Kluch honored for excellence in teaching as a graduate student

By Bonnie Blankinship

For doctoral student Yannick Kluch, "learning is a journey, not a destination," and he seamlessly brings that philosophy into the classroom as a teacher in the School of Media and Communication. In recognition of his teaching excellence, Kluch recently was named the winner of the Central States Communication Association's 2018 Cooper Award for teaching by a Ph.D. student. He becomes the first Bowling Green State University student ever to receive the prestigious honor.

The association is one of the top regional organizations in promoting all levels of scholarship, and sponsors outstanding teaching, research and service awards, including teaching at the two graduate levels. Kluch will be recognized at the CSCA annual conference, to be held April 6 in Milwaukee.

Kluch takes a holistic approach to teaching, combining it with research and community-based learning and bringing a variety of elements into the curriculum and classroom activities to ensure every student is grasping the material and is able to apply it in a larger context. He is perhaps most familiar to the BGSU campus as the founder of the NCAA award-winning We Are One Team (WA1T), a campus-wide initiative he created to promote diversity and inclusion through sport at the University and in the Bowling Green community. He has spent the past year working closely with the NCAA's Office of Inclusion and Diversity, traveling the country to give workshops for teachers, coaches and administrators and share the WA1T experience.

His commitment to social justice also permeates his teaching.

“Yannick presents very dense, complex material in a way that students can understand”

"As a teacher with a passion for knowledge, education, diversity, and inclusive leadership, it is my goal to create classroom environments that foster meaningful learning experiences for all students enrolled in my classes, empower students to reflect on the worlds they are a part of, and encourage students to apply the course concepts and skills to address social problems," Kluch said in his Cooper Award application. "I am a critical educator who views learning as a continuous process that transcends both the physical and temporal limits of the communication classroom. That is why I conceptualize learning as a journey, not a destination."

His emphasis on creating meaningful learning experiences has led him to, variously, invite local drag queens into a class session on gender norms to tell how they perform gender, and to have students create fictitious online dating profiles and use strategies of uncertainty reduction to get to know one another. A central emphasis is to get students to reflect on how concepts covered in class relate to their everyday lives, and he frequently uses humor, pop culture references and technology to achieve that. For example, in class sessions on critical approaches to sport he asks students to deconstruct and critique how "ESPN: The Body Issue" portrays athletes in terms of gender, race, sexuality and other identity markers.

"Yannick presents very dense, complex material in a way that students can understand," said Dr. Emily Anzicek, with whom he has worked for the past two years as the assistant basic course director in the Department of Communication. He assisted her in supervising more than 20 graduate teaching assistants and 600 undergraduate students per year in developing course assignments and content as well as in administering the basic course, Introduction to Public Speaking, for which he also taught five sections.

"He's so creative with what he does for his classes," Anzicek said. "It usually takes years get your feet under you in the classroom, but he has a real talent that seems to come naturally for him. His ability is far beyond his level of experience, timewise."

"In the classroom, Yannick does an incredible job with connecting the course materials with real life content that is important to students' lives," said Jesse Westfall, who has taken Introduction to Public Speaking and The Rhetoric of Sport with Kluch. "He will pull in examples from Twitter or Instagram, platforms that students are familiar and identify with, to help us connect with what we are learning about. Yannick's classes are more than a simple lecture; in fact, he hardly spends any time lecturing. His classes are a majority of student-led discussions and in-class exercises and activities.

"You can tell he takes a lot of time putting these lessons together and preparing them, in order to make the class more enjoyable and more engaging for the students. He puts in the extra effort, and lets the students know he cares about our classroom performance and education."

Another student, from his Communication Theory course, praised his "energy and enthusiasm," along with his ability to "get conversation flowing and our minds going," even in an 8 a.m. class, saying, "I loved this class and would take it again if I could."

Kluch designed the syllabus and created the class activities and student assessments for the Communication Theory course. Many of the activities he developed were accepted for presentation as part of the "Great Ideas for Teaching Students" (G.I.F.T.S.) sessions at the 2017 convention of the National Communication Association.

Kluch also blends his research and service activities into his teaching to create a richer learning experience for students and for himself. As a sign of his deep dedication to teaching, he has been part of a two-year Service-Learning Faculty Learning Community, "an intensive professional development opportunity primarily reserved for faculty," said facilitator Paul Valdez, associate director of the Center for Community and Civic Engagement. "Few graduate students have sought out the opportunity," Valdez said, noting that Kluch was an engaged and contributing participant and used the experience to develop his community-based course tied to WA1T.

In his Rhetoric of Sport class, Kluch included several service-learning components linked to WA1T, and students develop group-advocacy projects using sport to address social justice issues. He also successfully created for-credit sports communication and PR internship opportunities for undergraduate students in the School of Media and Communication, and was the driving force behind the creation of the WA1T Team Player Program, a first-of-its-kind inclusive leadership certificate specifically designed for BGSU student-athletes. Among them was Nilijah Ballew, a BGSU football player from Cincinnati whom Kluch counts as a personal mentor and who has taught him about the male, African-American experience.

The supportive and stimulating environment Kluch fostered resulted in even the most reticent students becoming comfortable and confident and developing their public speaking skills. "When scheduling my classes for the semester I thought that this class was going to be the most stressful, but it ended up being a class I always looked forward going to and the one I have learned the most in," said one student. "He is, hands down, the best teacher I have ever had."

One of the roles Kluch most enjoys is encouraging and supporting other students in applying to graduate school, among them Westfall and notably Ballew, who got into all three schools he applied to even though he had never thought of going on to graduate school before meeting Kluch.

"Yannick has truly been a blessing to me," Balllew said. "He saw the potential in me. Transferring to the Communication program as a sophomore and taking Yannick's class was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I plan to get my graduate degree in sports administration so I can help create a new path of doing things right and bringing about social change and social justice."

Kluch describes Ballew as "one of the smartest students I've ever known," and Ballew said their relationship is one of mutual respect, support and admiration.

To accomplish all this, Kluch must be very organized and efficient, Anzicek said, noting he also has been "instrumental in planning our events. For our World Speech Day, where community members share how they use public speaking in their noncommunication-related jobs, he contacted all the speakers, booked the rooms and scheduled the day. For two years he also planned our departmental showcase."

This is perhaps especially impressive considering that English is not even Kluch's first language. He came to BGSU from Hamburg, Germany, in 2012 as a master's degree student in popular culture, and stayed to pursue his doctorate.

But to Kluch, "my teaching and activities don't feel like work to me, because I enjoy it so much that it energizes me and I'm surrounded by so many energetic and passionate people who are my support system. I learn something new from my students every day. WA1T gives me the most joy. Coming from Germany, where we don't have sports in high school or college, I wanted to bring the emotional power of sport into academics."

His academic achievements and his work with WA1T have earned him not one, but two jobs. After receiving his doctorate from BGSU in May, he will join the NCAA's Office of Inclusion for a yearlong internship, a highly competitive position in which he was one of only 30 people chosen from a pool of 3,000 applicants.

The next year, he will begin teaching sports communication and media at Rowan University in New Jersey, a tenure-track faculty position the university was willing to hold for him for a year while he completes his NCAA internship. His background was a perfect match for the new program they are beginning, Kluch said.

However, after being so bonded to BGSU for six years, he is sure he will stay connected and help encourage the positive developments to continue.