Three professors to be honored with Distinguished Teaching Awards

Contact: Mark Schwerin

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University will honor three faculty members for being exceptional educators and mentors and demonstrating outstanding dedication to their work.

Drs. Ariel Anderson, Louann Bierlein Palmer and Gwen Tarbox will be recognized as recipients of this year's Distinguished Teaching Awards during WMU's Academic Convocation at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 6, on the second floor of the Bernhard Center. The annual event includes a State of the University address by Dr. Edward Montgomery, WMU's recently installed ninth president. In addition to the Distinguished Teaching Awards, the event will feature presentations of other campuswide awards honoring this year's Emerging Scholar and Distinguished Faculty Scholars as well as winners of the Distinguished Service and Make a Difference awards.

Initiated in 2006, the Distinguished Teaching Award is the highest honor given by the University to recognize faculty members for their work with students. Anderson, Bierlein Palmer and Tarbox join 25 other faculty members who have been honored since the start of the award program. A similar program, the WMU Alumni Association Teacher Excellence Award, was conducted between 1966 and 2001 and honored 131 faculty members.


Photo of Dr. Ariel Anderson.


Anderson, a professor of teaching, learning and educational studies, is an authority on early childhood education and socialization, and she coordinates WMU's Early Childhood Program in the College of Education and Human Development. She is a longtime researcher and author of dozens of articles and technical reports on topics that include the importance of play in children's lives, children's definition of reality and socialization into the student role.

Writing in support of her nomination, a former graduate assistant noted the long-lasting impact Anderson had on her. The nominator is now completing a doctoral degree in rehabilitation counselor education at Michigan State University, where Anderson earned her doctoral degree.

"What stands out when I think about Dr. Anderson's example as an educator is the importance of cultivating relationships, true student-teacher alliances, in helping students to not only master content, but also cultivate professional dispositions," she wrote. "Her keen ability to assess student strengths and address individual learning needs in classes that often exceeded 90 students was uncanny."

The nominator also lauded Anderson's ability to continually update and reinvent course content to keep up with the times.

"These efforts have not gone unrecognized by her students," she continued. "In fact, when I have an opportunity to visit with Dr. Anderson in Kalamazoo, it is not uncommon to encounter graduates in the community who stop to thank her for being a memorable and influential part of their education. Although I was assigned to serve Dr. Anderson, it was truly she who served me."

Another former student, who first met Anderson while taking an early childhood education class, cited her ability to make students feel welcome, as well as her honesty, compassion and a zeal for life.

"You could tell how passionate Dr. Anderson was about her work," she said. "… I always looked forward to her course because each class was always different."

At times, Anderson would let students help steer the class's direction, she said.

"Dr. Anderson let her students gain insight on topics that are important and intriguing," she wrote. "Many times, her assignments had topics chosen by the students, giving us an opportunity to explore a topic of interest."

Anderson earned by doctoral and master's degrees from Michigan State University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan. She worked at MSU as an instructor before joining the WMU faculty in 1986.

Bierlein Palmer

Photo of Dr. Louann Bierlein Palmer.

Bierlein Palmer

Bierlein Palmer, a professor of educational leadership, research and technology, has research interests in a broad array of K-12 and higher education reform and policy issues and has published research on such topics as charter school overseers. Students lauded her as both a teacher and advisor.

"Dr. Bierlein Palmer was instrumental in instructing, guiding and supporting me through coursework, my proposal, comprehensive exam and dissertation," wrote one former student, who had Bierlein Palmer as her doctoral committee chair. "I am still in awe of her ability to know just the right time and way to offer me encouragement or challenge me to go deeper. Dr. Bierlein Palmer's support prompted me to push myself to produce the best work I could. ... Somehow she made me feel like I was the only student she was teaching."

Another former student singled Bierlein Palmer out for her help in completing her dissertation as a dissertation committee member and then chair.

"She helped me stay focused on my work," she wrote. "On the day of my defense, I wasn't sure who was most proud. Louann or my husband. She helped me change my life for the better."

Another former student noted Bierlein Palmer's assistance as a teacher, advisor and dissertation chair and helping her complete her dissertation in record time.

"I met Dr. Bierlein Palmer in 2008 when I first joined the program, and I immediately knew she would be the best person to guide me through my Ph.D. program," she wrote. "I greatly benefited from her unrelenting commitment to student success. … She was always honest and thoughtful with her feedback and provided productive advice and solutions. The dynamic pace at which I worked with her during my program kept me motivated and engaged in the process of learning."

Bierlein Palmer earned a doctoral degree from Northern Arizona University, a master's degree from the University of Arizona and a bachelor's degree from Michigan State University. In addition to teaching, she serves as a graduate college faculty fellow.


Photo of Dr. Gwen Tarbox.


Tarbox, a professor of English, is an authority on children's literature and culture, women's literature and African American literature. Her classroom and research endeavors focus on fictional communities in film and literature and their effects on girls' culture and development.

A graduate student, who has worked with Tarbox since 2010 as both a master's and doctoral student, praised Tarbox for her advice and counsel.

"Dr. Tarbox's mentorship, advising and guidance have had a profound impact on my career, and among Ph.D. programs I was accepted to, I chose WMU specifically for Dr. Tarbox's high level of expertise and her reputation for excellence in our field. Her dedication as a mentor is exemplified by her commitment to modeling exceptional teaching, research and service in the field of children's literature and comics studies."

Another doctoral student spoke highly of Tarbox's dedication. 

"Based on my work with Dr. Tarbox over the past four years, I fully believe that she exemplifies the ideals that we admire most in great teachers—most notably her consistent commitment to student success both inside and outside the classroom," he wrote. "… However, it is her dedication to student success outside the classroom that truly sets her apart."

Another nominator met Tarbox at the Children's Literature Association Conference in 2012 as a recent graduate student from outside the United States, eager to connect with those who could help him break into children's literature as a field of study.

"Dr. Tarbox was one of the first people to take the time to sit down with me and talk about my work in a critical and constructive manner, giving me an opportunity to grow and connect with the children's literature community" he wrote. "… Dr. Tarbox's willingness to spend so much time and energy working with a Canadian scholar, who is unaffiliated with WMU, speaks to her vision for scholarship beyond her own classroom and research."

Tarbox earned doctoral and master's degrees from Purdue University, a master's degree from the University of London and a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan-Flint. She served as an assistant professor at California State University, a graduate instructor at Purdue University and a researcher at Bain and Co. Inc. before joining the WMU faculty in 1999.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit

Related articles

Chemistry associate professor to receive Emerging Scholar Award | Oct. 4, 2017
WMU's Fall Convocation will celebrate achievement, State of University | Sept. 30, 2017
Three to receive WMU's Distinguished Faculty Scholar honors
| Sept. 28, 2017
University to honor its top four staffers for 2016-17 | Sept. 28, 2017
Two will receive WMU's Distinguished Service Award | Sept. 21, 2017