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Experiential Education Award Goes to Camacho

Monday, November 14, 2011

Witnessing her sociology students’ pursuit of knowledge and answers through active-learning methods significantly motivates the teaching prowess within Michelle Madsen Camacho, PhD.

“I feel my teaching is always a work in progress,” said the associate professor and first-year department chair of sociology at the University of San Diego. “I like to reflect on what’s working so that I can keep improving. That’s why I have my students give a one-minute reflection in the middle of the semester.”

Courses such as Contemporary Social Issues (Power and Inequality through Global Perspectives), Quantitative Methods, Qualitative Methods benefit from Camacho putting students in situations to collect, examine and interpret data through community-service learning projects or to discuss classroom exercises that expand their skills.

As a result of her approaches, Camacho is the recipient of the 2011 Innovation in Experiential Education Award. Since 1996, the honor has been given to a USD faculty member who has demonstrated innovative and successful experiential activities in their courses.

Camacho, nominated by her department chair predecessor and veteran sociology professor Eren Branch, said the recognition meant a lot.

“Persistence pays off,” she said at the conclusion of a Nov. 10 luncheon co-sponsored by the Center for Community Service-Learning and the Experimental Education Committee to recognize her work.

“This shows everyone that pedagogy is scholarship, that USD can be a leader in pedagogy development and take it to a new level,” said Camacho, the second sociology professor to win the award. Judith Liu, who Camacho calls “my teaching mentor,” won it in 1998.

Past award recipients are: Stephen Conroy, PhD, (Business), 2010; Evelyn Diaz Cruz, MFA (Theatre Arts), 2009; Kevin Guerrieri, PhD, (Languages and Literatures), 2008; Leeva Chung, PhD, (Communication Studies), 2007; Peter Kanelos, PhD, (English), 2006; Lonnie Rowell, PhD, (School of Leadership and Education Sciences), 2005; Susan Lord, PhD, (Engineering), 2004; Barbara Withers, PhD, (Business), 2003; Perla Myers, PhD, (Math and Computer Science), 2002; Not awarded in 2001; Luby Liao, PhD, (Math and Computer Science), 2000; Sandra Sgoutas-Emch, PhD, (Psychology), 1999; Judith Liu, PhD, (Sociology), 1998; Noelle Norton, PhD, (Political Science), 1997; and Michael Pfau, PhD, (Political Science), 1996.

Camacho’s dedication to a teaching method that helps students gain greater awareness and has lasting impact shows the value of experiential education. She delivered a presentation at the luncheon that addressed strategies to engage students in classroom conversation through active learning.

She discussed a kite-making activity in her Contemporary Social Issues course to prompt a discussion about privilege and inequality. The class was broken into six groups with varying resources to complete the task. The first group had the most resources and as she went from table to table, the resources dwindled. The result was six different kites and a variety of opinions.

Feedback ranged from guilt among those who didn’t recognize their abundance of resources compared those who did to students who admitted that their eyes were opened about privilege and inequality through a “simple activity like decorating a kite.”

Said one student: “Groups with less materials were acutely aware of their lack of materials while the groups with more hardly noticed they had more items to work with than others. I believe this activity was an important experience as it opened my eyes to different opinions and perspectives of daily life.”

Another student agreed, saying the hands-on approach to the activity left a stronger, lasting visual impression. “When you’re given many opportunities, you sometimes forget that not everyone had the same privileges as you do. My group discussed how poverty is often given a blind eye and we put a cover over the word on our kite to represent that.”

Active learning. Experiential education. Innovative results.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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