Two receive WMU’s highest honor for teaching

contact: Deanne Puca
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University will honor two faculty members this week for being exceptional educators and mentors and demonstrating outstanding dedication in their work.

Allison Downey, associate professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies, and Dr. Michael S. Nassaney, professor of anthropology, will be recognized as the recipients of this year's Distinguished Teaching Awards during WMU's Academic Convocation at 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, in the Dalton Center Recital Hall.

The annual event includes WMU President John M. Dunn's State of the University address along with the presentation of other campuswide awards honoring this year's Emerging Scholar, Distinguished Faculty Scholar and the recipients of the Distinguished Service and Make a Difference awards.

Allison Downey

Photo of Allison Downey.


Allison Downey has been a faculty member since 2003. She is a storyteller, singer and songwriter, writer and educator who focuses on the power of story, song and the arts to build community and learn about others. She educates future teachers to apply the tools, techniques and skills of the arts to enhance interdisciplinary curricula.

She was praised by her nominators for her engagement with her students and for having the ability to make people achieve a level of comfort in recounting a story in public. In addition to sharing her storytelling skills with future teachers, she also has taught her discipline as a general education offering and this year, she piloted a Storytelling in Business course. She was lauded for weaving the idea of storytelling into unusual disciplines.

"Allison is passionate, dedicated and an asset to WMU," wrote one former student. "She has taken an art form and applied it to the sometimes dry world of business, adding a dimension to the development of future leaders that will set them apart."

Another former student noted how thoroughly Downey read and responded to the stories being developed by students in the management seminar she teaches, and how she recalled their words, and used them as examples in her classroom lessons.

"After a few classes with Allison's lively dialogue-centered lectures, we have all learned a lot about the business world and about ourselves," wrote another student.

Downey's commitment to her students has been in evidence more than ever recently despite her own health challenges. Her commitment to her students to build their stories, those students say, has increased rather than been diminished and her enthusiasm for teaching and her upbeat demeanor remains unbowed.

"We have to stop her from going the extra mile for us," another student concluded in his assessment of her work in the classroom.

Downey earned a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and her master’s degree from the University of Texas-Austin.

Dr. Michael Nassaney

Photo of Dr. Michael Nassaney.


Dr. Michael Nassaney has been a member of the WMU faculty since 1992. He is the principal investigator of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project, which for more than a decade has focused on uncovering remains of one of the most important Colonial outposts in the western Great Lakes. In addition, he has directed the annual WMU archaeological field school since 1994 and is editor of Le Journal, the bulletin of the Center for French Colonial Studies.

Nassaney is known for a career devoted to teaching within and beyond the classroom. His teaching has brought WMU-supported archaeology research to the wider community. He is considered in the forefront of American archaeologists practicing community service learning, as he and his students become part of the local area during their excavations. They have proactively reached out to those in indigenous communities who have lost in the past control over their ancestral remains and material culture.

"In partnering with tribal communities in Michigan," one nominator wrote, "Michael and his students belong to a growing number of archaeologists...committed to creating an engaged, ethical archaeology that serves multi-ethnic interests and values."

Nassaney supports students interested in pursuing academic careers because he values anthropology in both its academic and broader public forums, according to a former student who is now a faculty member at another college.

"From day one at WMU, I was well positioned for success in both the anthropology program and as a member of the archaeology community more broadly," that nominator wrote.

Nassaney earned three degrees in anthropology—a bachelor's from Providence College, a master's from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville and Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Distinguished Teaching Award

Initiated in 2006, the Distinguished Teaching Award is the highest honor given by the University to recognize faculty members for their work with students. Downey and Nassaney join 21 other faculty members who have been honored since the start of the award program. A similar program, the WMU Alumni Association Teaching Excellence Award, was conducted between 1966 and 2001 and honored 131 faculty members.

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