SRU’s Kuehn lauded for teaching excellence and community building approach
Slippery Rock University’s President’s Award for Teaching Excellence recognizes a faculty member based on their commitment to teaching beyond contractual obligations, a participatory and engaging pedagogy, developing and using innovative classroom practices and their commitment to scholarly growth.
March 15, 2021
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Sarah Kuehn knows what it takes to be an excellent teacher, inside and out. As a Slippery Rock University associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, Kuehn even taught an innovative class titled Inside-Out Prison that took SRU students out of the classroom and into a local correctional facility to learn alongside incarcerated individuals.
Despite the class having to be canceled during the pandemic, Kuehn has persisted and continues to reimagine teaching inside and outside the classroom and in a virtual setting. Kuehn is the 2020-21 recipient of the SRU President's Award for Teaching Excellence, which recognizes a faculty member based on their commitment to teaching beyond contractual obligations, a participatory and engaging pedagogy, developing and using innovative classroom practices and their commitment to scholarly growth.
"COVID has been a bit challenging for faculty and students because I can't be with them and interact with them in the classroom," Kuehn said. "But I still have been trying to be an effective educator and continually improve my teaching, and it's special to know people recognize it and appreciate it."
Students, peers, staff and alumni are invited to submit nominations for the President's Award, which are then reviewed by a committee organized through the Provost's Office that selects a winner from among finalists of each of SRU's four colleges. At least three students nominated Kuehn for the award, including those who took the Inside-Out Prison class, which was last taught in the first half of the spring 2020 semester but couldn't continue as it was envisioned because of COVID safety concerns in prisons.
Kuehn learned about the Inside-Out Class concept in 2015 from attending professional association meetings and from other Inside-Out instructors before implementing the class at SRU in 2019 by partnering with the State Correctional Institution-Mercer.
"We bring our students together with incarcerated people and have a regular college class together that's based on collaboration, dialogue and community building," Kuehn said. "This was the first class of its kind in Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education.
"Community building is really important. I want our students to be civically engaged and I want them not just to absorb the course material and take an exam on it. I want them to be engaged in their communities and be changemakers."
Because the Inside-Out class will not be offered again until 2022 at the earliest, Kuehn is developing a Community Corrections class that has a service-learning component. She's in conversations with criminal justice and probation agencies in Butler County that operate reentry programs to come up with projects for that address the agency's needs, whether it's organizing a virtual job fair and other programs, or analyzing data and conducting research to suggest best practices.
However teaching continues to be reimagined during the pandemic, Kuehn said that what makes a great teacher remains the same: it's about engagement and thinking beyond the classroom, or at least now, the virtual classroom.
"I trust in the process of learning and discovery and I don't want students to hide in the last row or behind the laptop," Kuehn said. "It's about engaged learning and also sharing my passion for the discipline with them and taking (the course content) beyond the classroom. This requires mentoring and going out into the community to address agencies' needs and getting them excited for the discipline."
Kuehn will be publicly recognized at SRU's virtual Celebration of Achievement event, 5 p.m., April 19. More details about that event will be communicated to the University community via email in the near future.
MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 | firstname.lastname@example.org