Dr. Sarah Ackermann, Outstanding Community Service Award Winner

Unveiling the Superpowers: Dr. Sarah Ackermann’s Journey of Resilience and Innovation

Dr. Sarah Ackermann is a dedicated educator who has made significant contributions to the field of education, particularly in the areas of online learning and art education. As the executive director of teaching innovation within the Division of Online and Strategic Learning (DOSL) at Ball State University, Dr. Ackermann’s leadership has brought about exponential growth in faculty engagement and professional development. Her work has empowered professors to improve the learning experiences of their students, embodying outstanding teaching and mentorship.

In recognition of these efforts, Dr. Ackermann was recently honored with the Outstanding Community Service Award at the National Art Education Association (NAEA) Convention and accepted it at the conference in Minneapolis last week. The recognition celebrates initiatives that go beyond the confines of academic settings, accentuating the pivotal role of art education in fostering community enrichment. Winners are selected based on the impact and innovation of their community service projects and their dedication to advancing the field of art education beyond the academic setting.

“I’ve been very involved with the NAEA since I was an undergraduate student in my art education program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign,” Dr. Ackermann said. “Over the years, I’ve looked to the NAEA and the Art & Media Technology Interest Group (AMT) as beacons of positivity, advocacy, and professionalism for arts education and beyond.

“I am incredibly honored and humbled to receive this award. I will also have the opportunity to present my journey as an educator and leader in the field to fellow Art & Media Technology Interest Group members. I hope to continue to give back to this community in meaningful, dynamic ways.”

A Journey of Resilience and Discovery

Dr. Ackermann’s career took a major turn in 2015. She was living in Zurich, Switzerland, and teaching at two international schools. At the same time, she also taught online asynchronous courses at the collegiate level for the University of Missouri-St. Louis (her alma mater) and at Eastern Illinois. She was forced to slow down, however, when she experienced a minor ischemic stroke.

The stroke, while luckily minor, derailed her. However, she found solace and healing through the power of art and technology sparking a newfound passion for leveraging these tools in education. Doctors used iPads and games to help her regain eye control and retrain her brain, and she became fascinated by this use of technology. She also discovered that, like herself, students learn in different ways, and that the process evolves.

“I experienced my own learning transformation as I re-learned everyday activities after my stroke,” said Dr. Ackermann. “I felt empowered as I discovered learning and organization strategies for ‘Sarah Version 2.0.’ It is equally important for students to know that there is not just one version of themselves who learn the same way for the rest of their lives.”

Drawing upon her own experience, she has been able to connect with students on a deeper level, inspiring them to tap into their own creativity and resilience. Inspired by her experience in recovering from her stroke, she wrote and illustrated a children’s book called Finding My Superpower, aimed at empowering young learners to embrace their unique strengths.

Pioneering Educational Initiatives

Dr. Ackermann came to Ball State just before COVID-19 resulted in the shutdown of campus in 2020. She was able to use her strengths to help faculty adjust their courses and make them work in new ways despite all the limitations of the pandemic.

“Dr. Ackermann is an integral member of our Teaching Innovation Team,” said Dr. Trudi Weyermann, associate provost for learning initiatives. “When she joined our team, it was early in the COVID-19 pandemic, so we leaned into her knowledge and experience to better support the University’s entire faculty and, ultimately, the students during this unprecedented time.

“Her approach to faculty development is invaluable, as she works alongside faculty as a colleague in their success—and tirelessly promotes innovative and best practices, research, data analysis, and pedagogical methodology.”

Dr. Ackermann’s efforts at Ball State during the COVID-19 pandemic were getting noticed by her peers. Dr. Chris Grodoski, an experience and design strategist and past vice president of the Illinois Art Education Association, wrote a letter of support for Dr. Ackermann’s nomination for the Outstanding Community Service Award, commending her remarkable achievements and her profound impact on educators, students, and organizations alike. He emphasized Dr. Ackermann’s visionary leadership as a defining quality that set her apart in the field of art education. He highlighted that her contributions during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic exemplify her resilience and innovation.

“She didn’t just adapt; she flourished, pioneering digital support initiatives for classroom teachers, including webinars and a highly successful digital conference,” Dr. Grodski wrote. “Her ability to navigate the evolving digital landscape of art education underscores her position at the forefront of educational technology and instructional design.”

Dr. Ackermann has been supporting educators and students throughout her career. She co-founded a Facebook group called Online Art Teachers (K-12), also known as OATK12. The group facilitated the sharing of resources and strategies among artteachers, with a focus on effective online teaching and the use of technology in teaching strategies, particularly in incorporating the use of iPads.

Dr. Ackermann is also a regular contributor to The Teaching Innovation Blog through DOSL, guiding online educators to learn and share research-informed, experimental learning strategies to engage students.

“I work daily with an incredibly supportive group of folks that are all the heart. Helping people is at the core of what we do,” Dr. Ackermann said. “We help faculty level up things that they’re doing in their classrooms so that students can thrive. Even though I don’t get to engage with students like I did when I was an art teacher, I think about the impact that we’re having as a community of support for faculty. And every faculty member we help has an impact on so many students. So that’s what fulfills me, and I think fulfills our entire team here in the division.”

From her role at Ball State University to her involvement with the NAEA and other organizations, Dr. Ackermann has demonstrated a commitment to supporting faculty and students while staying connected to her passion for the arts. And through her journey has discovered her own superpowers—creativity and resilience.

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