Professors receive Excellence in Teaching Award

This year’s awards for Excellence in Teaching were given to Eric Williams, a professor in criminology and criminal justice, and mathematics and statistics professor, Jerry Morris.  

“I wanted to be at a teaching institution, [which] is what brought me to Sonoma State,” said Williams. “That is what has kept me here all these years.” 

Williams is one of the two winners of this year’s Excellence in Teaching Award at Sonoma State University.

“The most rewarding part about teaching is the connections you build with students over time. Knowing that there is appreciation there, whether it’s a Starbucks gift card at the end of the semester, or the students that, without my knowledge, wrote letters to every Supreme Court justice asking if they would meet with me,” said Williams.

Each year, the Excellence in Teaching Award selection committee requests letters of nomination from students for educators who personify the spirit of insightfulness and inspiration of teaching. 

After the letters are processed, the nominees undergo a process including submission of an essay on their teaching philosophy, a description of course curriculum, a sample course syllabus, and an example of some supplemental texts or course materials. 

Williams is originally from Bangor, Maine where he attended Lehigh University, and eventually received his Ph.D. from Rutgers University. He not only teaches courses in criminology but is also the chair of the department. Williams has been nominated every year since the start of his employment for the Excellence in Teaching Award and had never received the award until this year.

He took a group of students to the Washington, D.C. with him where they met two Supreme Court justices. This was made possible because one student was inspired by Williams and respected him as a mentor and worked to put together an opportunity to meet with these figures.

“It’s all about passion. If you’re passionate about what you teach and teaching, the students will recognize that. I’m thought of as one of the most difficult professors in this department, but because the students know I’m passionate about their education they are willing to put in the work,” said Williams. 

Morris holds a degree from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, as well as a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Colorado State University. Morris’ hobbies include the NFL, linguistics and studying the universe. 

“My overwhelming feeling is gratitude. It means a lot that students took a lot of time out of their days to write letters and support myself and the math department,” said Morris.

Morris is passionate about guiding students to use the knowledge they have to develop skills they need. 

“Teaching is about helping students to develop the skill to use the potential already within them. Remember, it is not all about the technical aspects, it’s about communication and connections with students,” said Morris.

Morris encourages students to pursue teaching as a career in the future. He enjoys seeing his students succeed in the world because of their education and recommends a profession in education.

“[Teaching] can be a lot of fun, especially seeing students succeed in the world,” said Morris.

“What you have to sacrifice is great, but it’s worth it once you get the job. I always say I have the best job on earth. I always say that,” said Williams.