Dan Tichenor's classroom work draws Williams Fellowship

Political science professor Dan Tichenor is known as a teacher, mentor and classroom innovator who turns lectures into conversations, qualities that this year earned him one of the UO’s top undergraduate teaching awards.

“Dan is among the most recognized and influential scholars at the University of Oregon,” said Alison Gash, a fellow professor in political science. “However, what sets him apart is his commitment to helping others fulfill their potential as scholars, activists, advocates and leaders.”

It is that dedication to his students that earned Tichenor the 2020 Williams Fellowship.

Since 1999, the Tom and Carol Williams Fund for Undergraduate Education has awarded fellowships to exceptional and innovative teachers. Candidates for the honor are nominated by their colleagues, with a formal application and several letters of support. Selected by the Williams Council – a group of UO faculty and staff – winners get a $5,000 award. A separate $5,000 award is given to support innovative undergraduate learning experiences in the recipient’s department.

In selecting a winner, the Williams Council seeks recipients who “have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to undergraduate education by challenging their students academically, creating an engaged and inclusive learning environment, investing in their own professional development, striving to improve the learning process through innovation and fostering collaboration.”

Tichenor’s classes are some of the most popular at the UO, generally full and with long waiting lists.

His approach to education is all about inspiring his students to be active participants in the learning process, rather than passive recipients. Inspired by the Brazilian philosopher and educator Paulo Freire, Tichenor believes education is more of a dialogue than a monologue.

“There’s a place for the carefully crafted, engaging lecture,” he said. “But learning, I think, should be more of a conversation. I like to lecture with the best of them and that can be fun. But I think if you can encourage lots of interaction, students are really going to feel more invested.”

Tichenor, the Philip H. Knight Chair of Social Science and director of the Democratic Governance Program at the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics, also makes it a point to equip his students with learning skills for professional success, as well as teaching them the course material.

“I really love the challenge of making the material accessible and fun and engaging to any student in the class, including the student who maybe has the least interest in it,” Tichenor said. “But I also try to challenge and motivate my students to push themselves and help them understand strong expectations and standards.”

Tichenor said the fellowship is especially meaningful because the Williams Fund provided the initial seed funding for the Wayne More Scholars program he created in 2012.

The program brings UO undergraduates together from across disciplines for skill building, service learning and leadership training related to public affairs and community engagement. It’s an illustration of how Tichenor promotes inclusive learning: More than 150 students have graduated from the program, across 28 different majors.

“The Williams Fund embraces interdisciplinarity in such powerful ways,” Tichenor said. “Receiving this award is an incredible honor to me.”

By Caitlin Howard, University Communications