The practices that stem from his philosophy and transcend into the classroom led to him to be awarded as the Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year.
Sweeder said that being recognized by the president of the council means a lot, and that winning this award puts the stamp of approval on what he is doing, as well as Lyman Briggs College as a whole.
“The main thing is that it’s nice to have this external recognition for something that you care so deeply about,” Sweeder said.
Sweeder takes a different approach to teaching than the usual standing in front of a lecture hall and talking for an hour or so.
“One of the key things that we do there is to try to make it a very active class,” Sweeder said. “It’s not just sit there and listen to me lecture — it’s relatively rare that I would be standing there lecturing for more than five or 10 minutes at one time. But instead, the students are working on problems, discussing things with their peers, really trying to grapple with the information itself instead of just watching the professor do it.”
Sweeder’s proactive teaching style does not stop outside of the classroom either. He encourages his students to engage in activities outside of class, including volleyball, ultimate Frisbee and even overnight trips.
Sweeder said this high level of involvement helps him to build a stronger relationship with students and better understand them as individuals, which in turn helps him to be a better mentor and adviser for them.
In addition, it helps him write stronger, more personal letters of recommendation for students who request.
Sweeder said going on a trip with students helps both him and the students to see each other in a whole different light, rather than only seeing them one-on-one during scheduled office hours or appointments.
“It’s much more relaxed and more of two individuals interacting, and less of, ‘I’m your professor, and I have this power of a grade over you.’ It’s more, ‘Hey, let’s just talk about life,’ and they start to see you as an individual,” Sweeder said. “Then that allows you to, again, be more of a mentor for them and help them see how they could get from the position that they’re in to whatever it is they want to do professionally.”