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Family studies professor named honors faculty member of year

by Sherry Fisher - September 22, 2008

If there is one thing that Steve Wisensale hopes students will take away from his classes, it’s a love of learning.

“Once they leave UConn, the subject matter might fade, but I want them to be excited about learning new things,” says Wisensale, a professor of human development and family studies.

Wisensale teaches courses on family policy, family law, comparative family policy, and aging policy. He also advises students, including those working on their honors theses.

He was recognized for his efforts last spring when honors students selected him as Honors Council Faculty Member of the Year. The award recognizes an honors faculty member for his or her exemplary work in providing an exceptional educational experience for honors students.

Wisensale says he enjoys brainstorming with honors students.

“They come to you with a seed of an idea for doing a thesis, for example, and sometimes all they have is a word or a phrase,” he says. “It’s fun to just talk to them and get them thinking and steer them in the right direction.”

He says when students start exploring an idea, they come back to him for advice.

“It’s exciting for me to see how far I can take them, and in what directions,” he says. “It’s especially rewarding when their thesis is complete, and you see the poster and final product.”

Wisensale says one of the tools he uses with students is visualization.

“I’m big on having them visualize scenarios,” he says. “I tell them, ‘Sit down and picture your thesis in a three-ring binder. You open the cover and you’re going to see a title page. What does the title page say? Then you’re going to turn the page and you’ll see a table of contents. What do you see there?”

Visualization helps students put their ideas into a framework, he says.

He says he tries to generate intellectual curiosity by creating puzzles. “I hope these will arouse their interest, and I encourage them and reinforce whatever intellectual curiosity they bring to the class,” he says.

Samantha Sherwood, who graduated in May, was in several of Wisensale’s classes. He was also the advisor for her honors thesis.

Steve Wisensale, professor of human development and family studies, with Samantha Sherwood, an honors student who graduated recently.
Steve Wisensale, professor of human development and family studies, with Samantha Sherwood, an honors student who graduated recently. Photo by Janice Berriault

“Professor Wisensale teaches every course like an honors course,” she says. “He has high expectations, but also encourages students to think creatively and express their thoughts, opinions, and unique perspectives on the material being taught.”

As an advisor of honors theses, Sherwood says Wisensale “consistently sets the bar high for his students. He challenges them to explore their intellectual ability and tackle research projects that may not have a clear path.”

He cultivates students’ interests, Sherwood says, whether it’s forwarding a newspaper article that someone might enjoy, or having a debate with a student in his office. “Professor Wisensale always has his students and their futures in mind,” she says.

Colleen Deasy, another former student who graduated in May, says Wisensale was concerned about students and easy to approach. “He took the time to get to know us,” she says.

Wisensale says it’s important to get to a point in life where work and fun become one.

“I think that the sooner you can do that, the better off you are,” he says. “That’s what I tell my students.”

The recipient of several teaching awards, Wisensale is the author of more than 75 journal articles, book chapters, and policy briefs, and has published three books, including Family Leave Policy: the Political Economy of Work and Family in America.

He has held two Fulbright Fellowships – one in Germany, the other in the Czech Republic – and is a former Research Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. He was a consultant to the United Nations on the world’s aging population and, over the years, he has served on seven state task forces in Connecticut.

Wisensale is a Senior Scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families, a private non-profit, non-partisan research organization based at the University of Illinois-Chicago that produces policy briefs on a variety of family issues. He is also a Fellow of the National Council on Family Relations.

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