Social work professor receives NWC Teaching Excellence Award

Valerie Stokes, assistant professor of social work at Northwestern College, has been named this year’s recipient of the Northwestern Teaching Excellence Award. She received a $1,500 check and a commemorative plaque during the college’s commencement ceremony on May 12.

Sponsored by the Alumni Association and the Student Government Association (SGA), the award is administered by the Faculty Development Committee (FDC). Students nominated 16 professors for the honor. A selection committee—composed of members of SGA and the Sigma Tau senior honor society, two past award winners and two FDC members—pared the nominees to three finalists.

The major factor used in selected the award winner is evidence of strong teaching ability. The committee considered the number and quality of nominations in relation to candidates’ class sizes, student course evaluations, professional development, research and publications, and institutional service.

The other finalists were Karen Bohm Barker, professor of theatre and speech, and Dr. Lila Sybesma, assistant professor of education.

Stokes, who just completed her fourth year on the faculty, was cited as a motivating and inspiring teacher by students who submitted nominations. One wrote, “Val has taught me to be passionate about those I serve. To her, we aren’t just students but always people she sees making a difference. She sees so much potential in everyone and has always been really amazing at showing students we have something to offer.”

Another student described Stokes as “the ultimate mentor for budding social workers. She has experience in several areas of social work. Her students not only learn how to be social workers, they learn a lot about themselves in the process. She believes it’s her job to help us facilitate our own learning. Val’s burning desire for social justice merges with her faith to make her a strong, yet sensitive leader. She is always trying to learn new things and build her knowledge and experience base.”

Stokes is known for her accessibility in and out of the classroom. “She takes a lot of interest in each person in her classes, and she has high expectations,” wrote a student. “She strongly encourages phone calls, texts, emails and office visits if we have any questions. She is more than willing to help us understand anything that confuses us.”

Stokes joined Northwestern’s social work department after serving as executive director of The Bridge, a transitional housing agency in Orange City. She previously spent seven years as a therapist at Northwestern, including four as co-director of student counseling services. She also worked as a program supervisor at the Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and as a social worker at the Crittenton Center in Sioux City.

A licensed independent social worker and a licensed master social worker, Stokes is a doctoral degree candidate in educational psychology at the University of South Dakota. She received a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern College in 1993 and earned a Master of Social Work degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.