An Active Educator
English Faculty Member Karin Barbee Recipient of Rice Award for Outstanding Teaching
By Julie Bonk—Student Writer
Despite winning the 2017 Eileen Rice Award for Out-
standing Teaching, Siena Heights University Associate Professor of English Karin Barbee remains humble about her accomplishments.
Barbee said she was “shocked” when she learned she had received the award.
“It was surprising,” Barbee said. “I spent a lot of time on the speech for the Fall Convocation because I knew I had to take advantage of this because I’m never going
to get it again.”
Barbee mainly teaches composition and creative writing and occasionally literature. She spent seven years teaching at Bowling Green State University before coming to Siena Heights.
When it comes to her teaching philosophy, Barbee said she likes to focus on the students and their personal improvement.
“I really do think that learning is a process,” she said. “Writing in particular is a skill that takes time to master. I’m not sure any of us ever actually master it, not really. And so I think of being a writing teacher as being someone who gives students direction and encouragement rather than answers.”
And Barbee said she likes to emphasize improvement.
“I don’t care if you go from writing D papers to A papers in one semester,” she said. “In fact, that’s probably not a realistic goal. I just care that you’re getting better and have the confidence to keep working at it once you leave my class. Part of that is just making students comfortable with me. They have to know that I’m not judging them or being the ‘Grammar Nazi’ they often think I’ll be.”
While most professors might shy away from teaching a basic writing course like English 101, Barbee said it’s her favorite class to teach.
“A lot of people can’t believe I like it,” she said. “I actually really enjoy it because the students I get in that class know they need help. They embrace it in a way that a lot of the students that test into say 102, who a lot of times came out of high school getting As in every English class they took. Many of them are hesitant to take any criticism. In English 101, you don’t get that. You get students who are there, and they know they need the help. And I actually have a lot of fun with it. I like being able to see the improvement.”
Three years ago she started the Social Responsibility Committee on campus that has really flourished. Because of the efforts of the committee, the University funds mini projects on campus for social responsibility through what are called “SHU SOUP” events. Barbee also served as SHU’s Writing Center director.
As the Rice Award winner, Barbee was asked to give a speech at the annual Fall Convocation that begins the academic year. Barbee said she her speech tried to emphasize how much people learn at Siena Heights. She said she hopes high education as a whole steps up to the challenge of doing more than just teaching social change.
“You can go through the motions. You can get your degree. You can teach the material even. And sort of talk about it, write about it. But applying it to your life is a different thing,” she said. “I read all these articles and I read all these stories about things that are happening in the world, but do I really let it change how I behave? I don’t know. That was certainly the point of my speech is to sort of emphasize the importance of social responsibility, social justice, compassion and apply some of these things.”
Barbee was very appreciative of her colleagues, especially her husband, Matt Barbee, who also teaches in the English Department.
“I really don’t think I’d be half the teacher I am if not for the folks I work with in the Humanities Division,” Karin said. “They all help me to stay focused and inspired, everyone from the administrative assistant to my fellow English professors. I am especially inspired by my husband, who, truth be told, is a much better teacher.”
“I have the great privilege of working alongside and raising a family with one of the finest teachers I know,” said Matt, who chair the English program. “Karin is smart and creative, caring and tough, and she has long set a standard that I try to emulate. I have become a better teacher by working alongside her, and am inspired and guided by her innovative and rigorous course design. Moreover, I am in awe of her commitment to her students and the community. Karin has a deep commitment to inclusion, fairness and justice, and her courageous commitment to those values spurs me to be a better citizen and teacher. I am blessed to have her as a peer, a friend and a partner.”