Sep 062011
 
Authors: Colleen McSweeney

Dr. Lori Peek is the Associate Professor of Sociology at CSU, and she serves as Associate Chair of the Social Science Research Council Task Force on Hurricane Katrina and Rebuilding the Gulf Coast.
For anyone who’s been in her class, she’s that really nice teacher who knows everyone’s name by the second week. She’s received numerous teaching accolades from the university, including CSU’s Alumni Association “Best Teacher Award.”
She authored the book “Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11.”

*What was your first teaching job at CSU? *

*Peek: *I began my career at CSU as an assistant professor of sociology in August of 2005. During my first semester here, I taught Contemporary Race-Ethnic Relations and a class on Social Movements. Since that time I’ve taught additional courses at the undergraduate level, including Contemporary Sociological Theory, Sociological Research Methods and the Sociology of Disaster. At the graduate level, I regularly teach our seminar on Qualitative Field Research Methods.

Q: How was it?

P: After spending 25 years as a student, I must say, it was wonderful to finally truly enter the world of academia as a new professor! It seems funny even saying that I spent that long in school, but I really did! Thirteen years in elementary and secondary school, four years as an undergrad, two years as a master’s student, and then six years as a doctoral student.

My first semester at CSU was definitely the most difficult in terms of getting settled here in Fort Collins, meeting new colleagues and students, prepping my courses, and keeping my research agenda moving forward. In addition, Hurricane Katrina hit during my first week here as a new professor, and I ended up traveling to the Gulf Coast during the fall of 2005. I remember that semester as the craziest, most sleep-deprived period in my life. I was also exceptionally happy, and despite what my students thought, I was not drinking several pots of coffee a day!

Q: How has your teaching style changed since you started at CSU?

P: I think the biggest thing that has changed with my teaching style is that I am less nervous. During my first few weeks at CSU, I would sometimes have to hide behind the podium because my hands would start shaking due to my nerves. I still get butterflies in my stomach before every class, but now I think it is more excitement about what the class period might hold. When I have students who express their fears to me about presenting in front of the class, I share with them my own experiences and try to encourage them to just keep at it. Practice may not always make perfect, but it sure does make things go a lot more smoothly.

*Q: *In general, how would you describe CSU students?

P: This is a hard question, as the students here are exceptionally diverse in terms of their intellectual interests, political persuasions, and personal backgrounds. I really respect that about our campus; I feel like there is space for students to pursue their interests and to find their own way here. Overall, I have had such positive experiences with CSU students. And honestly, working with highly motivated students and seeing their potential is what gives me the most hope in the world.

Q: Anybody who’s been in your class can attest that you’re extremely good with names. How do you do it?

P: Yes, I do always memorize all of my students’ names. When my classes were only 40 students, I could memorize their names the first week of class. Now that I have 120 students in my race class, it takes me a few more weeks but I still learn all of their names.

Why do I do this? Some of this is from my own background. I grew up in a tiny town of only about 500 people in eastern Kansas. Then I went to a very small undergraduate university with only about 500 students. I knew everyone in my hometown by name, and later I learned all of the students’ names at my undergraduate university as well. These sorts of small settings were just all I knew growing up, and I couldn’t really imagine a world where I didn’t know everyone and something about them! I guess I brought that philosophy to CSU.

A lot of students have asked me how I learn their names. I think I am fortunate to have a very strong capacity for name-face recognition. But I also try to learn one interesting thing about each student. I then attach that thing to the student and it helps me to remember them. I also read one time that if you say someone’s name three times the first time you meet them, you will always remember their name. I don’t know if that is true, but if my students ever note that I am repeating their names over and over, that is why!

*Q: *Do you think more teachers should make that same effort? And why?

* P: *I know that some people have an exceptionally hard time remembering names, and so I understand that this method simply will not work for everyone. However, I do think if teachers have the ability they should try to learn at least some of their students’ names. It seems like a small thing to remember a name, but it really conveys a level of respect to each individual student. And I actually think it helps with attendance and also with behavioral things in the classroom, as no one can be anonymous.

Just to give a quick example, I had a student a few years ago who blew off the second class period of the semester. When she showed up for the third class, I knew who she was (because she was the only person I hadn’t met yet). I went up to her, introduced myself, called her by name and asked if everything was okay. She went on to take three classes from me and never missed another class.

When she graduated, she revealed to me that she was so stunned that day when I knew who she was, that she vowed to never miss my class again!

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience writing your book, Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11?

P: Thank you for asking. I spent several years studying the experiences of young Muslim Americans in New York and Colorado – trying to understand the consequences of 9/11 in their lives and for their religious community. I then spent several more years writing the book. I often compare the experience to running a marathon.

It takes a lot of perseverance. You just have to get out of bed every morning, get really clear on your priorities for the day, and get to work. I am really happy that it is in print now, and the most rewarding thing for me has been when the Muslim Americans whom I interviewed for the book have emailed me comments and thoughts after reading it. This book is about their lives, and it would not exist without their contributions, so it really is their book in many ways.

Q: If you weren’t teaching right now, what do you think you’d want to be doing with your life?

P: I know this is going to sound like a complete cop-out, but honestly, I cannot imagine doing anything but working as a professor. I love my job so much and am so thankful to be employed at CSU. I get to work on the research that I care about, I get to teach about topics that mean a lot to me, I get to work with really smart people, and I regularly engage with bright and enthusiastic students. What more could I ask for? Q: How would you say your teaching style has changed since then

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