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Alicia E. Suarez

Lieber Memorial Teaching Associate Award -- Founders Day 2005

Doctoral Student in Sociology
Indiana University Bloomington
B.A., Indiana University, 1999; M.A., 2002

With her inimitable mixture of keen sociological observation, ambitious intellectual goals, and deep empathy for those on society's margins, Alicia Suarez inspires her students to question and explore social issues in new and challenging ways.

"I immediately noticed an energy . . . that was quickly passed along to her students," says former student Maureen Carolin. "Class discussion and participation were at a higher level than any other I had experienced in college."

Whether Suarez is teaching Sexual Diversity, Deviant Behavior and Social Control, Field Experiences in Sociology, or Introduction to Sociology, her innovative teaching style is all her own -- part instinct, part craft, and part thinking from the student perspective. Using guest speakers and examples from film, music, and other current media, she helps students connect with the material. She breaks large lectures into small discussions, encouraging students to formulate their own opinions about the most taboo subjects in a mature, respectful manner.

"Before her class, when I did not think about these issues, I had neither the resources to research and understand them, nor the language to discuss them. However, her class awakened in me an understanding and realization about the world. That understanding has carried over into many of my other classes at Indiana University," notes one of her students.

Initial experiences as a sociology teaching assistant inspired Suarez. "To see students 'get it' and become enthusiastic about the material was exhilarating," Suarez recalls. She had not always been a straight-A student, and so she understood how to motivate those who struggle.

"Alicia's atypical pathway to graduate work gives her an edge and an insight into teaching sociology. These factors have combined to make Alicia a wonderful teacher. Alicia is passionate about teaching; about her chosen topics, which she considers to be outside of the standard American student's view of the world; and most important, about student learning," say Department of Sociology Chair Robert V. Robinson and Chancellor's Professor Bernice A. Pescosolido. "She brings her own vision and experience as a person. She demands much of her students and much of herself."

Suarez is tough on her students. She's in control of the classroom, well organized, and a stickler for attendance and daily pop quizzes on the reading materials. However, "few have shown the care and dedication Ms. Suarez did," remarks former student Grady H. Bass. "Ms. Suarez went above and beyond her call of duty to help me volunteer successfully, complete the work that was required, and truly learn form the experience."

In spite of toiling on her doctoral dissertation ("So How Did You Get That?": Experiences of Individuals Living with Hepatitis C Virus), she makes time for students after regular office hours, encouraging, mentoring, and promoting internships and extra credit field assignments. After another instructor was unable to complete a course, Suarez stepped in and "did an amazing job," say Professors Robinson and Pescosolido.

Suarez consistently receives high marks and honors on student and faculty evaluations, and in 2003 she earned the Department of Sociology's Edwin Sutherland Award for Outstanding Teaching. To develop her teaching skills, she has utilized every available resource in the department and even gone off campus to shadow Professor Rebecca Bordt at DePauw University. "Alicia ranks among the top three AIs I have observed over my dozen years here at IU," notes Brian Powell, Grimshaw Professor of Sociology.

Elizabeth Armstrong, assistant professor of sociology adds, "She is one of those charismatic professors to whom students respond. Alicia loves teaching. She is fueled and energized by the classroom. She will only improve as she gains experience and will be someone who can and will teach great classes year after year."