Susan E. Alcock— 1998 Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award
The 1998 recipient of the Archaeological Institute of America’s Undergraduate Teaching Award is Susan E. Alcock of the University of Michigan. Sue Alcock has been a remarkably innovative and successful teacher for the Department of Classical Studies. Rather than focus on traditional genre or period divisions, her undergraduate courses deal with important thematic topics such as "Food in the Ancient World: Subsistence and Symbol" (which also had an accompanying web site and a student-organized museum exhibition), "Death in the Ancient World," and a seminar for first-year students called "Death on Display in the Ancient World." In addition, she substantially revised and reinvigorated two standing courses: "Introduction to Field Archaeology" and "Roman Archaeology." Enrollments for the "Introduction to Field Archaeology" increased by a factor of five after a single teaching—it now enrolls over 200 students.
Susan Alcock's courses integrate a variety of ways and methodologies on how to look at the past. Students praise her ability to make them see issues in a new light. As one said, "Sue's thinking is remarkably synthetic and wide-ranging; she sees connections and mutual intellectual interests across disciplines which in turn shed new light on given issues. This has inspired me to take classes and seek out discussion partners in comparative literature, anthropology, and in other areas of art history." She is often cited by students for teaching them to think critically, to go beyond their immediate preconceptions, and to question the current state of scholarly knowledge.
Professor Alcock's excellence in teaching has been recognized already by the University of Michigan. She has received the Class of '23 Award in 1995 for excellence in undergraduate teaching, one of the most competitive prizes in the University, the Michigan Association of Governing Boards award for a Distinguished Faculty Member in 1996, and, most recently in 1998, the University's highest honor for a junior faculty member—the Henry Russel Prize. Her citation for the Class of '23 Award neatly sums up her strengths as a teacher: "For her dynamic and enthusiastic teaching, her use of innovative and multimedia materials, her talent for making difficult material accessible and bringing the past to life, her transmission of professional and ethical standards, her time spent on field trips to show students the uses of the past, and, above all, her genuine concern for her students and their intellectual growth."
But beyond the prose of the University's citation, perhaps her students say it best in the end: "Alcock is amazing. I want to be her when I grow up." That is the best praise of all—a healthy sign that the future may hold yet another archaeologist for the profession, the ultimate legacy of a good teacher.