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Sociology Professor Recognized for Reaching Students Through Pop Culture

Posted Dec. 6, 2010

Nancy Schiappa congratulates Marcussen.

The first time Kristen Marcussen stepped into a classroom to teach, visions of passing out ran through her mind. Now, 11 years later, the sociology professor is one of three recipients of the 2010 Distinguished Teaching Award.

When Marcussen, a three-time Distinguished Teaching Award nominee, was studying for her undergraduate degree at California State University, Fullerton, she had no plans to teach and had a fear of speaking in public. However, it did not take long for Marcussen to leap over those hurdles.

"After my first class, I got this energy rush," Marcussen says. "Although I like all aspects of my job, I've realized over the years that I am not as happy during semesters when I am not teaching."

Not only does Marcussen serve as an undergraduate advisor for the Department of Sociology, she also teaches Introduction to Sociology, Individual and Society and Sociology of Mental Illness.

Marcussen, a native of Orange County, Calif., uses pop culture references from films, music, books and TV shows to help students relate to the concepts and theories being presented.

"My main goal is to make something you do every day come to life for other people," Marcussen says. "Many of the students I teach aren't sociology majors, so it is my job to figure how sociology fits in with things they do in their everyday lives."

Students in Marcussen's Sociology of Mental Illness class were recently asked to analyze a movie or book that deals with mental health issues. After completing the task, Marcussen said her students were stunned by how the media can also have a negative impact by perpetuating stereotypes about people with mental health problems.

Marcussen may love teaching, but it is her students that help complete the experience.

"I think the students at Kent State are fantastic," Marcussen says. "I really like teaching and interacting with students who want to be in the classroom and take their education seriously. I believe that Kent State students are motivated and thoughtful, and because of that, they make teaching easy."

In the future, Marcussen hopes to reach out to other majors and give them ideas of what they can do with a sociology degree.

Such proactive demeanor earned Marcussen the honor of Outstanding Graduate Student Mentor on two occasions before becoming an associate professor.

"In the past few years, I have had the opportunity to work closely with some of our majors as they prepare for jobs, apply for graduate school, and make important decisions about their futures," Marcussen says. "That kind of teaching and advising really reminds me about the big picture associated with what we do on a daily basis. It is a different kind of accomplishment, and one I have grown to really appreciate."

Even though Marcussen has reached many peaks throughout her career, receiving the Distinguished Teaching Award tops her list.

"This is the single most rewarding thing that has happened during my sociology profession," Marcussen says. "It is especially nice to be honored for doing something you love to do."

The Distinguished Teaching Award, which is sponsored by the Kent State Alumni Association, is the university'smost prestigious teaching honor for tenure-track faculty. The annual award is presented at the Celebrating College Teaching conference to three full-time faculty members who demonstrate extraordinary teaching in the classroom and a commitment to impacting the lives of students.

By Erin Orsini