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Nicholas Simon wins CSCU system teaching excellence award

Published on May 24, 2022

Nicholas Simon wins CSCU system teaching excellence award

Nicholas Simon The Board of Regents (BOR) of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System (CSCU) has named Nicholas Simon, assistant professor of sociology at Eastern Connecticut State University, the recipient of its 2022 Excellence in Teaching Award.

Simon came to Eastern as an adjunct instructor in 2006, and while teaching at Eastern, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut. In 2015, the BOR awarded him its Adjunct Teaching Award.

Sociology professors Kimberly Dugan and Cara Bergstrom-Lynch nominated Simon for the award and said he “walks the talk as an educator and is among the elite of our institution in terms of excellence in teaching. He is innovative and effective and works hard to create collaborations to provide our students with the best opportunities for success. He is a highly effective, innovative and enthusiastic educator with a student- and community-centered approach. His commitment to student learning, research and engagement are far beyond the common instructor.”

Simon has taught 17 different classes since he started his tenure including “The Community and the Sociology of Education.” Dugan and Bergstrom-Lynch said Simon has also contributed to the department’s Criminology major by teaching the required Criminological Theory class. Over the past few years, Simon has mentored and instructed 27 independent studies and 10 internships. Those independent studies have fostered much undergraduate research.

His students pursue independent research, working with him on projects, writing and presenting papers, working in service-learning opportunities, helping to organize and attend professional conferences, and publishing work in professional journals. Simon has a growing list of students who have presented their research at conferences on campus (The CREATE conference), regionally (Eastern Sociological Society annual meetings), and nationally (the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction annual meetings).

Students say Simon has taught them to have a passion for sociology. They give him overwhelmingly positive reviews for the opportunities he gives them to conduct research and volunteer and engage with the community as part of their courses.

Simon and Salka
Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Bill Salka presents Nicholas Simon with the BOR's teaching excellence award at the spring 2022 University Meeting. 

“Some of the best classes I have taken in my major have been with Professor Simon,” said Shaheera Khan ’21, who double majored in Sociology and Criminology and minored in Political Science. “Not only has he motivated me to learn the material in class, but he has further motivated me to set up a career and education plan. The presence he brings to a class is indescribable. One might describe his personality as larger than life. Most of all, Professor Simon cares. He cares about his job, his students and his students’ success. He goes out of his way to help recruit students to do research on their own, adding to their resume. He has a very direct and honest way of talking to students. He tells us how it is and that is exactly what we need to be career ready.”

Tara Nguyen ’21, who majored in Sociology, agrees: “As an Honors Student, I am required to conduct a thesis, and want Dr. Simon as my faculty advisor for my research. He has catalyzed my passion for research, and I completely trust him to guide me through my future research undertakings. He has not only been a professor; he has been a mentor. He has encouraged me to put my best foot forward, and without him and his ample knowledge of research and opportunities, I would not be where I am in my undergraduate career today. He has gone above and beyond to push students to do the best they can and provides the support needed for us to succeed. I am incredibly grateful for Dr. Simon and his mentorship.”

Simon weaves in much of his own research with his overall pedagogy and the pursuit of student engagement and active learning. He has created Open Education Resources to make learning accessible and rigorous for all. Students have contributed to the development of supplemental learning materials for his Introduction to Sociology class. He uses a comprehensive approach to his teaching, employing an array of modes of content delivery — lecture, class discussion, text reading, article reading, Blackboard discussion and quizzes, service learning/community engagement projects and visits, and video.

In 2020, Simon was awarded three Connecticut Open Educational Resources (OER) grants to support his efforts to utilize OER materials in his courses. He was also awarded a grant from the CSCU OER Mini-Grant Program in 2019. Promoting OER resources that can be provided free of charge to students is yet another way that Simon works to enhance access to all students.

Simon and two colleagues published an edited book on first-generation college students in 2018. In 2020, he and a colleague published an essay in the American Sociological Association’s “Teaching and Learning Matters” on teaching remotely and maintaining student community. He also published an article with colleagues combining data from his research on first-generation students, showing how Eastern’s bridge program — STEP/CAP — creates pathways for first-generation students to develop cohorts of support and build the social and cultural capital needed for success.

Simon loves creating experiences for students to present their work, to speak publicly and to think beyond the parameters of their courses. As a result of his contributions, he has also been invited to serve on the OER Connecticut Council for Higher Education.

Written by Dwight Bachman