Literature and Holocaust Literature.
When asked about the benefits of study abroad programs, Sue responds, “Both trips offered opportunities for true liberal education: we immersed ourselves in the cultures we studied, we practiced critical thinking and civility in our daily lives, and we learned in ways we never anticipated.”
Her devotion to study abroad is evident in her willingness to chair RWC’s Study Abroad and Exchange Programs Committee for two years and in her planning a third trip overseas, tentatively slated for 2012.
Perhaps the student nomination letter best illustrates Sue’s dual ability to nurture and challenge her students: “I have been a UC student for four years now…I’ve skipped, dropped and failed classes all four years. I almost dropped out, but I decided I’d give Raymond Walters a try…I signed up for a Literature class because it was one of the classes I need for my major. I enjoy reading but I’ve never enjoyed an English or Literature class. But this quarter something changed for me. My teacher, Susan Sipple, has finally made me enjoy school…She is patient, kind, funny, encouraging and pushes us to think about themes and why things happen the way they did…Susan is not an easy professor, exams were challenging and we typed one page response papers each class. But it’s challenging in a good way because I feel like I want to do good for Susan – and, now, for myself.”