With the goal of understanding and promoting community sustainability, Richelle Winkler introduces her students to new ways of thinking about society and how they fit within it.
Winkler, associate professor of sociology and demography, in the Department of Social Sciences, is the recipient of Michigan Technological University’s 2018 Distinguished Teaching Award in the Associate Professor/Professor category. Winkler teaches large, general-education Introduction to Sociology sections each year, and smaller courses that cater to social science students, graduate students or transdisciplinary students.
Winkler received her PhD in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2010. Prior to joining the Michigan Tech faculty, she worked as an applied researcher at the University of Wisconsin’s Applied Population Laboratory where she served as associate scientist and associate director. She was selected to give the inaugural Michigan Tech Research Forum Distinguished Lecture in 2016, and presented with the University’s Distinguished Service Award in 2017. Also in 2017, the Rural Sociological Society (RSS) presented her their Excellence in Instruction Award. In addition to RSS, Winkler is active in the Population Association of America and the International Association for Society and Natural Resources, for which she co-hosted the International Symposium for Society and Resource Management (ISSRM) on the Michigan Tech campus in summer 2016.
Winkler says her primary professional goal is to “understand and promote rural community sustainability.” Her teaching, research and service work all address this goal. She says she loves teaching at an introductory level where she is “able to get to know students from across campus and introduce them to new ways of thinking about society and how they fit within it.” She especially challenges students in these classes to consider their personal role in participating in a democratic society and how they can serve their communities and contribute to positive social change. Winkler serves as a Safe Place Ally and “strives to make her teaching as inclusive as possible.”
Former College of Sciences and Arts Dean Bruce Seely, sees Winkler’s integration of teaching and research as an ideal match for Michigan Tech. Seely says, “Richelle further amplifies the commitment to teaching that is a core value of the college. She is one of the many faculty who chose Michigan Tech precisely because she can pursue both teaching and scholarly endeavors. This balance is vital here. It’s a clear signal that of the value attached to both of these core faculty responsibilities. I’m proud of her.”
Perhaps what is most unique about Winkler’s teaching is her smaller classes take a community-engaged scholarship approach, integrating teaching, research and service. She engages students in working directly with community partners to address practical problems, foster rural community sustainability and promote empowerment of disenfranchised communities. As she sees it, this integrated approach pays big dividends: “Students learn how to apply knowledge, how to work in professional teams and how to make a difference in their community. “
Social Sciences Chair Hugh Gorman, agrees that Winkler’s incorporation of research and practice into her classroom dramatically increases relevance for students. He elaborates, “Richelle excels at turning the classroom into an opportunity for students to research questions of direct interest to the larger community. Whether the issue is related to establishing better recycling programs, exploring possibilities for community-scale solar power, or examining how neighboring municipalities can share services, Richelle helps her students transform theory into practice and move from abstract exercises to research that matters.”
Winkler’s students certainly confirm the value of these connected activities, but also give her high marks in the more conventional aspects of teaching, such as timely feedback and clarity. As one student puts it, “Dr. Winkler set clear goals and provided timely, high-quality and valuable feedback on assignments. On my papers and homework assignments, she would always make thoughtful and introspective comments and notes that demonstrated to me that she was doing more than just grading. I felt that she was truly making an effort to understand the points that I was attempting to make and then engaging in dialogue with me.”
Winkler will receive a $2,500 monetary award and a plaque at an awards dinner sponsored by the President’s office in the fall. Brigitte Morin, senior lecturer in Michigan Tech’s biological sciences department, is the recipient of the 2018 Distinguished Teaching Award in the Assistant Professor/Lecturer/Professor of Practice category.
By Michael Meyer
Published in Tech Today, July 9, 2018