Amber Franklin, right, speaks with graduating seniors Jennifer Tassaro and Sarah Chu.
Amber Franklin, right, speaks with graduating seniors Jennifer Tassaro and Sarah Chu. Photo: Scott Kissell

Outstanding Professor of the Year Amber Franklin makes room for focused learning

by Carole Johnson, university news and communications

Amber Franklin, the 2017 Associated Student Government’s Outstanding Professor of the Year, discovered that sometimes the right kind of space leads to the best teaching and learning.   

It's this attempt at creating the right kind of surroundings, both physical and mental, that led to her nomination for ASG's prestigious honor. Specifically, she was recognized for her involvement with students both in and out of the classroom, her committee work at Miami and her community work in Oxford.  

"This is a big deal,” Franklin, associate professor of speech pathology and audiology, said about the award. "I admit I was taken by surprise realizing how much this award means."  

Each year, professors are nominated by graduating seniors for having a profound impact. Miami graduating senior Sarah Chu nominated Franklin based on her openness with students and willingness to meet them in any kind of space, especially her favorite place, Kofenya in uptown Oxford, for a cup of coffee and a chat.   

“Dr. Franklin speaks a lot about how as women, we often sell ourselves short and question our competence,” Chu, a speech pathology and audiology major, wrote in her nominating letter. Chu, who enjoys the Spanish language, applied to bilingual graduate schools to further her studies in speech pathology. To her surprise, she was accepted. She is attending Vanderbilt in the fall. 

“I never would have known that I could do it if I hadn’t taken this leap of faith, and Dr. Franklin was the reason that I took that step.”  

Developing one-on-one relationships with students fosters learning

In Franklin’s research labs, graduate students are paired with undergraduate students to collect data, analyze and participate in all levels of research. Her students like the fact that the labs are kept small in order to invest in each student’s academic pursuits.

But after six years at Miami, Franklin now knows when to step back and relinquish some control to allow for student learning.

"I’ve discovered that If I didn't relinquish control early enough in the research process, later in the year, (when I did) my students froze and made mistakes."  

Of course, sometimes mistakes happen regardless. In one study, a coding error distorted portions of data. Although most of the data was salvageable, it taught them to test data in small portions first, before launching an entire study.  

“When students struggle, Dr. Franklin is the most encouraging and helpful professor,” Chu wrote. “She does not hesitate to slow down during lectures, meet with students outside of the class and willingly answer questions.” 

Franklin herself modifies her own teaching techniques to push her students. She has a "boot-camp" philosophy toward writing that she learned from Miami’s Faculty Writing Boot Camps, sponsored by the Howe Center for Writing Excellence. Honing undergraduates’ skills in writing and research is a passion. She’s so serious about the emphasis on writing that she's dedicated three class periods to her capstone course for students to write.

“Having a dedicated space and time to write fosters success,” she said.

They reserve space in Miami’s B.E.S.T. Library and by the end of those three days, "students are writing, talking to each other about their writing, and some even ask to stay longer than the class period."  

Outside of the classroom, Franklin is a member of several committees, including the What the L, a faculty forum series co-founded by Aaron Shield (speech pathology and audiology) and David Beard (Spanish and Portuguese). The series invites faculty to share their works in progress. The 2016-2017 inaugural year was a success, and the series will return in the fall.  

She also serves on the American Association of University Professors. This is the second year for the faculty advocacy chapter which is looking to expand in membership. She is particularly interested in increasing diversity among its membership.

In addition, she serves on the SPEAK committee, helping to place international graduate teaching assistants based upon their language proficiency. Her research interests include clinical approaches to accent modification, adult cross-linguistic phonetics and phonology. 

She is also a member of the Oxford Police Community Relations and Review Commission. The committee works to improve relationships between the Oxford police and the community.  

“She cares so deeply about others’ well-being,” Chu wrote. “Specifically, she possesses a unique ability to integrate her passions and research interests into the practical mechanics of making a difference in people’s lives.”