Exemplary Teacher Award winner: Alicia Suarez

2024

Alicia Suarez erases notes from the board
after one her courses.Suarez, who won the
Exemplary Teacher Award, is a
professor of sociology.  
EMILY MCCARTER / THE DEPAUW 

Any student who has taken a class with Professor Alicia Suarez will tell you roughly the same thing; she’s amazing.

This past week, Suarez was recognized for her ability to permeate student’s interests in and outside the classroom when she, along with Marnie McInnes, received the Exemplary Teaching Award from the General Board of Higher Education of the United Methodist Church.

According to DePauw University’s press release, made possible by a “gift from 1942 DePauw University graduates George and Virginia Crane, the award recognizes faculty members who exemplify excellence in teaching; civility and concern for students and colleagues; commitment to value-centered education; and service to students, the institution and the community.”

“I am ecstatic; it’s such an honor,” Suarez said. “I’m just one of those people, and I think most of my colleagues are too, who I just love what I do. I’m incredibly passionate about teaching, so it’s really wonderful to have that recognized. I feel very honored because [teaching] is my world and I love it; I put my heart and soul into it.”

Students see her commitment through the time she spends choosing class readings, facilitating discussion and by bringing an unmistakable energy to the classroom and the material.

“Specifically, Professor Suarez deserves this award because she exceeds the criteria for it,” said senior Celia Klug. “She is an excellent teacher, who shows concern and support for her students as well as colleagues, is committed to teaching with character and serves her students and community.”

Suarez is not afraid to challenge her students’ ideas and comfort levels, but never in a way that is scary or intimidating.

“[She teaches] students material that may be taboo while challenging them to question norms and discover how society functions, she supports her students and colleagues within and outside of the classroom, she exposes students to new ideas, but does not force ideas upon them, respecting their convictions, and she is available and present,” Klug said in an email on Monday.

Suarez received her Bachelors, Masters and Ph. D in Sociology from Indiana University at Bloomington. A DePauw faculty member since 2008, she is currently teaching classes in Social Theory, Women’s Studies and Sexuality, Culture and Power.

“My goals for my classes are to get my students excited for the social world; to look at the social world, and understand social phenomenon through a new lens,” Suarez said. “[I want to] have my students leave my class with a new way of thinking about why people do what they do or why society is the way it is.”

With a specialty in Medical Sociology, she has done extensive research on Hepatitis C. More recently shifting her research to pregnancy, birth and midwives, Suarez will be going on sabbatical next year where she will study women who are pregnant and incarcerated, and their experiences giving birth while incarcerated.

“I teach a lot of classes that are on subjects that are maybe more controversial, and can be potentially uncomfortable,” Suarez said. “I work really hard to make it comfortable for students to get into that material in a way that they can feel some ownership of it, and leave the class by the end of the semester like, ‘Woah, I can think about this and talk about this at an academic level that I didn’t realize I could talk about a subject like that.’ That’s a goal of mine that I strive to do. I enjoy teaching about subjects that are marginalized for whatever reason.”

Students value Suarez and the way she engages them in the material, while also relating it to their own lives.

“As an academic, she pushes me far past my own understanding, forcing me to critically unpack theories and conversations that I have not flushed out completely enough,” said senior John Yates.

Suarez is involved in countless committees and advocacy groups. On the university level, she is on the Institutional Review Board committee, Diversity and Equity Committee and has been on the task force for the Status of Women and Families. On the professional level, she is a part of the Indiana Midwives Association and the steering committee for a federal advocacy group for Hepatitis called the National Viral Hepatitis Round Table. She also volunteers at the Indiana Women’s Prison for a non-for-profit called Angel’s Wings Inc., working with pregnant and new mothers who are incarcerated.

“I take my research interests and I get involved and apply my academic expertise in a means of advocacy, so that’s important to me,” Suarez explained.

Possibly the most important aspect to Suarez is the way she invests in her students as people and friends.

“Professor Suarez has an open mind and a wonderful heart, and when it comes down to her relationships with her students, she really takes on a personal interest and truly cares,” said senior Christina Phanthao. “She’s a great human being, professor, sociologist and friend.”

“We need more teachers like Professor Suarez. She is part of an extra special group of teachers that make DePauw ‘uncommon,’” Yates said. “Professor Suarez teaches some of the most fascinating, uncommon and thought provoking material offered at DePauw. That, coupled with fostering relationships with her students, is the quintessential recipe for uncommon success.”