Associate professor is one of three faculty members University-wide to be honored
By: Lisa Baldi
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. —Cheryl L. Nicholas, associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Berks, is one of three Penn State faculty members University-wide to receive Penn State's Alumni/Student Award for Excellence in Teaching and be named a 2019 Penn State Teaching Fellow.
Nicholas teaches courses in intercultural communication, message evaluation, nonverbal communication, storytelling, and communication theory and research. She said knowing her students individually and understanding context is imperative to the learning process.
When she designs courses, she balances the strict guidelines that guarantee high academic standards with fluid strategies that create the best learning outcomes.
“There are different ways of learning,” Nicholas said. “As such, when I first develop a course or begin teaching a class, I always take a reflexive stance around the course of objectives. I evaluate the value of the course to the students as well as what is possible to achieve in the classroom both as a teacher and a student.”
Colleagues said Nicholas is excellent at teaching course lessons outside the classroom. She teaches intercultural communication over the sushi table. Her storytelling course comes to life during a trip to Salem, Massachusetts, at the site of the Salem Witch Trials. A course on research in comic book culture and community is conducted, in part, at the New York Comic Con.
“To say that she goes above and beyond for her students doesn’t even begin to cover it,” a colleague said. “She sacrifices her free time to create educational experiences for students that impact them for a lifetime.”
Students praised Nicholas’ unique approaches to teaching and use of nontraditional medium such as comic books to illustrate the powers of communication and interpretation.
“I’ve had the opportunity of studying ideas and storytelling, video games and food culture with Cheryl,” a student said. “Of course, the novelty of her classes draws you in, but even more alluring is how she gets her students to engage with the material outside of the classroom. Students visit the site of the Salem Witch Trials or learn about the traditions of Ethiopian culture and cuisine by talking to Ethiopian immigrants in Lancaster.”
Nicholas is an ethnographer who enjoys doing research in her homeland of Malaysia. Her research, which is grounded in language and social interaction, looks at how symbolic activity constitutes and is constituted by cultural worldviews.
In addition to Nicholas, John Affleck, Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, and Jeremy Blum, associate professor of computer science at Penn State Harrisburg were also named 2019 Penn State Teaching Fellows.
About the Penn State Teaching Fellows Award
The Penn State Alumni Association, in conjunction with undergraduate and graduate governing bodies, established the Penn State Teaching Fellows award in 1988. It honors distinguished teaching and provides encouragement and incentive for excellence in teaching. Recipients are expected to share their talents and expertise with others throughout the University system during the year following the award presentation.