Alumni couple establishes outstanding teaching award

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It is said that the good teacher informs, but the great teacher inspires. Eric Silver, professor of sociology and crime, law and justice, combines a talent for teaching with a passion to enrich students’ experiences at Penn State, leading to his selection as the inaugural recipient of The Malvin and Lea Bank Outstanding Teaching Award for the College of the Liberal Arts. 

The $5,000 annual award was established with a generous gift by Mal and Lea Bank, who are alumni and longtime benefactors of the College of the Liberal Arts and Penn State. Mal Bank is 1952 Penn State graduate with a degree in arts and letters, and an accomplished tax law attorney with Thompson Hine LLP, headquartered in Cleveland. He served as general counsel for the Cleveland Foundation, one of the nation’s largest community foundations, from 1965 to 2003. He also has been a trustee for more than 30 charitable and educational institutions, and a director for more than 50 for-profit businesses.

“I really believe that teaching is very important. All higher education institutions should help all their faculty to achieve the highest quality of teaching and should reward the best teachers,” said Bank, a 2006 Penn State Alumni Fellow. “Sixty years after my graduation from Penn State, I still remember history professor Kent Forster and how wonderful he was. His classrooms were always full. I started to take any course he taught because he was such an outstanding teacher. I would like students to feel as I did with Kent and be inspired to come to classes and learn.”

Eric Silver joined Penn State in 1999 as assistant professor and was named associate professor in 2003 and professor in 2010. His teaching focuses on the sociology of deviance, social control and morality, and he conducts research on violence and the mentally ill.

Susan Welch, the Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, noted, “Eric strives not only to impart facts to students, but rather, he teaches students to think sociologically about the world around them. He helps to provide a new lens to see social structures that we typically take for granted in everyday life.”

One of Silver's most impressive classes is the upper-level Sociology of Deviance course, which has a larger than normal enrollment of 170 students. He goes beyond the lecture format and multiple-choice tests by adding facilitated group discussions and guest presenters to spark students’ interest and learning. He also uses technology such as a Facebook forum and cellphone texting during class discussions in response to his questions. He also requires weekly written assignments in which students analyze class concepts.

His student evaluations are consistently near perfect with a mean rating of 6.5 to 6.8, out of a possible 7.0 rating. Additional student comments include “Dr. Silver is an incredible teacher. His teaching style makes this one of the most interesting courses I have ever taken here at Penn State.” Silver also is is an excellent mentor of undergraduates and employs a number of undergraduate assistants to provide valuable experiences in teaching. The College of the Liberal Arts recognized him with an outstanding teaching award in 2005.

As a recipient of the Bank Outstanding Teaching Award, Silver will give a public lecture on undergraduate teaching this coming academic year and take part in a discussion in the new faculty workshop sponsored by the College of the Liberal Arts. Three years ago, he initiated a Teaching Forum with expert speakers sharing their best practices with the faculty and instructors in the department. In his additional role as associate head of the department, he also mentors faculty and instructors who are experiencing problems with their teaching. One example of his teaching innovation can be seen on his blog at http://www.nonjudgmentday.org/.

“To be recognized publically for doing something one absolutely loves is a true blessing,” said Silver. “The generous resources that come with the Bank award will help me greatly in my ongoing efforts to make my classes rigorous, relevant and remembered by students. I will use the award to further integrate innovative technologies into my teaching and to bring new and exciting guest speakers into the classroom to share their experiences with students in a way that brings the sociological study of deviant behavior to life.”

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Last Updated June 21, 2013