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Classroom connections

June 30, 2016

Ohio State Newark faculty member Tiyi Morris is providing a personalized educational experience for her students.

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Lenise Sunnenberg didn’t have to look far and wide to find a life-changing path. She found it close to home. 

Sunnenberg, a fourth-year anthropology major, decided that Ohio State Newark was the best college choice for her. After three years of experiencing what the campus has to offer, Sunnenberg knows she made the right choice. 

“I’m so appreciative of the education I get here,” said Sunnenberg, who attended nearby Newark High School. “I’m taught by PhDs. I’m taught by professors. I’m taught by experts in their field in a smaller classroom setting that is very discussion-based, which I love."

“I’ve changed so much as a person because of the professors I’ve met and the topics we’ve covered and the discussions we’ve had.”

One of the most important professors Sunnenberg met was Tiyi Morris, an associate professor of African American and African Studies. Morris has an interdisciplinary background, with a teaching focus that combines the fields of American history, black studies, and women’s studies.

Tiyi MorrisTiyi Morris, an associate professor of African American and African Studies at Ohio State Newark

Morris is emblematic of the teaching expertise at Ohio State Newark. She recently published the book Womanpower Unlimited and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi, the first detailed examination of Womenpower Unlimited, a civil rights organization started in 1961 by activist Claire Collins Harvey. She brings her expertise on this topic and others to classes that touch on race, gender and the roles they plan in American society.

These topics can produce spirited debate, and this is where Morris has become well known at Newark as an accessible and insightful professor who fosters an engaged classroom experience. Morris’s desire to get students talking is one of the major reasons she loves teaching at Newark.

“Our typical classroom is 35 students and that’s important for me, because for the majority of my classes we sit in a circle and have discussions,” she said. “Our class sizes allow me to make sure that everyone is present, everyone is focused and that our students feel responsible to each other.”

Morris said that her classroom approach and experiential learning opportunities are all designed to help her better connect with students on their own level.

“I want students to really engage with the material, not just memorize things that I’m lecturing to them…You have to meet students where they are.”

Sunnenberg has definitely experienced the value of Morris’s engaged classrooms. She said that discussions in Morris’s class always are vigorous and open, with differing opinions welcomed and always used to further the discussion.

There have been out-of-class benefits, too. Earlier this year, Sunnenberg joined Morris and a team of Newark students who traveled to New Orleans to produce a video on the Mardi Gras Indians, a group of African American revelers who developed their own celebratory traditions when blacks were not allowed to participate in the then-whites-only Mardi Gras.

According to Ohio State Newark dean William MacDonald, this experiential learning opportunity is one that provides great benefit. “It’s incredible to think that as an undergrad you’re going to be traveling with a faculty member, having a chance to ask them questions whenever they arise,” he said. “That opportunity is something we take great pride in.”

MacDonald is firmly focused on providing great learning opportunities for students on the Newark campus. He understands his university, as well as other regional campuses, play a critical role in helping ensure Ohio State meets university president Michael V. Drake’s 2020 Vision goal of access, affordability and excellence. He also understands that meeting that goal means his school must continue to offer a world-class education taught by the best faculty – which is where someone like Morris comes in. 

For her part, Sunnenberg feels she’s gotten the most of our her Newark campus experience.

“She’s changed my life in understanding myself and the society I live in and what I can do to affect change positively. It’s powerful for me to recognize where I’ve fallen short as a person and how I can change that. That’s very empowering.”

“Dr. Morris is one of the most influential professors I’ve had here.” Sunnenberg said.

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