SDSU graduate student Amber Alvey, of Scotland, continues a tradition that has brought distinction to the university for three consecutive years.
Alvey, a 2014 graduate of Scotland High School, is the 2020 recipient of the Pamela Cooper Award from the Central States Communication Association for excellent teaching by a graduate student. The two prior winners were Rikki Roscoe (2019) and Ashley Pikel (2018). Hanna Holmquist won in 2015. The region consists of 13 states from Ohio to Oklahoma.
Joshua Westwick, associate director of the School of Communication and Journalism at South Dakota State University, admits to being at a bit of a loss to explain the school’s recent success, but he knows it has something to do with its past.
“The foundational communication course at SDSU has been around for many years. Some legendary professors have directed the course, including Jerry Ferguson, Laurie Haleta and Nancy Wheeler,” said Westwick, who now co-directs the program with Kelli Chromey.
The strong current program also can be tied to “a comprehensive two-week training program (for graduate assistants) before the start of the academic year and ongoing training throughout the year. Graduate teaching assistants are also required to complete a graduate seminar in instructional communication. In addition, they participate in numerous professional development opportunities focused on teaching and learning,” he said.
Westwick added, “We also have been blessed with outstanding graduate teaching assistants who love their work.”
That’s where Alvey comes in.
A change of direction
The 2018 SDSU communication studies and marketing graduate was looking for opportunities in the field of marketing and communications as time for graduation neared.
“Dr. Joshua Westwick, my mentor, encouraged me that the master’s program would be good for my goals and future opportunities. I wanted to be comfortable talking to bigger crowds and be more effective interpersonally as well,” said Alvey, who was still thinking she would go into marketing and communications after completing her master’s degree.
Then she stepped into the classroom—72 freshmen and sophomores were gathered in Rotunda B for Speech 101, a general ed class many students wish wasn’t required.
“Being young, it can be intimidating to step into a classroom when you’re not that much older. But being young and letting them know that I understand helps me relate to the students. It helps them feel they can relate to me with whatever is going on in their life, being it in class or out of class,” said Alvey, who taught three sections of Speech 101 her three semesters as a graduate teaching assistant.
It’s her ability to adapt and relate to her students that make Alvey a strong teacher, she said.
Passion, enthusiasm for teaching
Westwick echoes that. “Amber’s passion and enthusiasm for the communication discipline, coupled with her student-centered approach to teaching and learning, make her an influential teacher.
“When you ask Amber’s students about her work in the classroom, you hear things like ‘amazing, she goes above and beyond, she made us feel comfortable speaking in front of others, she was always excited about the content, she makes class fun.’ In essence, Amber has thrived in the classroom because she has worked exceptionally hard to build meaningful relationships with her students and has developed unique ways to deliver course content,” he said.
The Covid-19 impact
Alvey was to receive her plaque at an April meeting of the communication association, but like so many other events, it has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The award will be presented at the 2021 conference, her cash award has been mailed and Alvey has had an opportunity to teach online.
“It’s been a good challenge. I miss that face-to-face interaction with my students. I still work hard to try to get that interaction as best you can and other faculty members are continuously checking in to see how I am doing,” said Alvey, who is having her public speaking course students record and upload their last two speeches to a discussion board.
Alvey will graduate in May with her master’s degree and is looking for a college teaching position, preferably at SDSU.
“I’m still keeping an open eye toward marketing and communications, but my heart is in the classroom,” she said.