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UW-Parkside’s Communication Department receives UW System’s highest honor

By Tannette Elie

Adrienne Viramontes accepts award

The Communication Department at the University of Wisconsin Parkside has been awarded the UW System’s Board of Regents Teaching Excellence Award. The prestigious award, the System’s highest honor, was presented to the department at the Board of Regents meeting on April 8 in Stevens Point. 

Dr. Adrienne Viramontes, associate professor and communication department chair, accepted the award on behalf of the department. Viramontes said the award honors the hard work of her colleagues, and reflects the department’s longstanding commitment to student success. 

 “For the past 30 years, the Communication Department at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, has worked hard to create student-centered courses and programs that are accessible to all students,” Viramontes said. “We focus on teaching our students usable skills for most jobs, even those that do not yet exist. We proudly accept this award and look forward to continue working for our students, so that they can determine the path to their own American Dream.” 

The Communication Department was also awarded $7,500, which is awarded to recipients that demonstrate exceptional commitment to and effectiveness in teaching. The funds can be used for further programming enhancements, such as professional development or teaching-related supplies and expenses. 

Dean Lesley Walker attended the Board of Regents meeting on behalf of the College of Arts and Humanities and to support the Communication Department. Walker lauded the department for the transformative experiences it affords students.  

 “This is a department that puts students first, affording them transformative opportunities through great classroom teaching, undergraduate research and impressive internships,” Walker said. “High impact practices are a hallmark of the department as is their commitment to social justice, exemplified by the Shakespeare in Prison Project.” 

The Shakespeare Prison Project is a communication course that works with incarcerated men at the Racine Correctional Institution to help them transform their lives though Shakespeare-focused theater. The project was founded in 2004 by Communication Professor Jonathan Shailor. 

In the Communication Department’s nomination materials, Chancellor Debbie Ford and Robert Ducoffe, provost and vice chancellor, said the department’s achievements “reflect their deep commitment to quality, to equity and the Wisconsin Idea.” 

“This award represents the amazing work of colleagues in the Communication Department,” said Ford. “We are grateful for their dedicated service to UW-Parkside and to providing transformative learning experiences to help prepare students for the 21st century global economy. This is a great example of the Wisconsin Idea in action.” 

The Communication Department’s nominating narrative emphasizes “the redesign of learning goals and high-impact practices that have had transformative effects on student learning and benefit historically marginalized student population. “The department’s use of community-based learning (CBL), capstone projects, and undergraduate research allows students opportunities to gain real-life experiences, according to criteria submitted by the department.   

Innovative and responsive teaching were also highlighted. One example is a CBL course around a series of community conversations titled, “Rebuilding Kenosha,” in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake and the chaos that ensued in downtown Kenosha. The course was developed by Shailor, who is also director of the Communication Department’s certificate program in conflict analysis & resolution.  

“By engaging directly with the concerns of the community, we all learned more about the beauty and brokenness of the City of Kenosha,” Shailor said. “…We saw that conflict resolution can be transformational when people – including the facilitators – invest fully and authentically in the process, and as they work for change, are willing to be changed themselves.” 

In another example of innovative and responsive teaching, the department worked with a senior communication major to survey students on their experiences during the pandemic. The department tailored its courses and teaching strategies to meet the educational needs of students in a pandemic landscape based on survey results. The main aim was to identify  students’ fears and understand their limitations “to avoid any delays in graduation and to work to keep all students active in our program,” Viramontes said. 

This is only the second time that a department at UW-Parkside and within the College of Arts and Humanities has won a Regents Teaching Excellence Award. The Theatre Arts Department won the Regents Teaching Excellence Award in 2009.  

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