Kelsey Ellis, assistant professor in the Department of Geography, received the Junior Excellence in Teaching Award during the 2018 College of Arts and Sciences faculty awards dinner. She was nominated based on both her excellence in the classroom and her contributions to the new geography curriculum.
In her classes, she focuses on the students acquiring skills and lessons that can be part of their life beyond the semester. For example, in Geography 434: Climatology, she works with students to understand how science is communicated and how to find and summarize scientific manuscripts. Another example is in Geography 453: Extreme Weather Climatology, for which each student studies and presents on a current scientist in the field. They learn who is doing science, why they chose their field, and how they got there. Students can even choose to interview their scientist and a few have kept in touch with their scientist well after the course was over. In Geography 131, Ellis incorporates lessons on how to take notes, how to study, and once even helped a student learn how to do laundry. Her students take away not only the weather and climate content from the course, but important lessons they can apply to their area of expertise.
“According to her students, they want to be in Dr. Ellis’s classes because she knows how to teach and takes the time to personally engage the students,” said Chuck Collins, associate dean of academic programs, during the awards ceremony. “Dr. Ellis designs her courses to engage the students in different ways, and to let them know that she truly cares about their success. She lectures in ways that support different styles of learning, and follows up with students that are struggling.”
Outside of traditional classroom teaching, Ellis is a mentor or advisor for many graduate students and undergraduate researchers. In the past few years, she has mentored more than a dozen undergraduate researchers, some of which have published their work and many of which have presented at regional or national conferences. Ellis recently graduated her first PhD student from our program, Alisa Hass, who is now employed at Middle Tennessee State University. Ellis mentors five graduate students working in the field of atmospheric hazard climatology and vulnerability. Her dedication to graduate student mentoring, work-life balance, and student rights led the graduate students to award her with the Graduate Student Advocate Award last spring.
Ellis was also a part of redesigning the undergraduate geography curriculum. The new curriculum replaces the general undergraduate degree in geography to one that allows students to customize their program of study by selecting a concentration that best suits their interests. Recent graduates and current students that have studied under the new curriculum have praised the opportunity for a more tailored course structure. Along with the new concentrations, the department has launched several new minors, including one in climate change, led by Ellis. The new minors should help pull in students from other departments and colleges and make the geography footprint across campus even greater.