Psychology professor wins national teaching award

by Kendra Mingo,

The American Psychological Association’s Society for the Teaching of Psychology has named Courtney Stevens the 2015 recipient of the Jane S. Halonen Teaching Excellence Award. This award is given to one early career psychology professor nationally to recognize excellence in psychology teaching.

In naming Stevens the recipient, the selection committee described her scholarship and commitment to student mentoring as “remarkable” and “above and beyond the call of duty.” As the committee wrote, “The highest compliment a teacher can receive occurs when her students hope to emulate her as they move forward in their careers. Each of Stevens’ students who wrote nomination letters expressed this quality about her. Some hoped to teach like her. Others hoped to emulate her research skills and scientific creativity. And still others hoped to inspire their own students like she did.

Letters from students described Stevens as “dynamic,” “brilliant,” and “supportive.” One former student, now in a doctoral program in psychology wrote: “I am learning how rare it is to find someone like professor Stevens who is truly passionate about both research and teaching.” Another described her experience with Stevens in a discussion-based senior seminar: “Stevens had a powerful way of leading our discussions and guiding us to dig deeper in our conversations, without her needing to say much. I felt empowered every time in her classroom that I could make a difference in the teaching profession, and I still feel that way to this day because of her encouragement, advice and knowledge.”

In his nomination letter, professor Jeremy Miller cited Stevens' excellence as a teacher, mentor and research scientist, who is “bursting with creative teaching ideas…” Professor Sammy Basu described her tenure at Willamette thus far as “fully active, teaching psychology courses at all levels, obtaining grants, publishing prolifically in her field, and engaging regularly in departmental and university service.”

In her supporting materials, Stevens described her primary goal as an educator to be the development of students’ capacity and confidence to think independently and to apply the critical thinking skills indicative of psychology. She has developed and taught seven different courses across the psychology curriculum at Willamette and has incorporated major service-learning components into three courses, including student-driven neuroscience community outreach projects, which reached more than 400 individuals in the Salem area.

As Stevens noted in her personal statement, “I put my heart into teaching. I deeply value the opportunities I have as an educator to work with and inspire students, and I strive to be a good steward of these opportunities.” And, as professor Basu wrote toward the end of his recommendation, “while professor Stevens is a consummate and exemplary professional, she is also both wonderfully personable and much too humble.”