This is another in an ongoing series of profiles of faculty members who have recently achieved tenure and/or promotion. These profiles are intended to provide illustrations of how some faculty reach that goal.
Beth Miller Vonnahme earns high marks from students and peers alike for her teaching, and while there are a lot of different factors that drive her classroom success, she believes it really boils down to one vital quality: enthusiasm.
“I believe that enthusiasm can be contagious. If I am excited about the material for the course, students will find it hard to resist,” Vonnahme said. “I am a proponent of active learning and use a variety of tools to inspire discussion and small group interaction. In my experience, students learn the material more effectively with active learning tools.”
Vonnahme consistently receives the highest teaching evaluations in the Department of Political Science, and has also received the Dean’s Outstanding Teaching Award from the College of Arts and Sciences. These factors played an important role in her recent promotion to Associate Professor with Tenure, though she strives to balance her teaching duties with her other faculty responsibilities.
“As a faculty member, we are expected to engage in research, teaching, and service. It hasn’t always been easy to balance these competing demands, but I have worked hard to ensure my research is well-received by the political psychology community, my students succeed, and I remain committed to serving my discipline, my department, the university and the Kansas City community,” she said. “Being promoted to Associate Professor with Tenure is the culmination of years of hard work, so it is very rewarding. It also means that I have a new goal in sight: promotion to Full Professor.”
In the research realm, Vonnahme has carved out a specialty by delving beneath the surface of political choices individuals make, to reach a deeper understanding of the psychological factors that drive those choices.
“My research focuses on the ways in which psychological factors affect the processing of campaign information, and the formation and persistence of political choices,” she explained. “I chose to focus on political decision-making because I believe the electoral connection between citizens and their representatives is critical to democracy, and understanding how individuals make political decisions is necessary to understand that connection.”
Vonnahme has also drawn praise from her department for her role as faculty advisor to the UMKC chapter of the political science honor society, Pi Sigma Alpha, which she took from an almost non-existent organization to a national award winning, highly visible group on campus.
“UMKC’s chapter of PSA had lapsed and my department chair asked me to help the students re-start the organization. To resurrect the organization, I worked with our students to write a constitution for the organization, recruit members, and hold events to foster collegiality between students and faculty in our department,” she said. “Over the last five years, the organization has received four grants and a Best Chapter Award from our national office.”
Vonnahme views her hard work as a simple matter of holding up her end of the higher education bargain.
“I strongly believe a college education is worth the cost, and I work hard to ensure that students in my courses, and those I meet outside of the classroom, feel they have received a quality education,” she said. “I strive to provide students with high quality instruction each time they attend class; yet, the learning process does not stop at the classroom door. I make myself available to students to answer questions about coursework, political science, university life, and career aspirations. Though I believe my approach has been successful, I look forward to continuously modifying my approach to ensure that student learning is always at the center of each of my courses.”