Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Center of Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities
Somers Teaching Award
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The Somers Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes graduate teaching assistants who have demonstrated a commitment to excellence, innovation and creativity in undergraduate teaching. Nominees are recommended by faculty and students for their strong ability to promote meaningful student-teacher interaction, as well as in creating a classroom environment that encourages active learning and critical thinking.


Sandy Burnley

Sandy Burnley TA

Sandy Burnley is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English and Animal Studies at Michigan State University. Her dissertation focuses on different forms of nonhuman animal representation and authorship in Victorian literature in an effort to dismantle humanist notions and exceptionalism, and to trace a more ethical and egalitarian transspecies relationship for our proximal futures. Currently, her focus has been probing the silence posited forth by nonhuman companions, the gaze through which humanity becomes arrested and held responsible for its formulations, and the responsibility to which humans owe others who both form and challenge our biopolitical status. Such research intersects closely with disability, postcolonial, gender studies, and new materialism in an effort to question our current ontological assumptions regarding species, individuals, and the environments they inhabit, to challenge our anthropocentric conceptions of self and subjectivity, and to explore the ways in which precarious living defines our sense of agency and world formation. When not researching literature, Ms. Burnely applies her understanding of transspecies communication to canine agility and parkour exercises in order to illustrate the confidence, agency, and intention of others, and can often be found learning from her equine companions on what it means to respond and engage with respect.


Tia Harvey

Tia Harvey TA

Tia Harvey is a percussionist and educator in Michigan. She is pursuing a masters in musicology and a doctoral degree in percussion performance at Michigan State University. As a percussionist, Harvey is building a career as a chamber musician, music educator, and music activist. She is passionate about bringing music to non-traditional venues and commissioning new works as well as instilling an appreciation of music and empowering the next generation through music education.

Harvey is a percussion and music theory instructor at the MSU Community Music School-East Lansing, MSU Community Music School-Detroit, and is an instructor at Accent Pontiac, where she leads the Bucket Band. She holds degrees from Michigan State University (M.A.) and the University of Central Florida (B.M.). Harvey currently resides in Ferndale, Michigan, with her partner, Erik, and their cats, Elliott and Ezra.


Zack Kruse

Zach Kruse TA

Zack Kruse is a Ph.D. candidate in 20th Century American Literature in the Department of English at Michigan State University, and his research interests focus on comic books and their history, production, and long-term narrative development. He has additional research interests in critical theory, cultural studies, indigenous literatures, genre fiction, and popular media. Zack is also the panel coordinator for the Michigan State University Comics Forum, and he has been a long-time contributor to the comics community as a creator, convention organizer, retailer, and pundit. Previously, he served as the managing editor for The Journal of Popular Culture, the leading journal in its field.


Christine Peffer

Christine Peffer TA

Christine Peffer is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English at Michigan State University. She received a Bachelor’s degree in English (2013) with a minor in journalism and a Master’s degree in English (2015), both from Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania. While at Gannon, Christine taught freshman composition and served as the assistant director of the university’s Writing Center, as well as a graduate assistant for the women’s volleyball team. At MSU, she has taught for a range of IAH courses and recently taught in the WRAC Department. Her research interests are broadly distributed in the environmental humanities, and include ecohorror, environmental activist literature, the cultural and scientific fascinations surrounding fungi, and food justice/food sovereignty movements.


 Sarah J. Schmitt

Sarah Schmitt

Sarah J. Schmitt is a master’s student in the Department of English at Michigan State University. She received her undergraduate degree in English from Kalamazoo College in 2017, where she studied abroad at the University of Aberdeen. She is interested in both early modern and Victorian conceptions of morality, with specific attention given to the influence of Miltonic thought. Her work investigates whether a better understanding of past ideologies can lead us to a more empathetic and nuanced view of our own moment’s notion of virtue. Sarah intends to continue pursuing her passion for teaching while obtaining her Ph.D. in English.


Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith TA

Kelli Smith is a Master's student in Musicology in the College of Music at Michigan State University’s. She is interested in music technology, internet cultures, popular music, and gender and sexuality. Her recently completed M.A. thesis focuses on gendered rhetoric in online music communities, specifically those centered around independent and anti-mainstream popular music. She analyzes comments sections, forums, and social media threads to examine the various ways in which women and minorities are excluded from online dialogues. In her teaching, Kelli believes that all students can develop the skills to critically examine the production and consumption of all types of music, no matter their level of musical training. She will continue to develop her teaching and research skills as she pursues her Ph.D. in Musicology at the University of North Carolina, starting Fall 2019.

Somers award recipients in previous years