Research brings skills, good learning experience (and fun)

Sloan Williams, Silver Circle winner

Sloan Williams with students Lindsey Proctor, Holly Eberle and Pamela Whyms. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

2013 Silver Circle Award

Since 1966, the Silver Circle has been presented to some of UIC’s best teachers. What makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors.


Sloan Williams
Associate professor of anthropology
College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


Skeleton bones and archeological digs in former cemeteries may seem like morbid subjects, but they’re exciting material for biological anthropologist Sloan Williams and her students.

The undergraduate class she teaches most often is osteology, the examination of the human skeleton.

“It’s hands-on and a lab format, so they are working in small groups and it’s very informal,” says Williams, a first-time Silver Circle winner.

“The skeletons we are able to use have come from the Field Museum on loan. I picked them to have interesting things,” she says.

The students collaborate to determine attributes such as age, gender, or who may have lived at the particular site.

“It gives them a chance to use their skills, to really think about what they’ve learned and come at it as if they are the expert,” she says.

Williams enjoys having her students as active participants.

“They are not sitting there passively while I lecture them. It’s much more fun and they learn more if they have a hand in learning and sharing with each other,” she says.

Williams, who studies how culture affects the biology of humans, teaches a mortuary archaeology course on global burial customs.

“It’s sort of a mix of archaeology and cultural anthropology where we look at different parts of the world, how they treat their dead, what that means, and how they conceive of the afterlife,” she explains.

Williams, a faculty member since 1996, is an adviser in the Honors College.

She was visiting associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and directed the LAS Undergraduate Research Initiative and Global Learning Community certificate program.

She credits those roles for influencing her teaching style to place a greater emphasis on developing students as critical thinkers and engaged researchers.

“Research is a good experience for anyone no matter what field they are in. It gives them useful skills and it’s just fun,” she says.

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