The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized Oklahoma State University’s Shelly Peper Sitton as one of two 2018 National Teaching and Student Engagement award winners this fall in the award’s first year of existence.
Sitton, an agricultural communications professor, was selected by a committee of her peers from universities across the country because of her significant positive effects on students inside and outside of classrooms, said Cynda Clary, OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources associate dean.
“Dr. Sitton spends a significant amount of time teaching, but what is not seen on her class list is the additional time she spends with students outside of the classroom,” Clary said. “She was selected because the committee clearly saw the excellence she provides, the passion she has for what she does, and the energy and commitment she has for students.”
Created to honor faculty members with a 75 percent or greater teaching appointment, the award recognizes a recipient’s impact on student development within his or her discipline, interaction with students and implementation of a research-based approach to improve teaching.
Sitton is comfortable teaching students the principles of design and the clearest way to write a story for a magazine, said Ashley Hanson, a December 2018 OSU agricultural communications graduate. With her teaching comes high expectations and the encouragement and support to help all students achieve their best, Hanson added.
“Shelly is the epitome of student engagement,” Hanson said. “She recognizes she has the power to change the way students think about things. Whether it is design, writing or life in general, she opens students’ eyes to our own potential and helps us create for ourselves our most effective creative process.”
Hanson added for her and many more CASNR students, Sitton has taught some of her most important lessons while sitting with them in her office working on a project or during an advising appointment. The environment Sitton creates “looks like a family,” Hanson said.
“She does this through her honesty, openness and kindness, which is shown through an abundance of hugs and pieces of chocolate,” Hanson said.\
Surrounded by agriculture on her family’s farm in Mayes County, Sitton grew up participating in the Adair FFA chapter where she cultivated a love for communications through speech competitions. Sitton came to OSU in 1984 for her undergraduate studies, completing her Bachelor of Science degree in 1998, followed by a master’s degree in 1989 and doctoral degree in 2000. Sitton said it became her dream to work at OSU while in Stillwater as a college student.
“I want to make a difference,” Sitton said. “Not all students are alike and not all are good at the same things. I try to help individuals get where they want to be.”
Sitton said she works hard to help students feel “like respected colleagues.” She teaches by giving students the skills and ideas they need and allowing them to form their own processes.
Joining the faculty in 1992, Sitton has been a large part of building the Oklahoma State agricultural communications degree program into what it is today, said Angel Riggs, an OSU agricultural communications assistant professor. Sitton teaches her students skills she learned early in her career and those that have changed as technologies and methods have advanced, Riggs added.
“Shelly is focused on building relationships with students,” Riggs said. “She spends the extra time to work individually with students and give them real-time feedback. Many times, I have heard students talk about the feedback they receive from Shelly and how much it means to them.”
Hanson added no one is more deserving than Sitton of being recognized for teaching and student engagement.
“But this award won’t mean as much to Shelly as a sincere hug and thank you from a student,” Hanson said.
The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources serves students from across the nation and world, offering 16 majors and 55 study options. There are more than 60 student organizations and competitive teams for students to participate in and add value to their experience at OSU.
CASNR is part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, which is comprised of the college and the university’s two state agencies: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station system.