Public Relations and Marketing Communications
DUNWOODY, Ga—Dennise Turner fell in love with history as a student at Spelman College while on a study abroad trip to France. She discovered a rich trove of underreported history on immigration, ethnic studies, race and identity in post-World War II Paris, and made it her academic research focus, both for her master’s and Ph.D.
But while European history intrigues her, what drives this 2022-23 Civic Engagement Award recipient is her passion for teaching and engaging her students in understanding the impact of current and past events in U.S. history.
“We have a broad spectrum of students from varied backgrounds–from new to this country to 62 and older—and all love talking about current events,” she said.
As the chair to the campus History and Politics Club and as an assistant professor of History, Political Science and Africana Studies, Turner enjoys that light bulb moment when her students are introduced to a new political process.
“During the election year, I want to help students see and experience what it is like to work on campaign; to vote, and what it means when candidates are preparing for an election,” Turner said. The mid-terms provided the perfect learning laboratory, as DeKalb County came to register students to vote, she said. “I love hearing when I make these assignments and a student will tell me, ‘I’ve never done this before – this is my first time to register to vote in this country.’”
And the State of the Union is must-see TV for her classes, to try and understand what all the pomp and circumstance is all about, she said.
“I make them sit down and watch it and try to make them understand why it’s important to understand how the President lays out his policy and plans to the country and to Congress,” she said.
The diversity of her classroom helps her engage her students in a variety of topics that connect her students both to past and current events.
“We’ve had the group, Asian Americans Advancing Justice come to talk, and we usually have a Veteran’s Day event. This past year we had Natasha Nichols, who is the GSU Military Advocate, come to talk to the class about her experience as a Black female veteran. Her presentation was great and was 30 minutes over and students still wanted to talk with her.
She enjoys listening to her students who often share their experiences in class in relation to their coursework. Sometimes they are heart-breaking stories of worry over immigration issues; others are stories of hope.
“We have such great students who come from all backgrounds—it’s fascinating when we study immigration and race and religion, and the (perspectives) of where these students come from and their backgrounds and their stories. They work real hard, take care of their parents and their children and balance a full load of classes —they are dedicated and really interested in learning about this country, and I do my best to make history exciting.”
Story by Rebecca Rakoczy
Photo by Bill Roa