Featured Faculty: Dr. Susan Serota Recognized for Excellence in Teaching
When she isn’t teaching, Dr. Susan Serota is often surrounded by faculty and furry friends. She is a recipient of the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Dr. Susan Serota, Professor of Education, walked into Hermann Lounge on a gray day in December 2022, expecting a midday meeting during her lunch hour. Instead, about 50 faculty, staff, and students shouted, “Surprise!” Members of Westminster’s Education Department revealed a generous lunch buffet and announced the Professor of Education was the recipient of the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Genuinely shocked, Serota laughed heartily and graciously accepted the award from President and Chief Transformation Officer Donald P. Lofe, Jr.
“Sue was very deserving of this award,” Lofe said later. “I and many others are personally very grateful for her many years of service to our students and the College.”
Established in the early 2000s, the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching is presented to one Westminster faculty member each fall. Award recipients are nominated by the Faculty Personnel Committee and chosen by the president of the College.
Read further to learn more about Serota and her nearly 20-year career at Westminster.
What year did you begin working at Westminster College?
In August 2004. I was originally hired as a Visiting Professor of Education, which is a one-year position. After three months or so, Dr. Linda Aulgur, now Professor Emeritus, asked me if I was interested in the tenure-track position they were opening, so I went through the interview process all over again! I’m entering my 20th year this fall.
Where were you prior to arriving at Westminster?
I had completed my doctorate work at Mizzou. This was the second time around for me at Mizzou. I also earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism for my undergraduate degree. My teaching degree, master’s degree, and terminal degrees in Education came later for me. I earned a master’s degree in Education from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and became certified to teach middle and high school at the same time.
Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in the Chicago area. I also lived for almost a decade in New Orleans, right in the heart of the French Quarter for a considerable amount of time. Then, as I mentioned, Las Vegas before returning to Columbia.
How did you become interested in teaching?
I was always interested in teaching, but my parents discouraged me the first time around. As they were teachers themselves, they were worried I would experience what they had: low pay, poor benefits, and inadequate respect as professionals. By the time I made the decision to go back to school to become a teacher, things were a lot better in the profession. I thank folks like my parents who walked the picket line in snow storms in order to better the field of education. I am thankful for that, and they were proud I took education to the next level myself by teaching and encouraging future teachers.
What inspired you to teach others to teach?
I taught high school social studies and journalism at a school for at-risk youth in Las Vegas. I asked the principal to let me choose 30 students at the school and form a leadership class. The school had no extracurricular activities or even daily announcements. The class brought so much to the school, including announcements. We started a school newspaper, went on field trips, had a prom, did charity work for the community, and even presented to the Clark County School Board. Our newspaper won major awards from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. I was nominated, of 10,000 teachers in the school district, for Teacher of the Year. Among 10 overall winners, I was selected Teacher of the Year.
In the teachers’ lounge, at lunch time, there were several teachers who were very distraught. They were young, right out of college on the normal path, and had trouble managing their classrooms. I had so much satisfaction helping them through these tough experiences. I started thinking that maybe it would be my next path to work with and guide those young people who wanted to teach.
What have you enjoyed most about Westminster during your tenure here?
I’ve had so many memorable experiences, but I would have to say my two years as Vice Marshal. I learned so much about the history of the College, was initiated as a Skull, and thoroughly enjoyed the responsibility of leading the faculty at events such as the Columns Ceremony and graduation. Another would be starting and contributing to the online classes offered at the College. Since we began offering online courses in 2011, I have taught every winter intersession and summer session. Finally, I truly enjoy being the division chair of the largest division at the College: Social Sciences.
What are your hobbies and interests?
Aha! I’m pretty much an avid pop culture fanatic. I can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about the Kardashians! I tell my students not to be embarrassed about such things. We all need distractions in life; I actually find them fascinating because one of my emphasis areas is family studies. They really offer a lot of insight into family and sibling relations!
What is your favorite way to spend a lazy Sunday?
That’s easy ― spending time with my dogs. I recently moved to Mexico, Missouri, to downsize my house due to mobility issues, and I purposely chose a property with lots of land. I built a huge fenced-in yard as well as another fenced in area in front of my house. My dogs have lots of room to run around, but they are mostly lazy. I currently have a greyhound (a retired racer), and two chihuahuas who I affectionately refer to as “my inheritance.” I got my parents’ dogs after they died. I had another greyhound, named Crazypants, who died recently at the age of 14. Lots of students on campus met him and were really fond of him. My dogs are wonderful and well-behaved!
Please tell a little bit about your family.
I lost my parents recently. I had moved them from Las Vegas to Columbia in 2016, so I got to spend a ton of time with them at the end of their lives. I planned a huge wedding renewal and party for them to celebrate their 60th anniversary in 2018. I’m so glad they had that experience. I have a brother who died in 2016 from a motorcycle accident, and another brother who lives with his family in Germany. I have a nephew in Germany I keep close contact with, as well as a niece I am really fond of who lives in Las Vegas. Other than that, it’s just friends for me ― including, and especially, Westminster friends! We are very close in the Education Department, and I consider them great friends as well as great colleagues.