The University of Central Arkansas is proud to announce Stephanie Vanderslice as the 2012 Arkansas Professor of the Year.
The award honors the most outstanding undergraduate professors in the country and is sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. As winner of the state award, Dr. Vanderslice was able to attend the November awards luncheon and congressional reception in Washington, D.C. representing the state of Arkansas.
She was selected from nearly 300 top professors in the United States.
Vanderslice is a creative writing professor as well as a general education (undergraduate) writing professor. She said she is elated to have won this award and is proud to represent the university.
"It’s a really big honor. Arkansas didn’t have a winner last year and it’s the first time UCA has had one in about 14 years," she said. "I was excited for myself and I was also excited for UCA. The faculty work really hard and I am just a representative of that. I was glad that I was going to get to represent UCA and the faculty and students here and how hard everyone works and what a great place it is."
She said her father was also a professor so she is proud that she got to keep the legacy going in the family. She also said her time at UCA has been well spent and that she has met amazing people throughout her career at the university.
"In the time I have been at UCA, since 1997, I have met the most amazing students and I just have so much joy walking into the classroom and getting to talk to them and finding out about their lives," she said. "Some of them are working hard and have overcome a lot and they’re here and grateful to be here. I just walk into a classroom and no matter what’s been happening to me else that day, it almost always makes my day better because the students are really receptive and they’re ready to learn."
Vanderslice is clearly passionate about her profession and about the students she comes into contact with.
Upon a visit to her classroom, one can see the creative use of time and everyday activities to turn them into something fun for the students. She even takes advantage of the roll call by posing a question at the beginning of the class. She may ask a question such as "What is your favorite food?" and use it to take roll. The students will answer the question one-by-one. This gives the students and the professor a chance to get to know each other and to possibly express their opinion on a topic.
A unique program that Vanderslice uses is called Class Dojo. It is an online program that allows the professor to enter the names of all her students and have them choose an icon to represent them. Throughout the course of the semester, the students earn points through this program from simple tasks such as creativity, teamwork, helping others and participation. She adds points to the student’s name on the program during class by simply using the smart board to touch on the student’s name and adding points. She said she uses this system to apply bonus points to students at the end of the semester.
Vanderslice is extremely enthusiastic and energetic while teaching her class. She gives the students options on what to write about and even includes a "choose your own prompt" on every assignment. She said she has them verify the topic with her, but that it is most always an acceptable topic. She is hands on with the students while they work, ensuring they get the best help possible to succeed on their assignments.
While most general education classes are seen as either boring or a waste of time to some students, Vanderslice makes sure the class can apply to whatever the student’s major is. She incorporates students’ interests and careers in the class by allowing them to write on topics that pertain to them or giving opportunities for students to write projects that could help them in another class.
The students have a great relationship with her, often consulting her for advice on projects while still being able to joke around with her and have a positive social interaction with her. She is like a friend to the students, yet she still retains the authority and respect needed to properly lead a class.
Vanderslice said her favorite thing about the process of the award was when she received her recommendation letters from her former students. She said the letters meant the world to her.
"The recommendations I got from that [weren’t] ‘oh how great I am,’ but here’s how I helped them in their lives. When I read those letters, I thought they were amazing, the things that they’d gone on to do and they felt I had some kind of part in-small part," she said. "When I read those, I thought ‘I don’t care if I win this award, these letters mean everything to me," that I got to experience these letters and read these letters. I just want to have some small part in helping these students make great lives for themselves."