On teaching and working with students at MBU
“I feel extremely fortunate to be able to teach anthropology at Mary Baldwin, which means that I also get to work very closely with students. I always tell people that I loved being in college so much that I never left. In order to do my job, to be a good professor and teacher, I have to read, write, and do research — all the things I loved about being in college. I think of it as a great privilege that I get to make a living by reading and researching things that I find fascinating and then getting to tell other people about them.
As an anthropologist, I am also passionate that what I teach, the subject matter, is incredibly important, even necessary, to the world we live in. At the heart of anthropology is the celebration of diversity and recognition of human equality. In other words, although humans have different cultures and beliefs, all human societies and cultures are equally valid expressions of human creativity and adaptation. My courses are centered around these ideas and I hope that when students complete them, they take away specific skills and perspectives about how to work with people and communities different from themselves and how to understand the complex communities we live in.”
On her teaching philosophy and approach
“I like to mix it up! I love to teach through expectation failure — that is, getting students to learn something by first having them consider what they expect and walking them through step by step, with data, why their expectation is incorrect. I also teach through application, and I think learning by doing is incredibly important.
In one of my classes, students work in groups all semester to create their own invented communities and then we have a big simulation toward the end of the course. The assignment requires students to follow basic rules about how societies are organized and how different cultural elements correlate. They get to be creative and have fun, but they also need to show me that they understand the underlying concepts.
Philosophically, I try to practice inclusive, student-centered, and critical pedagogies. These are methods and concepts that focus, in part, on allowing students to share some power in the classroom and for professors to see themselves as co-learners, which I try (and sometimes fail) to do.”
Words of celebration from Wightman’s dean, Martha Walker
“There is no doubt that Abby merits this recognition, and I am really pleased to see her receive it. Her enthusiasm for and commitment to her students characterize every aspect of her work with Mary Baldwin. She guides students to a better understanding of human cultures and ultimately of themselves. In the process they learn appreciation of difference and tolerance. They also learn to reflect and to communicate thoughtfully. Students who have taken anthropology classes with Abby leave Mary Baldwin prepared to contribute valuably to the communities in which they will find themselves, and they consistently credit her part in their success.”
— Martha Walker, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences