In a class all her own
Students praise award-winning professor for her enthusiasm and compassion
by Sherry Wodraska Neaves
All through high school Rebecca Deen's friends and teachers told her, "You're so smart. You should be a lawyer."
So she set off to college with a legal career in mind.
Her undergraduate advisers at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, said, "If you want to be a lawyer, you should major in political science."
So she did that, too.
"She thinks that what she's researching and studying is the coolest thing in the world, and she wants to share that with us. She's probably the best professor I've ever had."
-senior Annie Tuttle on political science
Assistant Professor Rebecca Deen
And it changed her life. Law would not be her career.
"I loved political science," she said. "I loved the ideas my professors talked about. I got hooked on the process of studying political science in a scientific way."
While earning master's and doctoral degrees in political science at Ohio State University, Dr. Deen focused her research on the American presidency and women in the political process. As a graduate student, she also began teaching.
"Going in, I felt completely unprepared, with no earthly idea where to begin. That first class, I was petrified. But then it was as if the stars aligned. I knew this was what I was meant to do."
Now a political science assistant professor, Dr. Deen came to UTA in 1997. Working in academia allows her to combine intensive research with the lively give-and-take of the classroom. She thrives on both.
"Teaching is a transference of energy," she said. "When I discover something in my research, I want to rush to my classroom and share it with my students. I feel so fortunate that I can expose my students to all kinds of ideas. I want them to be informed consumers of information so they can figure out for themselves if the evidence is persuasive."
Shortly after she entered Dr. Deen's classroom, senior Annie Tuttle decided she had found the University's best professor. "She really cares about all of her students," Tuttle said. "She always makes you feel welcome and never makes you feel like you're wasting her time. She thinks that what she's researching and studying is the coolest thing in the world, and she wants to share that with us.
"She's probably the best professor I've ever had."
Other students share Tuttle's assessment, and many of them joined her in recommending Dr. Deen for The University of Texas System's highest teaching recognition, the Chancellor's Council Award for Excellence in Teaching, which she won in 2001-02. The same year, she also received the College of Liberal Arts' premiere teaching honor, the Golladay Award for Outstanding Teaching.
In Dr. Deen's classes, students do more than listen to the sage on the stage.
"Learning takes place in the engaging of ideas," she said. "I want my students to look things over, turn them inside out. That doesn't happen if they just sit and let my words wash over them." Her students examine and discuss ideas, write research papers and present their conclusions in class.
"Rebecca is one of our most outstanding young faculty," department Chairman Dale Story said. "While she is rigorous and demanding, she inspires and excites her students."
Every student brings new challenges to dedicated teachers like Dr. Deen.
"Teaching is very organic," she said. "You have to pay attention to the way students in class this particular semester learn best. The way we explore a concept one semester may not be the same way we do it the next.
"You have to find the way to connect with them."