Nick Tobier named winner of 2009 Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement

Nick Tobier has been awarded the 2009 Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement. The award recognizes early-career faculty who practice exemplary engaged scholarship through teaching and research. Recipients are selected on the basis of their collaboration with communities, institutional impact, and high-quality academic work.

Nick Tobier, Assistant Professor in the School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, has—through his scholarship, teaching and publicly-oriented art—demonstrated an impressive commitment to engagement both within the University of Michigan, in the communities in which he lives and works and in communities across the nation and the world.

Nick strives to unite engagement with the creative process in the courses he teaches. Since 2005, his course entitled “Detroit Connections,” involves undergraduate and graduate students from the School of Art and Design in teaching art to fourth-grade children in underserved Detroit public schools. In preparation for the teaching experience, Nick requires his students to spend considerable time becoming familiar and interacting with the neighborhoods and communities in which the school children live. This experience, as one colleague commends, “gives [the] students a much deeper understanding of the cultural, environmental, educational and economic environment that is shaping their [mentees’] lives.” In a recently developed summer course, he and a group of undergraduates lived with families in Detroit while constructing an outdoor classroom at an urban farm run by a local soup kitchen.

Nick also teaches a required course in which first-year Art and Design in which students are organized into “mini-communities” where they share resources and ideas within their groups and with other groups, generate collective artistic philosophies during the creative process and collaborate on the design and construction of each 14-foot tall puppets for Ann Arbor’s annual FestiFools Parade, a festival that Nick co-conceived and co-founded. As one Art and Design professor noted: “The institutional impact of this experience is enormous. Every student who is part of our Art & Design program by the end of their first year…will have experienced what it is like to work together on something larger than their private vision and desires. They come away with a concrete awareness that in every subsequent class they take, there is an expectation of developing a language that has larger resonance within ever expanding layers of community.”

In addition, Benjamin Kirshner and Michele Wakin received citations for distinguished engaged scholarship.

Benjamin Kirshner, Assistant Professor in the School of Education at the University of Colorado, Boulder, uses innovative community-engagement approaches in his scholarship and teaching in the areas of youth engagement and activism, a focus that stems from his experience working as an educator in San Francisco’s Mission District. He has designed courses that incorporate community-based research to better understand the importance of “youth voice” and the formation of youth political identity and agency. These courses, such as his successful year-long “Action Research for Youth and Community Development” and “Youth Development, Citizenship and Social Justice,” have provided undergraduate students with the skills and knowledge to undertake collaborative research with community partners.

Currently, Ben is conducting a study of a community organization that mentors and supports young people who seek to become the first in their families to attend college. He has also been a lead participant in interdisciplinary scholarship of engagement projects with colleges and schools at UC-Boulder and he is an active member of the University’s Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement. Emulating the work of Harry Boyte, Ben attempts “to conduct research as ‘public work’” that addresses “problems of public significance” and that is “pursued collectively and builds bridges among people from diverse walks of life.” This engaged approach, he writes, “has enabled me to…be a ‘soldier’ rather than a ‘missionary.’ A soldier puts himself in the trenches with the people with whom he works; he is part of the team rather than a detached observer.”

Michele Wakin, Assistant Professor of sociology at Bridgewater State College, writes: “My focus on inequality and social justice unites my research, teaching and service with the overall goal of drawing attention to and maximizing opportunities for social and educational growth and civic engagement.… Raising awareness…is not enough. In order to create social change, we must engage all stakeholders in the process of discovering what issues we are best equipped to handle and tackling them collaboratively.” Michele’s interest in social justice began when she was a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara and her subsequent teaching and scholarship have highlighted and reinforced the connection between sustainability, social justice and community activism.

During her four years at Bridgewater State College (BSC), Michele has provided venues for her students to engage in service learning and community-focused research that require intensive collaboration with local homeless service organizations and meaningful community outreach through courses like “Sustainable Cities” and “Homelessness in US Society.” In addition to her faculty work, Michele is co-coordinator of the Center for Sustainability at BSC, where she strives to increase student awareness and engagement around social justice issues on campus. Among her many notable achievements in this position, is the development of the “Teaching Module Project,” a campus-based model that invites faculty and staff members to develop short lesson plans, videos, PowerPoint presentations, or classroom exercises to share with other faculty. Additionally, Michele chairs BSC’s Task Force to End Homelessness, which involves students and faculty in regional and community efforts to reduce homelessness and she initiated The Bridgewater Scholars Program, designed to offer scholarships, including tuition and fees, to qualified homeless applicants.