Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008
Stephanie L. Shanks-Meile
Sylvia E. Bowman Award
Professor of Sociology
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
College of Arts and Sciences
University Graduate School
Indiana University Northwest
Appointed to IU faculty, 1987
B.A., University of Texas at El Paso, 1979
M.A., University of Texas at El Paso, 1981
Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1986
"Professor Shanks-Meile is a lover of learning . . . she helps her students discover what they already know, and then assists them in creating new knowledge collectively in the classroom."
--Charles P. Gallmeier, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Indiana University Northwest
Sociology Professor Stephanie Shanks-Meile's informal teaching style pushes her students to become active participants in their learning. In fact, many students say her lectures are more like conversations. She employs such learning tactics as rhetorical questions, humorous anecdotes, historical accounts, and current events discussions. Students say that they "learn without realizing it."
After she survived a life-threatening illness in 2003, Shanks-Meile says she better appreciates the importance of her role as an educator. As she recovered, students visited her in the hospital to tell her how much she had influenced them. Nurses commented to Shanks-Meile that she had an atypical hospital experience, receiving a constant stream of visitors who engaged in discussions and debates on sociological theory. "Our students stood out as thoughtful, intelligent, devoted, inquisitive, and good-humored, offering help to me when I was, at times, near death," she says. "Now the awards on my shelves and walls represent enlightenment, awakenings, and an emerging community of scholarship."
Her award collection includes four Teaching Excellence Recognition Awards, a Founders Day Teaching Award, and a Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching Award, as well as several national and regional awards for research publications. Her research has focused on the White Separatist Movement, which includes Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi, and Skinhead organizations. She has also published in the areas of theory and medical sociology.
"Dr. Steph," as students affectionately call her, does not use notes during class and does not merely impart her vast sociological knowledge to passive students. "She's extremely intelligent, but doesn't make you feel stupid," a former student says. "She uses her intelligence to raise yours."
Instead, Shanks-Meile focuses on student involvement. In one of her classes, students collaborated to create a plan to improve the U.S. health care system based on the research they conducted on other countries' systems. One student evaluation said that Shanks-Meile "has an excellent ability to teach the realities of how the world truly is. She instigates class involvement, and to me that is the most important aspect of the classroom. I only wish all my professors sparked interest in me, as this one has."
Shanks-Meile has spent 20 years teaching at IU Northwest, a university she chose because she is inspired by ethnically diverse and working-class students. "I am attracted to people whose lives have been full of personal challenges," she says, "rather than easy streets and silver spoons."
Mary Harris Russell, professor emerita of English at IU Northwest, wanted to spend the last part of her 38-year career teaching a women's studies class alongside Shanks-Meile. Russell added an evening class and an extra day to her teaching week because, she says, Shanks-Meile's "teaching style is so vibrant that I wanted to be around it for 15 weeks. She practices university teaching at its best."
In addition to her teaching, Shanks-Meile has advised IU Northwest student organizations such as the Sociology Club, the Women's Studies Student Organization, and Students with a Challenge. She served on the Americans with Disabilities Act Committee, where she advocated structural modifications to the campus so that students with physical disabilities could more easily get to their classes and activities. She also worked with the vice chancellor for academic affairs to change requirements for students with dyslexia who were unable to complete the modern language requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Shanks-Meile also served on the IU Bloomington sociology departments' Committee on Preparing Graduate Students for the Future Job Market, where she stressed the importance of preparing graduate students for job placement through courses on how to teach introductory sociology and by offering IUB doctoral students the opportunity to teach a number of different courses. "This makes our graduates more attractive to a broader range of campuses, including those that emphasize teaching as much or more than research," she says.
"In the end teaching is still an art form," says Roberta Wollons, chair of the Department of History at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, "and Shanks-Meile has made a lasting mark on the art and craft of the profession."