Social Scientist Dr. Ryan Black awarded 2019 President's Distinguished Teaching Award

January 29, 2019 - Rebecca Jensen

Ryan C. Black is a scholar and teacher as well as an informed consumer of research and scholarship on teaching. As a new faculty member, he pursued a Lilly Teaching Fellowship, then “a year-long exploration of scholarship on effective practices in university teaching,” because he wanted to develop his skills in the classroom. He embraced everything the fellowship offered with zeal, and then implemented what he learned, almost immediately raising his teaching to a level of excellence noted by both his students and mentor. He continues to use his research and evaluation skills to improve the content and delivery of his courses every semester and has become one of the most highly decorated teacher–scholars at MSU.

In the classroom, Black is both empathetic and demanding — encouraging students to reach for the stars while helping them realize that they have to work hard to achieve their goals.

His teaching is distinguished by his eagerness to engage students in social science research. Although the methods and research topics he teaches are often difficult, he knows the analytical skills they gain are crucial to the discipline. For this same reason, he includes undergraduates in his research projects, providing important experiential learning opportunities that allow them to see research in both the formative and summative phases. Consequently, many of his undergraduate students have conducted research projects under his supervision.

Black is an expert on the U.S. judiciary, with a particular focus on the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Among his research projects, he has explored why the Supreme Court decides to review some decisions and not others and how justices’ votes can be predicted based on how they behave during oral arguments. He has co-authored three books and published more than 50 articles or chapters in peer-reviewed journals.

Black’s services to the department have been extensive. He designed and coordinated the department’s assessment protocols for the university accreditation process, and coordinated the evaluation process and conducted a content analysis of the papers in the Tier II writing classes. Black is regularly involved in graduate student orientation, leading sessions on backwards course design and writing closed-end assessments and rubrics. He supervises graduate student section instructors and involves them in lesson planning. Treating these classes as quasi-apprenticeship opportunities, he provides informal instruction on the teaching decisions he makes, hoping the graduate students will become mindful teachers in their classes and throughout their careers.

For his commitment to teaching and mentoring his students as well as his scholarly research, Ryan C. Black is most deserving of the President’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

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