Sociology’s Jessica Kelley honored with 2022 John S. Diekhoff Award for Graduate Teaching

Photo of Case Western Reserve University sociology faculty member Jessica Kelley

Sociology Professor Jessica Kelley starts every new class with the same line: “Statistics can be learned by everyone.” As the sole statistician in the department, Kelley teaches courses including Logic of Social Inquiry, Social Statistics, Health Disparities and Multilevel Modeling. 

Because many graduate students pursuing a degree in sociology don’t have extensive backgrounds in mathematics, Kelley said her courses can create anxiety and make a student start to doubt their ability. That’s where her teaching approach comes into play. Kelley has a mission to empower students to feel confident in their analysis skills, no matter their level of experience.

“The first thing Professor Kelley brings to class is the motivation that, regardless of one’s background, the most important thing is an open heart and readiness to learn,” student nominator Abolade Oladimeji said.

During the university’s commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 15, Kelley will be recognized for her outstanding approach with the John S. Diekhoff Award for Graduate Teaching.

One of her methods involves creating an interactive classroom environment where students are encouraged to engage in conversation to guide learning. 

“We learn best when we all actively participate,” Kelley said. “I bring content to each class, but it comes alive in the way that we work through it together.”

Kelley often jokes that she requires a “live studio audience” because the exchanges help her assess comprehension and adjust her teaching on the fly, diving deeper into topics that are more challenging and move quickly through others. 

“She is determined to make statistics and research methods relatable and relevant,” Micah Bailey-Arafah, PhD student and Kelley’s research assistant, said. “It allows students to relax while learning a potentially difficult subject.”

By the end of her course, many students have papers they are proud of and have a piece of work ready to be published or presented. For Kelley, this “professional stamp” on their hard work is the true thrill of teaching. 

“You need a professor that cares about your well-being… that stands with you in the days of adversity… that equips you with skills money can’t buy,” Oladimeji added. “And if there is any professor like that at CWRU, it is Professor Jessica Kelley.”

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: 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 Studies students reviews the nominations and recommends winners.