Creating a challenging, professional classroom environment has earned M. Ann Welsh her students' respect — and the 2006 Mrs. A.B. "Dolly" Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Ann Welsh credits her mother and husband for inspiration.
Now that Welsh, herself, has earned the Mrs. A.B. "Dolly" Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching, how does she feel?
“Now — wow! It is really something!” she says, laughing.
Welsh says that she might not be sounding like “Feminism 101,” but her two greatest role models for her teaching style are her mother and her husband, both university faculty.
“My mother started me on the path of not wanting to do this,” she admits. “It’s that natural reaction to whatever your mother does you’re not going to do. So I think it took me a little bit longer to get around to thinking seriously about teaching.”
When Ann was in high school, her mother gave her a copy of Carl Rogers’ Freedom to Learn, a revolutionary approach to education that places the student at the center of the learning process. (It is now in its third printing.) In addition to the excellent role models at her small, all-girls’ high school, Welsh began to understand the importance of learning styles — and teaching styles. Later on, Gordon Dehler, Welsh’s husband, introduced her to the constructivist classroom idea of student-centered scholarship.
Welsh says that each class is a learning experience -- for her, as well.
“You start observing how other people learn differently,” she says. “If you’re going to be effective, you need to understand what those differences are. I’ve been very lucky to have a great education over the years with lots of different models, from large-group instruction to small, informal teaching groups. In fact, we had learning communities in this high school long before anyone else thought of it.”
“I would have just gone along without being nearly as intentional in the classroom if that hadn’t become a research interest of his!” says Welsh. “Teachers have unlocked so many doors for me. When you realize how much somebody’s done for you, it’s natural progression to want to do that for someone else.”
Anna Godby, CoB class of 2006 and C-ring nominee, agrees.
"Ann Welsh has opened my eyes to the possibility of working in academia later in my career," says Godby. "I would want to follow her example and provide students with extremely memorable academic experience."
Welsh teaches both undergraduate and graduate students in the College of Business.
“I’m really lucky in that,” she says. “I teach in the MBA and Lindner Honors-PLUS programs. I call it ‘do no harm’ time — these students are not only talented but their work ethic is terrific.”
Most recently, Welsh was involved in a collaborative class between the College of Business, the College of Engineering and the College of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning (DAAP) for the transportation design track. She had already been working with DAAP’s Dale Murray for six years.
Welsh with CoB colleagues Jim Evans and Craig Froehle
“He and I believe very strongly in the value of collaboration and share an interest in sustainability,” she says. “We always wanted to expand the collaboration to engineering and environmental studies — so we could really look at a complex issue like sustainability.”
UC’s transportation design track is applying for a PACE grant (Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education). PACE is a joint philanthropic initiative of General Motors, EDS/UGS and Sun Microsystems 1999 to support key academic institutions worldwide with computer-based engineering tools to prepare mechanical designers, engineers and analysts with the skills to compete in the future. At one PACE presentation, the audience was told that they new employee of the future in the automotive industry would be a “designing engineer.”
“I said to Dale that they were talking about something far more profound that just math skills for engineers. That effective collaboration has so many issues in it. What we could do that was really distinctive was this cross-college collaboration that we already knew how to do. We have lots of people who do this — Sid Barton’s course with biomechanical engineering (co-developed with Ed Grood and Bill Ball), for example.”
So they started with two industrial design students. Welsh and Murray each talked to a few people, until they ended up with about 16 students from four different departments on campus. What developed was astounding. The students set the pace.
“They pushed so far beyond their own faculty,” says Welsh. “Dale and I knew what was going to happen because we had experience, but the other faculty kept telling the kids ‘You don’t have to work this hard — you don’t really have to be that interdisciplinary.’ And they said, ‘Are you kidding? Yes we do — we can do this!’ Well they just blew the socks off everybody. It is truly a testimonial for what we do here in experiential education. We can take people with different backgrounds — these are kids at the ends of their programs, so they think of themselves as designers, marketers, engineers — and they learn to communicate, to listen really carefully, to understand the mindset that the other person brought.”
Throughout the project, the students used the faculty as consultants. The students conducted long critiquing sessions with the different faculty and led the scholarship.
“It is the quintessential UC|21 course!” says Welsh. “Academic experience, student-led research, creating opportunity and forging partnerships. As a teacher, you’re a partner with the student in the learning process. Occasionally you’re the guide; sometimes you’re the de-mystifier; sometimes you’re the mystifier.”
Welsh says that this prompts the students to ask questions — and then answer them. Her goal in teaching is to focus not so much on teaching specific content but the skills to acquire the content knowledge.
“You know you’ve succeeded with students when they take the process away from you, because then you know when they move on in life that they have a way of learning,” she says. “And never missing an opportunity to add value.”
All faculty members have had students who just occupy a chair in the class, who just want the “boxes checked.” Welsh tells her students — right in the syllabus — that they should think of her class as going to work.
“Your boss expects you to show up and your boss expects you to do something while you’re there,” she says. “I take the educational part of this process very seriously and challenge them to add value. If they feel that value wasn’t added, it’s not just me; it’s just as much them. If they want to demand value, they have to be willing to add value.”
Welsh clearly practices what she preaches. “It’s nice when you can get your teaching and your service and your research to all line up.”
“Teaching is in fashion here!"