Associate Professor of Sociology Kristin Kenneavy was honored with the Henry Bischoff Award for Excellence in Teaching at Ramapo College last Wednesday for her holistic style of teaching research.
“We look through a lot of materials to see who has been especially great,” Associate Professor of Theatre History Peter Campbell, a former honoree and current committee member said.
The Henry Bischoff Award’s namesake, a history and urban studies professor involved with the College’s creation in 1970, taught at Ramapo for 25 years. A committee of previously awarded faculty members present the award created in Henry Bischoff’s honor to a faculty member after careful review. The committee pays special attention to the nominee’s course material and student evaluations. Previous honorees include Jeremy Teigen, associate professor of political science and James Hoch, professor of creative writing.
“I am extremely honored,” Kenneavy said. “These people—I really look up to them and I’ve been in teaching circles with a lot of them…I do know these people and I respect them a great deal and to be put in the same company as them is very, very cool.”
Kenneavy’s approachable personality and genuine passion for her classes is immediately evident.
“Going back, even to high school, I was very interested in women’s rights and it was news to me that apparently women couldn’t do the same things men could,” Kenneavy said.
While studying at the University of Oklahoma, however, Kenneavy became more interested in the structural side of sociology, branching out to study concepts such as wage inequality and the social constructs of gender and sexuality. It was later, while she was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, that Kenneavy received her strong methodological training. Ramapo College hired Kenneavy because of that strength, wanting to create a methodological sequence of courses including Social Research, Social Statistics and Public Sociologies.
“We do qualitative stuff in Reach Methods, we do quantitative stuff in Stats and when we get to Public Sociologies—it’s really a mixed bag,” Kenneavy said, giving a basic overview of her classes.
Although clearly passionate about each of the subjects she teaches, Kenneavy was honored with the award not for what she teaches, but rather for how she teaches it. Focusing on providing her students with experience and practice researching, Kenneavy believes her students learn best from actual experiences.
“Instead of just telling them how to do research, they have to go do it,” Kenneavy said. “That’s my teaching philosophy.”
For example, instead of teaching formulas in her statistic classes, she encourages students to use statistics as a tool kit. Creating partnerships with the Women’s Center and the Ringwood Farmer’s Market, Kenneavy often assigns something she likes to call “authentic tasks.”
“Authentic tasks are basically tasks where you’re doing what someone who’s a professional in the field would do,” Kenneavy said.
Creating college wide surveys on inter-domestic violence, Kenneavy partnered up with the Women’s Center to form the “Green Dot” program, which provides students with multiple ways of dealing with domestic violence, allowing her classes to evaluate and analyze the success of the program in the Ramapo community.
“We were the research end of the program,” Kenneavy said. “We looked to see whether or not the program had an impact on students’ thinking.”
Several of Kenneavy’s students are also currently working with the Ringwood Farmer’s market to help farmers connect better with the needs of their community. Looking at surveys of both customers who use the market and community members who do not, the students are hoping to analyze what the market can do to better meet their community’s needs; although, students occasionally hit bumps in the road along the way.
“There’s nothing like actually encountering adversity or the downside of research to really learn about research,” Kenneavy said summarizing her teaching philosophy. “It’s great when things go really smoothly, but you learn so much more when it goes badly.”