Dr. Kaston Anderson-Carpenter wins the 2019 College of Social Science Outstanding Teacher Award

April 4, 2019 - Caroline Kraft

Dr. Kaston Anderson-Carpenter, an assistant professor of Community Psychology, won the 2019 College of Social Science Outstanding Teacher Award. Dr. Anderson-Carpenter has been at Michigan State for three years. He earned a master’s degree in Experimental Psychology and Applied Behavioral Analysis from McNeese State University, a master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Kansas School of Medicine, and a Ph.D. in Behavioral Psychology from the University of Kansas in 2014.

Professor Anderson-Carpenter teaches Health Psychology and Community Psychology courses. His research focuses on substance use and social determinants of health in marginalized and underserved communities, and he is the director of the Advancing Community Empowerment and Social Justice (ACES) laboratory on campus.

Nominations for the Outstanding Teacher Award come from chairs and directors and letters of support from students. One student who nominated Anderson-Carpenter for the award said, “Professor Anderson-Carpenter is by far the best professor I have had throughout the course of my time here at MSU. He truly cares about his students and their well-being, which in turn reflects itself in our learning.”

The following are teaching tips and perspective from this year’s Outstanding Teacher:

# 1 Focus less on students’ grades and more on their learning.

“[Students] should not care about their grades because I don’t care about their grades. I am more concerned about them learning the material and being able to apply it and critique the information that they’re getting. My job is not to tell them what to think. My job is to help them learn how to think. As long as they can develop an informed opinion, whatever that opinion is, then okay - It’s informed, and that’s all I care about,” Anderson-Carpenter says.

# 2 Encourage class discussions about meaningful topics.

“I teach my classes like a scaled down version of a doctoral seminar. I am not afraid to address the controversial topics that a lot of people try to shy away from. I’m finding the students here are really more willing to go there when it comes to sensitive topics or controversial topics. I tell my students if we can’t have these conversations in the classroom where it is a controlled environment, how are we going to function as a society?”

# 3 Use positive reinforcement to keep students engaged.

“People will learn if placed in the conditions that are conducive to them learning. I believe in providing positive reinforcement in a lot of different ways. If I give reading quiz questions, those questions show up again on exams. I use technology software in class to facilitate the class discussions. I like to be as participatory as possible in classes so the students are literally contributing to their learning.”

# 4 Prioritize students’ well-being.

“I’m really big on mental health for my students because I draw a lot from my own undergrad and grad experiences and I didn’t pay attention to that when I was going through [school]. In my Health Psychology class, they voted to have their mental health day this coming Thursday. I felt that the students were getting kind of stressed, so I was like, ‘Okay. You all need a mental health day. Do whatever you need to do to do self-care. Whatever that self-care looks like for you. Take this time to do it.’ If their mental health is suffering, everything is going to suffer.”

# 5 Involve undergraduates in the lab and hold them to high standards.

“I’m adamant about mentoring undergraduate students and having undergraduate students in my lab and treating them no differently  from my graduate students. I do expect them to publish. I expect them to be co-authors on peer-reviewed abstracts, I expect them to attend conferences. It’s important that they have that experience because research looks very different for all of us. They’re many different aspects to what research looks like. It’s not all being in the lab. It’s traveling, sometimes it’s crunching numbers, and sometimes it’s getting that one sentence right on a manuscript so we can disseminate our research.”

# 6 Admit to your students that you don’t know it all.

“I start every semester with, ‘Look. I don’t have all the answers. I’m not afraid to tell you I don’t know.’ I think it’s important for students to hear that – that just because you attain a certain level of education does not mean that you know everything.”

# 7 Encourage students to approach topics from an interdisciplinary perspective.

“A lot of times students will say, ‘I read this scientific paper or I learned such and such in my anthropology or biology class.’ I love when they bring things that they’re learning from other disciplines into my classroom. I tell them there is no one discipline that can address the complex issues that we’re facing. It’s going to take all the disciplines to come together to address these issues because they’re too big, they’re too complex, and they’re affecting too many people for one discipline to address all of them.”

# 8 Help your students recognize their worth.

“If they don’t learn anything content wise, I want them to know their worth. Then add tax. A lot of times we don’t realize our worth. We sell ourselves short, not just intellectually, but in our personal lives, our social lives, emotionally, and spiritually. We sell ourselves short so much because we are conditioned to think that our worth is tied to some status that society has set… that if you don’t achieve this level of education, if you don’t have this kind of job, if you aren’t making this kind of money, or if you don’t live in this kind of house or drive this kind of car, then your worth is not as high as the people who do have those things, and that’s just not true.”