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Last modified: Friday, April 13, 2012

Christopher Todd Beer

The Lieber Memorial Teaching Associate Award

Doctoral Student in Sociology
Department of Sociology
College of Arts and Sciences
Indiana University Bloomington
BFA., Savannah College of Art and Design, 1993
M.A., Humboldt State University, 2003

Christopher Todd Beer

Christopher Todd Beer

Print-Quality Photo

Adventure has figured prominently in Christopher Todd Beer's adult life, but when it comes to teaching, he leaves little to chance.

Beer mixes up his methodology, using a variety of assessment tools and teaching styles to help his students inquire, communicate and learn throughout their lives -- with a reliance on facts and data, not the "pitfalls of personal anecdote and conjecture." Likewise, his teaching style, described as masterful and inviting, is rooted in empirical evidence.

"Becoming an effective instructor should not be an individual journey of isolated trial and error," he says of his teaching philosophy. "Early on, my approach to teaching was misguided by the idea that I would become a great teacher simply by improving after each experience. If something didn't work -- try something new. While improvement is part of my trajectory as a teacher, I have also come to the conclusion that teaching should be treated much the same way we treat questions within our research. We should rely on empirical findings. The humbling aspect remains the effective implementation of these well-tested techniques and methods in the classroom -- that is a continuous process."

"Todd does not assume mastery of teaching and learning; he constantly engages it," says Distinguished Professor of Sociology Bernice Pescosolido. This engagement finds Beer investing his time and energy in the department's Preparing Future Faculty Program; the PFF Shadowing Program with nearby DePauw University; Scholarship of Teaching and Learning activities and programs held locally and with the American Sociological Association; and events offered by the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. He has received the Sage/Pine Forge Press Teaching Innovations and Professional Development Award and his department's Sutherland Teaching award and Stewart Family Scholarship for outstanding teacher-scholars.

But this is only part of the story.

"I would argue that it is the teaching that Todd has done outside the classroom that propels him into the caliber of Lieber Award winners," Pescosolido says.

In three different years, Beer took U.S. high school students on five-week community service immersion trips to locales in Nepal, Tanzania and Kenya. He developed curricula and taught pedagogy to Mozambican preschool and adult literacy teachers. In the United States, he led multiple-activity wilderness expeditions for high school students in the Pacific Northwest, Northern California and Alaska, and he was a senior instructor in two-month educational rehabilitation programs for male teens in the wilderness of Utah.

"As a student studying global health, hoping to pursue a Master of Public Health degree after graduating from Cornell, I have to give Todd credit for helping me develop and grow into a leader that can work well with others from different cultures and explore the world around me freely," says a former student who participated in the immersion trip in Tanzania.

In Kenya, as part of the Africa Yoga Project, Beer co-designed and implemented a service-learning cultural immersion trip for adults called Seva Safari. Seva embodies the philosophy of service within the yoga tradition, says Africa Yoga Project executive director Paige Elenson. Beer developed and co-led a trip with his wife, Meghann, in which 20 adults from the U.S. and other countries built a community center in Kibera, Kenya, an area of tremendous need.

"Todd's contribution to developing this program has established a foundation that will expand AYP's impact in Kenya and the nations to which the participants return," Elenson says. "His teaching while on the trip was thoughtful, creative and impactful."

Elenson also says that Beer applies his considerable teaching skills outside the college classroom with "ease, flexibility and adventure."

In 15 years, Beer has taught a remarkable range of students. He has taught in mud-brick schoolrooms in rural Mozambique and on the snowy summit of Mount Adams, as well as in classrooms on the scenic Bloomington campus. He was given the department's Social Action Award for research, teaching and service that contributes to positive social change.

Brian Steensland, associate professor of sociology, says that "all this speaks to a central point: Todd has woven his commitment to teaching seamlessly into the warp and woof of his life as a scholar, and his students, here and abroad, have been greatly improved for it."

This fall, Todd will be joining the faculty of Lake Forest College, north of Chicago, as an assistant professor in the department of sociology and anthropology.