Luckman Distinguished Teaching Awards
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Walter Allen, Sociology
love to teach," says sociology professor Walter Allen, a childlike
grin animating his bearded face. "I understood pretty early the
privilege and power of teachers -- I was saved by teachers." Allen,
47, grew up in segregated Kansas City, Missouri, but found "magnificent"
instructors at his high school. They helped him excel in both academics
and sports, and convinced him that although no one in his family
had gone past 12th grade, he could succeed in college.
aspirations for his UCLA students are even higher. "Over my career,"
he says, "my goal is to produce 100 new African-American Ph.D.s,
and 500 total. I love mentoring graduate students - coauthoring
papers with them, doing joint research projects - and I start when
they're undergraduates by encouraging them to go on to doctoral
who came to UCLA in 1989 after 10 years at the University of Michigan's
Center for Afro-American and African Studies, is currently on a
teaching hiatus while serving on the demanding Committee on Academic
Personnel and completing several research papers. His areas of interest
include African-American families and the status of African-American
students in U.S. colleges - subjects he discusses eagerly and intently,
fixing the listener with a piercing gaze. One imagines that he communicates
just as dynamically with students.
think of teaching as mutual encounter and engagement," explains
Allen, whose "dizzying array" of teaching subjects has included
the sociology of education, theories of race and ethnicity, and
medical sociology. "I tell students that knowledge won't flow in
just one direction. And I work them mercilessly and shamelessly
-- because, as I tell them, each time you extend to what you think
is your limit, you find there's more beyond that."
beams when reminded of the Luckman award. "It is just magnificent,"
he says, employing his favorite superlative. "Teaching tends to
be seen as an avocation, while research is your vocation. But teaching
is central to my career -- and being recognized for that means more
than I can say."