Teaching award-winning professor to speak on how to address difficult topics

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Eric Silver, Penn State professor of sociology and criminology, will give a presentation titled “Elephants in the Classroom: How I Talk About Difficult Topics, and Why” as part of an annual lecture on outstanding teaching at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4, in the Foster Auditorium, Pattee Library, on the University Park campus. Co-sponsored by the Social Sciences Library, the talk is free and open to the public.

Silver is the inaugural recipient of the Malvin and Lea Bank Outstanding Teaching Award in the College of the Liberal Arts. The 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.

The Penn State sociologist is widely recognized as an accomplished teacher and scholar. His teaching and research focus on the sociology of deviant behavior and social control, particularly the relationship between violence and the mentally ill. 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. Silver also requires weekly written assignments in which students analyze class concepts.

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 understand behavior and attitudes that we take for granted in everyday life.”

Silver joined Penn State in 1999 as assistant professor and was named associate professor in 2003 and professor in 2010.  He also 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. This year, he was appointed to lead the college’s research office as associate dean for research.

Three years ago, Silver initiated a Teaching Forum with expert speakers sharing their best practices with the faculty and instructors in the department. In his previous position as associate head of the department, he also mentored faculty and instructors who were experiencing problems with their teaching. One example of his teaching innovation can be seen on his blog. 

“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.”

Last Updated October 25, 2013