When the national news reports that another youth has shot and killed a family member or peer, assistant professor Alison Burke turns the tragedy into a lesson for her students: How could this have been prevented? What policies could help deter violence in society?
In her first year as a full-time faculty member, Burke, 33, assistant professor of criminology at Southern Oregon University, has been recognized by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences for "significant promise in teaching."
She traveled to Boston this week to receive the honor, called the SAGE Junior Faculty Professional Development Teaching Award and funded in part by SAGE publications.
Burke teaches classes on criminological theory, crime control policy and environmental crime.
Burke and 16 others were chosen from 39 candidates from throughout the nation after writing essays about their teaching methods. While in Boston, the winners will learn developments in the field and discuss issues ranging from racial profiling to recidivism during the ACJS Professional Development Teaching Workshop.
Burke says she strives to keep her students engaged and make "theories applicable to real life."
To demonstrate the complexities of defining race, for example, Burke shows pictures of people from different races and ethnic backgrounds, then asks her students to name what group each individual belongs in.
Invariably, no one chooses them all correctly.
"I try to get the material across in any way that will really help the students understand," Burke says.
Student Charmaine Tripp says she's taken a couple of classes from Burke and appreciates her methods.
"I would definitely say that she encourages and challenges students to think critically," she said.
Burke hopes students will make connections between criminal behavior and whether criminal justice policies are successful in helping society stem crime and violence.
"By becoming a better educator, I hope to encourage learning," Burke says.
CÃ©lia Caracena is a Southern Oregon University intern. Reach her at 776-4464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.