Article courtesy of THE TACOMA LEDGER and author CHRISTEAN JENKINS
Dr. Danica Sterud Miller is the newest recipient of UW Tacoma’s Distinguished Teaching Award. Miller is an assistant professor who teaches in the Social and Historical Studies Division of the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. Before receiving her Ph.D. in English from Fordham University, Dr. Miller attended school in Fife and grew up on the Puyallup Reservation.
This award recognizes faculty members who are innovative, integrate their knowledge of community and diversity in and out of the classroom, have mastered their teaching subject, and practice active and continuous engagement with students through a promotion of scholarship and excellence.
Recipients are first nominated by students, faculty, and alumni, and nominees are then reviewed by a selection committee.
Dr. Matthew Weinstein was a Distinguished Teaching Award recipient in 2011 and is serving for the second time as a member of the selection committee. Weinstein said that Dr. Miller’s file not only met the criteria that the committee was looking for, but that it truly articulated the exciting work that she is doing at UWT.
“She was really doing something at the very foundation that’s new to the University by bringing the framework, the analysis, and type of teaching
that she does,” Weinstein said. “It was innovative. It was truly unique at every layer of the onion.”
Dr. Miller’s classes integrate Native American studies, history, literature, and other media. Her research is focused on the connection between Native American writers and the attempted limitation of Native American tribal sovereignty by federal laws.
Dr. Miller often tries to incorporate knowledge and practices into her classes that indigenous cultures have been doing for centuries.
“As much as I can, as a part of indigenous education, I implement storytelling, field trips, touching materials that I bring into the classroom, listening, watching, and repetition,” Dr. Miller said.
“It’s also letting my students have the opportunity to tell their stories. It’s the different ways of addressing and answering topics. It means a lot of discussion, in-class writing, and group work. It’s my attempt to get them to create their knowledge in safe spaces.”
Dr. Miller said that she views what she does not so much as innovative, but instead ancestral.
“It’s seen as innovative,” she said. “What it really is, is working within this history of indigenous learning, which is also in many ways mentorship. So, it’s trying to have one-on-one relationships with my students. I know that those few professors when I was in college that asked, ‘Do you know how to write a personal statement?’ were key to where I am today.”
Dr. Miller said that working at UWT has been a privilege.
“The opportunity to teach American Indian studies on my ancestral land is unbelievable sometimes,” she said. “It’s a gift. It’s an honor. In many ways, it feels like this is exactly where I am supposed to be.”
Outside of teaching, Dr. Miller is writing a book about Puyallup sovereignties and is working with local tribal communities. She said that in the future, after receiving tenure, she will continue teaching and will most likely increase her work with local communities as her assistance has been requested.
“There are specific needs that [local tribal communities] would like [addressed],” Dr. Miller said. “One of those is the Lushootseed Language Institute. At this point, working on Puyallup history in a way that represents a Puyallup’s perspective and working on Lushootseed are where more of my efforts will be, but I will always be here teaching.”