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Sheri Breen Receives 2014 UMMAA Teaching Award

Posted by Jenna Ray on Thursday, Mar. 27, 2014


Sheri Breen, assistant professor of political science, received the 2014 University of Minnesota, Morris Alumni Association Teaching Award. The award honors faculty members for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education by calling attention to educational philosophies, objectives, and methods.

Breen is, in the words of the nominating committee, “a paragon of excellence in teaching, advising, research, academic program development, and educational leadership.” Bart Finzel, vice chancellor for academic affairs and dean, affirms this statement, noting, “Breen’s rigorous teaching methods, her high expectations for both herself and her students, her educational leadership, and her consistent excellence in advising merit her receipt of this award. Her recognition is well-deserved.”

Breen aims to help students identify life’s most significant questions “and recognize the implications of the diverse ways in which these questions can be addressed.” An adamant supporter of the liberal arts, she hopes to prepare students for active, informed citizenship, regardless of careers paths or ideologies.

“Political theory is all about ideas, so what we do in my classes is take on concepts such as ‘liberty’ or ‘justice’ and examine them with a considerable amount of vigor,” says Breen. “This kind of approach influences how students approach controversy, decision-making, and negotiation. I love doing that.”

Breen implements teaching methods like extended role-playing simulations, field trips, and study abroad experiences. While she values traditional text-based analysis, she believes that simulations enable students to better understand historical contexts and retain conceptual arguments. Co-curricular travel, she argues, inspires feelings of excitement and provocation, which are fundamental to education.

As someone who is “always trying new things,” Breen now is looking to expand her simulation offerings and to identify new locations in which to teach study abroad courses. She also is connecting her teaching and scholarly activities by working with research assistants—an uncommon practice in the solitary field of political theory. It is an experiment that has proved successful thus far.

“They’re not just helping me,” she says. “I see this as a way of teaching them how to do and engage with research. There’s also the prospect of some co-authoring and some side research that they can take ownership of. This is something I’m having some fun with, and I think it’s really valuable.”

Invoking the words of author-scholar Leo Tolstoy, Breen asserts that the point of life is not to come to any particular answers, but to identify the questions with which we all must wrestle, and that, to her, “is what the liberal arts are all about.” Based on her selection for the award, it seems her colleagues and students agree.

Breen earned both a bachelor of arts and a doctor of philosophy from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities before joining the Morris campus community in 2007. Her areas of expertise include political theories of nature, sustainable agriculture and stewardship, and ecological reformulation of property theory.