UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jennifer Parker, associate professor of sociology at Penn State Lehigh Valley, has received the 2018 President’s Award for Engagement With Students.
The award is given to a faculty member who goes beyond his or her responsibilities to engage and encourage students in learning. The honorees have made themselves available to interact with students outside class, link students to opportunities, and help them build their confidence as learners and potential contributors to society.
Colleague said Parker uses real-world projects and professional organizations to engage her students, forging connections between academia and community improvement. Recently she connected her class to the Lehigh County Department of Health in a partnership that focused on the study of drug and opioid use in the region. There, the students conducted a formal study of college students’ exposure to opioids and other drugs.
“This study helped fill a gap in Lehigh County’s knowledge areas, and the students made a formal presentation to county representatives,” said a colleague. “Subsequently, the county department officials shared this report with other local and state regions.”
Some of the students will present another paper that stemmed from this project at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in Philadelphia in August 2018.
Parker’s partnerships with organizations such as a local homeless shelter in the United Way have allowed her students to form bonds with nonprofit organizations and, at times, secure job opportunities.
“Helping her students develop linkages to professional organizations serves to empower students in their careers, offers real-world experiences that make a difference in their coursework, and provides a pathway to stronger engagement and excitement with academic theory,” a colleague said.
Parker helps organize campus events focused on ways to promote student learning outside the classroom. One recent example, a panel discussion, included individuals with a variety of backgrounds — an ACLU attorney immigration expert and various spokespersons on religion and other areas.
An International Food and Entrepreneurs Series that Parker co-founded exposes students to diverse communities leaders and entrepreneurs and serves as a stepping stone to broader initiatives involving human rights. Through this event, Parker linked students to diverse community groups within the Lehigh Valley.
“The community contacts typically come through the Penn State Lehigh Valley student body,” said a colleague. “This helps highlight the diverse campus student body while connecting the campus population to diverse cultural venues in the community. The events have drawn considerable media attention and forged connections between students, faculty and staff.”