Associate Professor Kate McDowell is the 2022 recipient of the Outstanding Information Science Teacher Award from the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T). The award recognizes her unique contributions to information science education that reside at the intersection of storytelling and data science.
According to nominator Linda C. Smith, professor emerita and interim executive associate dean, McDowell's impact encompasses students in degree programs as well as individuals engaged in professional development. "Her work empowers individuals, organizations, and communities to take control of their own narratives and use the resources and tools at their disposal to connect authentically with their audiences."
McDowell's storytelling research has involved training collaborations with institutional advancement at both the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois system, storytelling consulting work for multiple nonprofits, and storytelling workshops for the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI).
"It is not just the content of her teaching that is significant, it is the manner in which she delivers this information," said Anne Craig, CARLI's senior director who has worked with McDowell on CARLI Counts, a continuing education library leadership immersion program. "She is not only funny and warm, but also inviting of differing perspectives and inclusive of all participants, drawing listeners in and encouraging them to share their own experiences and questions. Her care is genuine; participants have reached out to her—always finding her accessible—repeatedly to find support and guidance."
McDowell regularly appears on the List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent issued by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus each semester. In addition, for her accomplishments in teaching online, she was recognized in 2018 with the Excellence in Online & Distance Teaching Award, given annually by the University.
According to Assistant Professor Matthew Turk, who co-developed and co-taught Data Storytelling (IS 457) with McDowell, "Students consistently rate the course as extremely impactful in their careers in information science, due largely to the approach Professor McDowell has embedded in it that provides not just concrete, practical applications of the material, but a broader, deeply compassionate and thoughtful mindset that guides student learning and trajectories."
"Kate's innovations in reading selection, in managing class discussions of those readings, and of assignments that nudge students towards more insightful reading, thinking, analysis, and clear writing of ideas are exemplary," said Professor Michael Twidale of McDowell's work on History and Foundations of Information Science (IS 509), a seminar for first-year doctoral students. "It is tempting to think of a doctoral seminar as a nice, fun, easy class where one can relax and let the smart motivated students run the show—in contrast to the effort needed in say certain undergraduate classes. But Kate's dedicated careful thoughtfulness shows how much more can be achieved if extra effort is invested in that critical first year."
McDowell formerly served as interim associate dean for academic affairs and assistant dean for student affairs and has led multiple transformative projects for the School. She researches and publishes in the areas of storytelling as information research, social justice storytelling, and what library storytelling can teach the information sciences about data storytelling.
"She values collaboration and shows genuine interest in learning about other disciplines and perspectives," said Kirstin Phelps (PhD '21) of McDowell, who served as her dissertation advisor, committee chair, and mentor. "Her approach to working with her students combined honest curiosity with critical support and respect. Discussing research with Kate was a dialogue, one that helped me refine my thinking and writing while also bolstering my confidence in my own research decisions."
McDowell will receive her award at the 2022 ASIS&T Annual Meeting, which will be held from October 29-November 1 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
"It has been a great honor to continually redevelop courses in storytelling, data storytelling, and more, in collaboration with students and faculty at Illinois," said McDowell. "I'm so fortunate to work for a school that has supported my taking risks in teaching innovation, especially in taking teaching and research beyond the classroom. Consulting and nonprofit work has enriched what I could offer to our students, and vice versa, and such opportunities to encounter fresh views and voices have been critical to sustaining momentum during these challenging times."