Teaching: What I do and why

Just as I orient my research to a social justice perspective, my teaching and service are motivated in this same direction.  Throughout my career, I have worked hard through curricular development, administration, teaching and mentoring, to impart the centrality of the social justice mission, which helped create sociology, as a discipline, and is at the heart of a liberal arts education. My goal is to instill in students the confidence, skills, and critical consciousness, to produce their own action-oriented research.

Prof. Barb Brents

I have been active within my department and in departments across campus. Among my proudest accomplishments at UNLV was my central role in moving Women’s Studies from an undergraduate minor in the 1980s, to a freestanding department in the 2000s. In 2004, I was invited to co-edit the premier issue of UNLV’s Creative College Teaching Journal. I have also served as a member of the steering committee for the Carnegie Foundation/American Association of Higher Education and Accreditation Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Initiative, at UNLV.

I have achieved the most recognition from my various roles in graduate education. From 1998 to 2010, I received numerous awards for teaching and mentorship from the University and the Nevada System of Higher Education. In 2001, I was elected chair of the UNLV Graduate Council. I served on the Graduate College Executive Committee, chaired the Graduate College Student Funding Committee, and served on the Graduate College professional development committee. I was a facilitator at annual UNLV Planning Retreats, on graduate education and research, and gave a training session on professional development for graduate coordinators. I have spoken at graduate student orientation sessions and gave a workshop at the American Sociological Association’s Directors of Graduate Study Mini-Conference. I have also chaired the Outstanding Student Paper competition, for the Political Sociology section of the ASA.

As a member of the Sociology Department, I have invested heavily in my students and our graduate curriculum. From 1998 to 2001, I was the Graduate Coordinator for our department. In my years at UNLV, I have chaired 25 and have been a member of more than 60 graduate committees. I have been on so many outside committees, I have lost count, but estimate that I have been an outside advisor to well over 35 M.A. and Ph.D. committees, in departments across campus.

Prof. Barb Brents with Sociology Graduates
Prof. Barb Brents with Sociology Graduates

Serving on graduate student committees is only part of my commitment to our graduate students’ professional development. As a mentor I believe in modeling active engagement and passion, as a scholar and citizen. I strive to inspire students, to make a difference in the world, and work to become not just professional sociologists, but passionate, engaged scholars. I have always taught and advised, according to the philosophy that students learn best, take on more ambitious projects, and do better work, when they are active participants in learning. This, to me, means treating students as colleagues, in the production of knowledge. 

I am lucky to have had some very bright and committed students, and they have been high achievers. I have co-authored one book and four publications with students; presented 14 papers with students at national and international professional meetings; and many undergraduate students have presented papers, developed in my classes, at professional conferences. I have collaborated with students on several grants, and I encourage my graduate students to develop work in single-authored papers, and many have published from their research.

One of my advisees received a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Award. This was the first, and up until a few years ago, the only such award received by a UNLV graduate student. One received the Beth Hess Memorial Scholarship award from the ASA, SSSP & Sociologists for Women in Society. Another student was UNLV Graduate and Professional Student Association President. Two received a University and Community College System of Nevada Regents Scholar awards. Three of my students have received UNLV fellowships, three have received awards from the UNLV College of Liberal Arts, and others have received smaller university level scholarships and departmental awards.

The work I do, with graduate students, has also allowed them to produce research, central to debates on the politics of sexuality. Recently, two students have published or have forthcoming articles in the journal Sexualities, based on their M.A. level research. I am currently working on a collaborative project with students, examining tourism and the adult entertainment industry.

Prof. Barb Brents with Current and Former UNLV Grad Students
Prof. Barb Brents with Current and Former UNLV Grad Students

Over the years, the graduate and undergraduate students, I have mentored, have taken to heart the call for public sociology, through activities as diverse as organizing their own collective internships, using research from my classes for social change (for example, research on Nevada campaign financing, and a student project on summary eviction processes in Clark County, all of which helped influence policy). Because of my, now, deep roots in the activist and policy communities, I have been able to connect people to a variety of projects, which have assisted local grassroots and local government initiatives.

Most recently, I connected a graduate student with a particularly sustainability-minded ‘bureaucrat’, in local city government, on a project for my political sociology seminar. The project grew to a working group of students and faculty, researching aspects of urban sustainability, and culminated with both the City of Las Vegas and the regional growth commission funding the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area Social Survey, one of the city’s first serious surveys, designed to assess social sustainability at the neighborhood level in Las Vegas. Together, I have worked with undergraduate and graduate students on causes as diverse as sex worker rights, peace and justice, civil liberties, environment and a variety of women’s issues For this work, I have been recognized by the Las Vegas Centennial Committee and Southern Nevada Women’s Political Caucus, and was one of 256 women who have made a difference in 100 years of Las Vegas History, honored on the ‘Wall of Women’.

Barb Brents accepting GIST Distinguished Award
Prof. Barb Brents accepting GIST Distinguished Award

Students have gone on to engage in activities, ranging from nonprofit work, to more traditional academic outlets. Students have become faculty members at the University of Nebraska, California State at Northridge, and University of Minnesota at Mankato, as well as some who have taken on more applied jobs, such as founding a women’s political action committee, in New York, and various positions in Las Vegas in research, government, corporate diversity and philanthropy. 

~Barb Brents

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