Sylwester named 2017 Outstanding Teacher | Economics | SIU

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Sylwester named 2017 Outstanding Teacher

June 15, 2017

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Professor Kevin Sylwester, Professor in the Department of Economics, is the winner of the 2017 Outstanding Teaching Award in the College of Liberal Arts.  Dr. Sylwester received his Ph.D. in 1997 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  From 1997-98, he was a visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Florida-Gainesville, and joined the Economics faculty at SIU Carbondale as an Assistant Professor in August 1998.   In July 2003, he was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure and in July 2016, he was promoted to Full Professor.

Professor Sylwester is an excellent and a very versatile teacher at the undergraduate as well as at the graduate level and has taught numerous courses at both levels in the Department of Economics   At the undergraduate level, he can teach any course in the department. His teaching statement is very thoughtful with examples of teaching techniques and outcomes. He regularly makes use of the technological advances in the form of government websites and other online material in his classes.  These efforts have greatly benefited his students.  His goal for undergraduate students is their understanding and ability to make use of economic concepts.  For graduates, his aim is to help them master the theory, methodology, and mathematical techniques that will help them launch their own research.

Besides being an excellent teacher, he has contributed significantly (way more than his fair share) to the indirect teaching in the department in the form of directing Ph.D. dissertations, serving on Ph.D. dissertation committees and directing Master’s Thesis and/or Research Papers.

As per his teaching statement, his goal in any course for students “is to retain the course material well after the semester has ended,” and wants the benefits to be long-lasting for his students.  To make his courses interesting to students, he uses numerous real life examples in his lectures to explain to students how the economic concepts apply to them in their daily life and how they have mattered historically or globally.  He wants his students to appreciate the difficulties and conflicting opinions that policy makers face in making economic policies.  Overall, in his undergraduate classes, he makes the material interesting and they can see the application in real economy.  That helps undergraduates to learn and retain the material.  He has supervised undergraduate research, has taught undergraduate honors course in Economics and many independent readings courses for undergraduate students where students choose their own topics.  Recently, he has also directed research through the McNair Scholars Program and REACH (Research-Enriched Academic Challenge) from CURCA (Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities).

At the graduate level, his teaching philosophy is to train students to become researchers oriented towards economic policies.  Mathematics plays a key role in graduate courses in economics.  Professor Sylwester blends his graduate courses in such a way that he maintains the mathematics rigor in his courses but at the same time students maintain the “Economics intuition that accompanies the Math.”  Professor Sylwester has explained in his teaching statement how he blends Mathematics with Economics to train graduate students so that, “they can then better conduct their own research, regardless of what future topics they study.”

Professor Sylwester is not only an excellent teacher in the classroom, but he is equally a great mentor in directing Ph.D. dissertations and Master’s Thesis and/or Research Papers.  So far, he has chaired/co-chaired 23 Ph.D. dissertations; served on another 48 Ph.D. dissertation committees and has guided 10 Master’s Theses/Research Papers.  At present, he is chairing four other Ph.D. dissertations.  All of his students whose dissertations he chaired/co-chaired have been well settled.  He has published 29 papers in reputable journals, some even in top journals (ranked as 5 or 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the best e.g. World Development, Economica and Economic Inquiry) with 12 of his former students.  This is a remarkable testimony of his mentorship and his contributions to “indirect teaching.”  This also testifies to Professor Sylwester’s popularity in “Direct Teaching.”  Professors who do a great job in direct teaching, will have students choose them as their mentors for Ph.D. dissertations and Professor Sylwester is a great example.

Professor Sylwester’s students have commented on his knowledge, his preparedness, his enthusiasm, the “creative environment,” the interesting subjects, his skill at relating the topics to events or concepts that students understand, his ability to explain difficult material and his efforts to make sure everyone understands.  Students always comment on his friendliness, availability, and helpfulness in and outside of class and the letters from them are very enthusiastic.  One student stated, “I can honestly say that Professor Sylwester was one of the best professors I have had during my career here.  There are very few classes from which I can look back on and say that I remember very specific concepts in great detail but this is definitely one of them.  He went above and beyond his role of teaching the subject material by teaching me to appreciate the world of economics as a whole.  He is one of the people responsible for me pursing a degree in economics from SIU.”  Another student stated, “Professor Sylwester remains one of the best professors that I ever had at SIUC.  He managed to make a traditionally dry and highly technical subject fun, engaging and practical, both at the graduate and undergraduate levels, and poured a lot of energy into helping students at both levels, particularly undergraduate, outside of class.  He knew how to bridge the discipline with the world outside of academia, and I think all of his students, myself included, have benefitted from it.”