The winner of Fontbonne University’s 2010 Joan Goostree Stevens Excellence in Teaching award prefers to be on a first-name basis with her students. And not because of any misplaced notions about being their buddy, but because, she said, she’s more like them than not.
This assistant professor of sociology, 30, believes that learning shouldn’t be a solitary experience. “I tell my students that it’s you, me and the author of the textbook, and between the three of us, we can get an A,” she said. “It’s a team effort.”
Her classes are dynamic, ever-changing. Her worst fear is burning out. And above all else, she believes in the students she teaches.
“I feel like all the students have capabilities and abilities, but it takes certain classes, subjects and environments to make them shine,” she said. “I get my biggest reward from the students who feel like school is a chore and teaching them that learning and being smart is actually cool. You learn, not just to get a job, but to become an educated individual.”
Stoelting, originally from Springfield, Ill., began her own college experience as a self-admitted “mediocre” student at Illinois College. She played college volleyball and planned to teach high school biology. After two years, she transferred to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where she took her first sociology class. And it changed everything.
“It’s a whole new way of thinking,” she said, describing her chosen discipline. “It presents perspectives of the world that we are foreign to but live in everyday. You almost feel duped. Are we so ingrained in our own lives to recognize what is really going on? It’s like getting glasses, and suddenly, you can see clearly.”
Encouraged by one of her sociology professors, Stoelting changed her major. And when she couldn’t find a job after graduation, she applied to the school’s graduate program in sociology, landing an assistantship position and, at 23, teaching her first class — an introduction to sociology course. She was hooked. “I absolutely loved it,” she said.
Stoelting taught at SIUC while she earned her master’s and then her doctorate in 2008 — a year after she accepted her position at Fontbonne. She readily recognizes the impact that teachers have had in her life, and she strives to provide a similar experience for her own students. Her favorite class to teach is still introduction to sociology.
“It’s so important to have a full-time professor in lower level classes. That’s where the students get hooked,” she said. “Freshman are, by far, my favorite group of students. Their first exposure to sociology is exciting to see every time.”
In addition to receiving the 2010 Joan Goosetree Stevens Excellence in Teaching award this spring, Stoelting accepted the position of director of Fontbonne’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. The center provides a collaborative environment for faculty where they can participate in programs and find resources devoted to their professional development. In addition to teaching her regular classes, Stoelting will organize and coordinate programs, compile materials, maintain the center’s physical location on campus, and generally help herself and her colleagues become better teachers. She can’t think of a better use of her time.
“Even if you’ve been teaching for 15 or 20 years, this is an entirely new generation of students,” she said. “As a teacher, you have to keep changing.”
Sound advice, it seems, from a teacher who has earned the respect of her colleagues and students alike.
“In a profession that does very little praising, to get an award that’s so significant, it was a real honor. I so appreciated it,” Stoelting said as she put her hand over her heart. “It affirms that I’m doing something right.”
Read about Fontbonne's 2010 Part-Time Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award recipient, Belinda Farrington.
Read about Fontbonne's 2010 Scholar/Artist Award recipient, Deanna Jent.