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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Susan Clark

   

The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Susan Clark, associate professor of Horticulture, for aspiring to create positive, collaborative, and vital learning environments where students–instructor(s)–off-campus community partners learn and grow together in acquisition of knowledge that is connected to real-world experiences within the larger community and to humanitarian values.

Dr. Clark’s pedagogical approach is dynamic as she has never taught the same class the same way twice. She experiments with, reflects upon, and redesigns her pedagogy in an effort to promote deeper learning, as well as personal and professional growth for students that is guided by on-going assessment. Currently, she teaches ALS 4204Concepts in Community Food Systems, ALS 4214 Capstone in Civic Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS), and collaborates in ALS 2204 Introduction to Civic Agriculture – required courses in the CAFS minor open to any undergraduate making the student demographic diverse and interdisciplinary. Additionally, she teaches HORT 4004 Horticulture Seminar where web-based electronic portfolios technology is connected to experiential practice. Her diverse pedagogical strategies are overlaid by appreciative inquiry, a transformative life-based, generative learning framework that positively impacts classroom culture and engenders a positive and reciprocal learning environment that fosters respectful exchange of ideas, openness, reflection and success. Lesson planning recognizes cognitive diversity, and promotes participatory and dialogue-based opportunities that integrate real-world experiential practice that go beyond passive listening. Various activities/assignments (critical reflection writings, community project proposals, food systems lexicons, grant proposals, and many more) include rubrics outlining expectations which help students envision what possibilities exist when doing their best work. Dr. Clark’s instructional strategies ask students to take a position on complex issues related to food and agriculture, and then compare, apply, evaluate, analyze, deliberate, debate, critically reflect, and synthesize new information in purposeful, meaningful, and affirming ways; make reasoned choices; and articulate logical arguments or propose solutions sensitive to ethical and cultural dimensions underpinning the issue with evidential support. Students learn through self-discovery and critical thinking, and participate in knowledge construction based in real-world community practice. In CAFS courses, students are critically thinking about how to address the complex issues facing agriculture and food. Courses are designed to uniquely build upon knowledge and skills in a stepwise manner, cultivate student-community partnerships across the curriculum to prepare them for the culminating capstone course. In this capstone course, students are empowered to design, implement and complete a community-based project with a community partner aligning their strengths and interests to the partner’s need for a project.

Dr. Clark considers mentoring students through the minor an incredibly affirming and rewarding experience – seeing them transform academically and personally as they grow in confidence and competence, make decisions, and take responsibility for those decisions –– all crucial transferable skills that open endless possibilities as they pursue lives of purpose through community engagement beyond graduation. As one student recalls: “The Civic Agriculture & Food Systems Minor was without a doubt the best experience of my undergraduate academic career and Dr. Clark, in collaboration with other instructors, was responsible for developing the dynamic curriculum centered around the cornerstones of food security and sovereignty, civic engagement, strong local economies, ecological stewardship, healthy people and communities, and experiential learning….. As a student, people are always telling you to find a mentor, a professor who is truly a friend, and for me Dr.Clark is definitely that person.”

Evidence of Dr. Clark’s teaching expertise include past teaching recognitions and comments from colleagues or students. She was Virginia Tech’s nominee for the National Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award (2013); and the National U.S. Professor of the Year Award (2012), sponsored by Council on the Advancement and Support of Education, and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Under her directorship HNFE’s dietetics program was the recipient of the University Exemplary Program Award (2011). Other teaching recognitions or awards have included Agriculture Scholar Woman of the Year (2011), Sigma Alpha, Pi; Office of Student Affairs and Residential Life Favorite Faculty Award (2010); and Standout Professor, 2009-2010 from Pan Hellenic Association. Past grant awards related to teaching scholarship focused on curriculum, teaching, assessment and electronic portfolios ($444,732); previous universities ($427,480 Radford University and $150,000 University of Kentucky).

Homepage: http://www.hort.vt.edu/People/Clark.html





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