By Sandy Broughton
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 33 - June 18, 1998
Rarely does a national professional organization bestow two of its top honors to faculty members at the same university. Rarer still are the recipients linked as mentor and advisee, as faculty colleagues, and as friends.
The National Council on Family Relations awarded Virginia Tech faculty members two of its most prestigious awards at its annual conference. Katherine Allen is recipient of the NCFR Osborne award, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in the teaching of family relationships. Karen Wilcox is recipient of the NCFR student award, given to a graduate student who has demonstrated excellence as a student, with high potential for contribution to the field of family studies.
Allen is professor of family studies and Wilcox served as adjunct assistant professor for 1997-98 in the Department of Family and Child Development in the College of Human Resources and Education.
"These two awards are indicative of Tech's strength in the area of family studies, and of our excellent graduate programs and dedicated faculty," said Janet Johnson, dean of the College of Human Resources and Education.
Wilcox was one of several of Allen's former students, now in prominent positions in colleges and universities across the country, who supported Allen's nomination for the Osborne award. "She questions you, challenges you, and provides the space for you to develop the skills that are necessary to assist you in the process of becoming a scholar," Wilcox said. "She fulfills a very important role in the teaching process--inspiring students to make learning a life-long venture, and utilizing what they learn to make a difference in their own way."
Allen, a member of the NCFR since 1978, has served the organization in a number of capacities, including three terms on the Board of Directors. She was recipient of the NCFR student award in 1984 and chaired the Student of the Year Award Committee in 1986. Her research and publications in the areas of feminism in family studies and diversity in family studies have garnered her the respect of colleagues in the field. "Few instructors have such breadth and depth of impact," said Alexis Walker, the Jo Anne Leonard Petersen chair in gerontology and family studies at Oregon State University. "Teaching is multi-faceted, involving classroom lectures, supervision of students in independent study, supervision of theses and dissertations, extended or community education, curriculum development, and creative and innovative development of teaching methods and strategies. Only in exceptional instances does a person excel in all of these. Katherine Allen is one of these."
Through publications in journals such as Family Relations and Educational Gerontology, Allen has shared her knowledge and experience, challenging other instructors to employ unique and creative methods to bring family-science concepts alive in the classroom. Allen's impact on curriculum and teaching extends beyond the Department of Family and Child Development. She has served on several university curriculum committees, is a core faculty member of the Women's Studies Program, and is a faculty affiliate of the Center for Gerontology.
"Her publications have been instrumental in encouraging many of us to be more creative in our teaching strategies, to be more aware of and sensitive to diversity issues," said Mark Fine, professor and chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia and editor of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Allen's achievements in teaching have been recognized not only by the NCFR, but also by Texas Woman's University, where she was selected top professor by the Mortar Board Honor Society, and by Virginia Tech, including Tech's highest recognition of excellence in the classroom, the William E. Wine award. "Students are unfailingly complimentary about her as a brilliant instructor, inspiring model, and caring human being," said Rosemary Blieszner, a professor of family and child development at Tech. "Over and over they mention her empathy, acceptance of individuals in their own right, and concern for the development of the whole person."
Wilcox came to Virginia Tech as a doctoral student in 1994 after a 10-year term as assistant dean of students at Roanoke College. She earned a doctorate in family studies and a graduate certificate in gerontology. As a graduate teaching assistant and as an adjunct assistant professor, Wilcox has taught undergraduate courses such as Families and Children Under Stress and Marriage and Family Dynamics, and graduate courses such as Development of Marriage and Family Research and Theory and Marriage and Family Relationships.
She has conducted research for the Army School Age and Teen project (USDA/Department of the Army collaborative grant ), and on older parents of gay and lesbian adult children, and grandparent and family relationships. Her dissertation, "Privilege in Families: Complexity in Adult Sibling Relationships," garnered her a graduate research development grant. "Karen is an excellent teacher and researcher," said Victoria Fu, professor of family and child development at Tech.
"As a teacher, she is thoughtful and takes great care in providing individual attention to her students. As a researcher, she brings a sense of humanity that engages the subjects and brings authenticity to the projects."
Allen says Wilcox took particular care to get to know her students, even when enrollments were as high as 160. "She developed innovative strategies to get to know her students as individuals, and always assigned written papers in which students could analyze personal and academic knowledge about families."
Active in the Virginia Tech graduate student association, Wilcox also coordinated the family and child development GSA, and served on the College of Human Resources and Education graduate advisory board. Wilcox is a sought-after speaker on issues affecting undergraduate and graduate students. "She has given more of herself for the benefit of others than any student I know. She goes out of her way to anticipate the needs of others and to share her knowledge of the system with new students in creative ways," Allen said.