Nelson Institute graduate student named a 2019 Letters and Science Teaching Fellow

September 3, 2019

Nelson Institute graduate student, Sheamus Cavanaugh, has been named a 2019 Letters and Science Teaching Fellow in recognition of his outstanding success as a student and teacher at UW-Madison. This prestigious award includes a rigorous nomination process that requires department endorsement, student evaluations, and a personal statement from the nominees regarding their teaching philosophy. As one of the selected honorees, Cavanaugh received monetary support as well as the opportunity to lead a teaching assistant workshop on Thursday, August 29, 2019.

“To be recognized by Letters and Science and to have the Nelson Institute put their support behind me means a lot,” Cavanaugh said of this award.

Currently, Cavanaugh is a teaching assistant for two Nelson Institute courses led by Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor, Anna Gade, including The Environment: Religion and Ethics and Environmental Humanities.

“Mr. Cavanaugh had his first teaching experience in our Environmental Studies classrooms, and by his second year he was already a skilled mentor to new TAs in the Nelson Institute,” Gade said. “I have watched him lecture to a large class of about two hundred and lead small-group discussions as well, and he connects with students in a meaningful and inclusive way every time. The feedback consistently given by them every year – whether by students majoring in humanities and social studies, or natural and physical sciences -- praises all aspects of his teaching.”

Gade also shared that she appreciates the ways in which Cavanaugh’s pedagogy integrates the interdisciplinary approach of the Environmental Studies curriculum here at UW-Madison, while overlapping local, international, and planetary perspectives. Gade explained that the humanities courses Cavanaugh is teaching focus on student-centered learning, which means being especially attentive to the struggles, needs, and concerns that undergraduate students bring to the learning setting. Gade added that Cavanaugh will be sharing his acquired wisdom and knowledge about working with students with mental wellness challenges to the workshops he will leading, adding that “this will benefit the wider UW community as campuses nationwide learn how to better address growing pressures to provide mental health services and support, including in the area of suicide prevention.”

Gade continued, “Here in the Institute, we are proud to be represented by graduate students and professional TAs like Mr. Cavanaugh, and appreciate the recognition of our programs in L&S, especially in the critical area of humanistic environmental study. Within the Institute, Mr. Cavanaugh has taken on key leadership roles, by serving as a Graduate Student Representatives engaged with both the graduate student community and governance, and also acting as one of the Institute’s Center for Culture, History and Environment (CHE) student representative as well as co-organizing CHE’s annual graduate student conference.”

In addition to his many leadership roles, Cavanaugh is also conducting research for his PhD, which will investigate the impact climate change is having on maple syrup production. Cavanaugh previously worked with the Intertribal Maple Syrup Producers Cooperative and focused his Master’s degree in Environment and Resources on the study of environmental anthropology, political ecology, ethnobotany, agricultural cooperatives, and Native American treaty rights.

“I have always had an interest in food and how politics impacts people’s access to food,” Cavanaugh said. “I have spent years working in annual agriculture, but when I began working in maple syrup, it was different. There is something amazing about a perennial tree that can make food while snow is on the ground.”

Cavanaugh is looking forward to his future at the Nelson Institute as he continues working with faculty and maple syrup producers to expand his understanding of climate change and its impact on agriculture. Cavanaugh is also excited to explore new ways to share his research and other curriculum with his students.

“I have loved teaching and there is nothing more fun than getting to have discussions with students and learn more about their perspectives,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s been really fulfilling for me.”