When Brian Gran began his career in academia nearly 20 years ago, “collaboration” wasn’t as common a term or practice as it is today.

But his areas of expertise—law and society, human rights and health policy—couldn’t fit into a single discipline if they were to be taught effectively, Gran said. Instead, he favored a progressive, broader approach that included cooperation across several schools.

The Indianapolis native found a home at Case Western Reserve University, where he’s been a professor of sociology with the College of Arts and Sciences. He enjoys secondary appointments with the School of Law and the Jack, Joseph and Morton School of Applied Social Sciences.

Gran, also the faculty associate of the Center for Policy Studies, a public affairs discussion group at the university, has been chosen for a John S. Diekhoff Award for Graduate Student Teaching. He will receive the award during commencement on May 19.

Gran’s career didn’t start in academia. After practicing law for two years with Legal Services, he found there were limits on what he hoped to achieve: making a difference.

“For most of us, our careers are linear,” he said. “I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I went to law school, and I found that the questions I wanted to answer—such as how and why things work—the law alone wouldn’t answer.”

He said he needed to be “intellectually challenged,” and academia was the right fit.

Before joining the Case Western Reserve faculty, Gran was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in Health Policy Research at Yale University. His teaching interests include comparative social policy, political sociology, sociology of law and methodology.

Among his approaches to success in the classroom, he said, is staying teachable himself.

“I try to learn as much from my students as they learn from me,” Gran said. “To have the back-and-forth with these students is fun; it gives me energy. My research can inform my teaching, and my teaching can inform my research.”

Learning, he said, also comes from interacting with people and having great examples—specifically sociology associate professor Sue Hinze, professor Eva Kahana, and Gary Deimling, professor and co-director of the graduate sociology program, who he considers mentors.

“They have that big-picture perspective,” he said, “and they’ve taught me a lot about patience.”

In addition to teaching, Gran’s research focuses on social policy in both the public and private sectors. His recent work appears in the International Journal of the Sociology of Law, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Social Science Quarterly and International Journal of Health Services.

But he’s most at home in the classroom.

He’s heard from several former students who tell him that a particular class was a turning point in their careers. The students who nominated Gran for this award described him as “grounded,” “committed” and “extremely supportive.”

“When he teaches, he always makes an effort to discuss course topics that include minorities and our interest as it relates to our culture, identity and research,” wrote one student nominator.

“CWRU students humble me,” Gran said. “I think I am not distinguishable. I am fortunate to enjoy interactions and support of colleagues and students who have encouraged me to listen, to share good humor and to care deeply about what I teach.”

About the award

The Diekhoff Award honors John S. Diekhoff, a distinguished scholar, teacher, mentor and administrator who served Case Western Reserve in several capacities during his tenure, from 1956 to 1970. He was professor of English, chair of the Department of English, dean of Cleveland College, acting dean of the School of Graduate Studies and vice provost of the university.

The Diekhoff Award, established in 1978, recognizes outstanding contributions to the education of graduate students through advising and classroom teaching. The annual award is presented to two faculty members who epitomize what it means to teach graduate students: to connect them with experts in their discipline, engage them academically in a forthright and collegial manner, and actively promote their professional development. In 2009, the Diekhoff Award was expanded to recognize two additional full-time faculty members who excel in the mentoring of graduate students. A committee of graduate and professional program students with the guidance of the Graduate Student Senate reviews the nominations and recommends winners.

These awards are presented during the Graduate Studies diploma ceremony.