Dr. Danica Miller awarded 2017–2018 Distinguished Teaching Award

Dr. Danica Sterud Miller is the newest recipient of UW Ta­coma’s Distinguished Teach­ing Award. Miller is an assistant pro­fessor who teaches in the social and historical studies division of the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. Before receiving her Ph.D. in English from Fordham University, Dr. Miller attended school in Fife and grew up on one of the last allotments of the Puyallup Reservation.

This award recognizes faculty mem­bers who are innovative, integrate their knowledge of community and diver­sity in and out of the classroom, have mastered their teaching subject, and practice active and continuous engage­ment with students through a promo­tion of scholarship and excellence.

The faculty member must be full-time tenure — on a tenure-track — or a full-time, senior or principal lec­turer who has teaching hours at UWT that would be equivalent to teaching full-time for at least one year.

Recipients are first nominated by students, faculty and alumni, and nominees are then reviewed by a selec­tion committee. The committee reach­es out to nominees for additional documents to allow for a more com­prehensive review.

Each committee member indi­vidually reviews the files and scores the nominees based on a rubric. The members come together with their results to discuss and re-sort their rankings until they collectively decide who their top two choices are, which is then given to the chancellor.

Dr. Matthew Weinstein was a Dis­tinguished Teaching Award recipient in 2011 and is serving for the second time as a member of the selection com­mittee. He stated that there can be quite a bit of back and forth between the members as they try to whittle down their top selections, but that they even­tually do come to an agreement.

“Both times I was on the commit­tee, in the end it was more or less a consensus,” Weinstein said. “Not ev­eryone was necessarily happy with the order necessarily, but we agreed that one and two were the right people.”

Weinstein said that Miller’s file not only met the criteria that the commit­tee was looking for, but that it truly articulated the exciting work that she is doing at UWT.

“She was really doing something at the very foundation that’s new to the university by bringing the frame­work, the analysis and type of teaching that she does,” Weinstein said. “It was innovative. It was truly unique at ev­ery layer of the onion.”

Miller’s classes integrate Native American studies, history, literature and other media. Her research is fo­cused on the connection between Na­tive American writers and the at­tempted limitation of Native American tribal sovereignty by federal laws.

Miller often tries to incorporate knowledge and practices into her classes that indigenous cultures have been doing for centuries.

“As much as I can, as a part of in­digenous education, I implement sto­rytelling, field trips, touching materials that I bring into the classroom, listen­ing, watching and repetition,” Miller said. “It’s also letting my students have the opportunity to tell their stories. It’s the different ways of addressing and answering topics. It means a lot of dis­cussion, in-class writing and group work. It’s my attempt to get them to create their knowledge in safe spaces.”

Miller said that she views what she does as not so much as innovative, but instead ancestral.

“It’s seen as innovative,” Miller said. “What it really is, is working within this history of indigenous learning, which is also in many ways mentorship. So, it’s trying to have one-on-one relationships with my students. I know that those few pro­fessors when I was in college that asked, ‘Do you know how to write a personal statement?’ were key to where I am today.”

Miller said that working at UWT has been a privilege.

“The opportunity to teach Ameri­can Indian studies on my ancestral land is unbelievable sometimes,” Miller said. “It’s a gift. It’s an honor. In many ways it feels like this is exactly where I am supposed to be.”

Outside of teaching, Dr. Miller is writing a book about Puyallup sov­ereignties and is working with local tribal communities. She said that in the future, after receiving tenure, she will continue teaching and will most likely increase her work with local communities as her assistance has been requested.

“There are specific needs that [lo­cal tribal communities] would like [addressed],” Miller said. “One of those is the Lushootseed Language Institute. At this point, working on Puyallup history in a way that repre­sents a Puyallup’s perspective and working on Lushootseed are where more of my efforts will be, but I will always be here teaching.”