Angelo State Philosophy Professor Honored for Teaching Excellence
Susana Badiola's journey of curiosity led to a new degree at ASU and the Texas Tech University System's highest faculty honor.
As a child, Susana Badiola had many questions: How do I know what I perceive as the color red is what you see in the same way? How do I know my current experience is not a dream?
Her questions, her curiosity did not disappear over time, but became a familiar companion.
Growing up in Spain’s Basque Country, Badiola exceled at math, biology and chemistry, eventually deciding to study medicine. After one year, however, she left the world of dissection and anatomy to pursue a more holistic understanding of who we are, a journey that led her to philosophy.
And philosophy students at Angelo State University are better off for it. Since Badiola accepted a faculty position with the university in 2004, the philosophy program has grown from a minor component of the Government Department to a full-fledged major in the renamed Department of Political Science and Philosophy, where she is now a professor.
To recognize her achievements, earlier this year Badiola was awarded the Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Teaching Award — the most prestigious honor given to faculty members throughout the Texas Tech University System.
She received $5,000 and a medallion for excellence, funded by annual membership gifts to the Chancellor’s Council — a giving society supporting the priorities of Chancellor Robert Duncan that impacts student lives through scholarships, recognizes faculty achievement and encourages excellence across all four, system universities.
Among the many accomplishments leading to her award was the curriculum she developed for close to a decade to support the university’s bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Since 2013, she has developed nearly a dozen courses, allowing students in the program to tailor their degree plans to fit their individual interests.
“Classes such as Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Religion, or Existentialism and Political Violence tend to attract students,” Badiola said. “The program offers a great variety of courses — some attract more scientifically minded students, some more politically inclined.
“My favorite classes to teach are the ones with passionate students, who are willing to go beyond their comfort zone and are able to discuss the readings and their positions critically,” she said.
A different worldview
After leaving medical school, Badiola followed her passion, earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Louis University and another from Universidad Complutense in Madrid. She received a research grant during the five years it took to complete her dissertation and earn her Ph.D.
She knew she would stay in academia, but that it would be a question of balancing research and teaching. “I had lived in Saint Louis, Missouri, for 2½ years before, so I was somewhat familiar with the U.S. and the education system.”
Her husband, Rodney Stephens, interviewed for a job on the English faculty at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, where he teaches today. At the same time, she saw a job opening in philosophy at Angelo State and applied for it. When the time came to move, Badiola and her husband decided to split the difference between the two universities and settle in Ballinger, a little more than 30 miles away from campus.
“At first everything felt a little unreal,” she said. “It was like being part of a Western movie: the landscape, the space, the atmosphere, the people, the accent…The students were also very different: their background, their expectations. It was not just a different location. It was a different worldview.
“When I started teaching at ASU, I had to make some important adjustments,” Badiola said. “I had been teaching students who had taken the two years of mandatory philosophy in high school, plus three years of philosophy towards the degree.
“ASU students did not have any background in philosophy. They did not understand the jargon or even the fundamental notions I was taking for granted. At ASU, students who took philosophy were curious enough to register for a class they knew nothing about. I have always admired that,” she said, emphasizing, “but I realized I had to explain what philosophy was first, then get them interested in the new subject matter and teach them some content.”
The rewards of teaching
If she felt any hesitation about balancing research and teaching when she arrived on the San Angelo campus, she has found teaching has its rewards.
“I have had those extremely gratifying moments in the classroom, when students make some interesting connections or are able to discern layers of complexity in what appeared easy at first glance,” Badiola said. “I also love to witness the ‘aha’ moments in students´ faces after overcoming some conceptual struggle.”
Philosophy helps develop the reasoning demanded by so many careers.
“Philosophy provides analytical and critical skills, which students need to be able to assess what they read or hear and then provide good reasons to reject it or embrace it,” Badiola said. “Philosophy improves oral and written communication.”
- Philosophy majors had the highest scores in verbal reasoning and analytical thinking on the GRE, according to data from the Educational Testing Service, which administers the exam.
- Philosophy majors are top performers on both the LSAT and the GRE according to Psychology Today.
- Philosophy majors are admitted to law school at a higher percentage than any other major — 75 percent, according to the data from the Law School Admissions Council.
Badiola looks for student engagement in the classroom and finds ways to keep classes lively. Sometimes it’s the latest software that allows students to interact on laptops and mobile devices. She’s also come to class with intriguing object lessons: silly putty for Quine’s web of belief and boxes (with or without plastic beetles) for Wittgenstein’s private language argument.
“The Socrates doll has witnessed many a discussion of Plato’s dialogues. It just adds a playful note,” Badiola said. “When explaining philosophical concepts, I sometimes find that if students have fun, it’s easier for them to understand abstract ideas.”
“Students who feel particularly grateful…have made me believe that I can, in fact, make a difference.”
The same principle is present in the Philosophy Club, which Badiola serves as faculty adviser.
Some of her students meet weekly to discuss different topics. They organize movie discussions and activities that might include a visit to an Escape Room. They also attend a philosophy conference every year where students have the opportunity to present their own papers and discuss their colleagues’ presentations.
As a recipient of this year’s Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Teaching Award, Badiola had the opportunity to hear messages of thanks and encouragement from her students past and present.
“It was extremely moving,” Badiola explained. “The public recognition of many years of dedication is extremely meaningful for an educator.
“The most gratifying experiences are probably linked to teaching. Students who feel particularly grateful and show their gratitude either in person or in writing have made me believe that I can, in fact, make a difference.”