When NIU communication instructor Matthew J. Swan assigns a writing project to his students, he gives then two pieces of advice: “Do your best, and don’t over-think the assignment.”
If students are not comfortable or accustomed to writing stories, essays and academic papers, he said, they will worry about it and let their fears dictate the final product.
As an instructor in the Department of Communication, Swan deems it his job to calm their fears so they find their written voices.
“I help students find their single and individual voices,” he said. “Yes, some of them don’t have thick skin, but they learn to write according to professional standards.”
Taking this teaching philosophy to the classroom works because students leave Swan’s classes as confident, grateful writers.
Some have sung his praises, leading him to receive NIU’s prestigious Excellence in Undergraduate Instruction.
The honor, given annually to one faculty member who teaches undergraduate classes, applauds an instructor’s innovative teaching style, rapport with students and colleagues and commitment to education.
Students and colleagues nominate instructors for the award. Swan’s students and fellow faculty told nominating committee members they are better writers because of Swan’s lessons.
“(Swan) teaches us that no dream is impossible if you sharpen your skills, persevere and respect constructive criticism,” Arielle Kalvelage told committee members.
“Mr. Swan is a mentor, teacher and a friend,” wrote Allyse Jerome. “He shows students their potential and gets them excited about learning.”
Former NIU professor Daniel Kempton called Swan’s teaching style profound and entertaining.
“Because Matt has written scripts that have been performed in the ‘real world,’ his students find him credible and insightful,” Kempton said.
Swan said his name might be the one on the award, but the entire NIU Department of Communications deserves it.
“All of my colleagues have the dedication to find the most effective ways to teach our students to be confident communicators,” he said. “This award gives recognition to the entire department.”
Swan, who received his master’s degree in fine arts from Florida State University, started at NIU in 1995. Among the courses he teaches are “Writing for the Media,” Performance in Speech” and “Introduction to Media Studies.”
An award-winning entertainment writer, he previously worked as a writer and producer at Rockford’s WQRF television station. One of his lasting memorable jobs was playing the role of Uncle Don in the locally produced show, “Uncle Don’s Terror Theater,” from 1984 to 1992.
Swan lives in DeKalb with his wife, Judy Santacaterina, director of the Bachelor of General Studies degree program at NIU.