A Lifelong Passion to Teach is Rewarded

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 20, 2021) — Torch Award winner Samantha Friedman knew from a very young age that she wanted to guide students. “I would make my friends play school countless times, and of course, I would always be the teacher,” said the associate professor of Sociology in her acceptance speech on Thursday afternoon in a simulcast ceremony.

Samantha Friedman sits on the Podium before a glass-enclosed stairway
Samantha Friedman of Sociology, winner of the 2021 Faculty & Student Engagement Torch Award. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

If, as a young adult, she needed confirmation of her childhood desire, she found it in one of her first college classes, introduction to sociology at the University at Buffalo. Her professor, Beth Anne Shelton, “inspired me to use my sociological imagination as she walked up and down the aisles of the 400-person lecture hall in which I had the class. I was hooked.”

The Faculty & Student Engagement Torch Award, a UAlbany tradition going back to the 1930s, honors a faculty member who has had an outstanding positive impact on a graduating senior’s academic and personal success. Seniors send in nomination letters of support, and this year that resulted in four nominees: Friedman; Christopher Pastore, associate professor of History; Morgan Sammons, assistant professor of Biological Sciences; and James Stellar, professor of Psychology.

“I recognize the hard work of my three colleagues who were acknowledged as outstanding nominees,” said Friedman. “And, while we four were recognized for our achievements, the fact is that every faculty member out there deserves recognition for their hard work as teachers, particularly during the pandemic. All of us have an impact on students’ lives.”

Kara Clark, who defines herself as an “adult learner,” wrote in her nomination of Friedman that “she has an innate ability to listen to students while enriching their interests.” Clark noted how Friedman is attuned to her students’ individual needs and how, during the pandemic, she “was incredibly mindful of the stress that the students were experiencing.”

Precious Agyeman-Badu said she applies Friedman’s teaching techniques herself as her research assistant, recalls her mentorship outside the classroom, through flexible office hours and even time beyond that “to ensure I fully understood the subject matter . . . I recall being stunned yet appreciative of Professor Friedman’s gesture. I felt seen and understood.”

Friedman said, “For Precious and Kara to have taken the time to acknowledge the impact that I have had on their lives through my teaching and mentoring is truly one of the most significant accomplishments that I have achieved to this point in my career.”

Friedman is not short of accomplishments. She is the director of the University’s Center for Social and Demographic Analysis, the Sociology department’s internship director, a 2014-15 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award winner to conduct research in Turkey, and has published a book and over 25 peer-reviewed journal articles in her fields of urban sociology, immigration and housing.

She is currently has five studies in the journal review process: two of COVID-19 mortality in New York City neighborhoods by their racial, ethnic and nativity status composition; one on Hispanic disaster preparedness in the U.S., relative to that of other racial and ethnic groups; and two on residential segregation in the U.S. and Turkey.

She expressed gratitude on Thursday for the supportive work environment created by her Sociology department colleagues and the instructional tools she has learned from UAlbany’s Institute for Teaching, Learning and Academic Leadership which “have helped me transform my role in the classroom from being a lecturer to instead being a facilitator of students’ learning.”

That truly has been Friedman’s goal since childhood, abetted by the teacher models she found in college. “I have come to realize that my professors not only taught me about the substance of sociology, but that they inspired me to be a role model to Precious and Kara and all my other students.  I am paying forward what they taught me.”

Friedman noted that her mother, Roberta, is particularly touched by her daughter’s award, since she is a Class of ’64 UAlbany alum who majored in sociology.