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.”