VERMILLION, S.D. – Professor Angela Helmer and Assistant Professor Julia Hellwege are the recipients of the 2021 University of South Dakota Belbas-Larson Awards for Excellence in Teaching. They will be recognized at the USD commencement ceremony, and they will each receive $5,000, a commemorative medal and a framed certificate.
Candidates for the awards are nominated by students and colleagues and selected by a faculty committee based on a variety of metrics such as demanding rigorous standards of performance, inspiring students to greater achievement and ensuring course content represents the highest standards in the field.
Angela Helmer, Ph.D., honored in the tenured category, is a professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics in the College of Arts & Sciences.
Angela Helmer, Ph.D., is a passionate and dedicated educator who is opening the world up to her students. Since 2008 she has been providing students at USD with the opportunity to learn about different languages and cultures. A native of Peru, Helmer has traveled with students to her home country, where they had the chance to immerse themselves in the language and improve their intercultural skills. In the classroom, she strives to offer her students authentic, real-life language experiences. Students have translated testimonials for a Peruvian museum and have weekly conversations with same-age university peers in Peru. She created the PanLingua Undergraduate Research Conference in 2013 to offer language students a forum to present their research papers in the target language. While Helmer’s courses are noted for their rigor, students always find a cheerful and willing mentor in Helmer, who regularly guides them on honors thesis committees, honor societies, Fulbright applications, scholarships and graduate programs.
Helmer earned her Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literatures with emphasis in Linguistics from University of California, Los Angeles in 2010. Her research focuses on language contact, especially the co-existence of Latin and Spanish in colonial Peru. She teaches a wide range of Spanish courses including Latin American civilizations, cultures, and literatures, translation, as well as phonetics and Hispanic and general linguistics. She has published three books, several book chapters and journal articles on her field of study and is currently revising her fourth book. She is an active member of several international research groups.
“This award is very special to me. I am truly honored and grateful that throughout my years at USD students have appreciated my teaching and taken the time to nominate me for this award,” Helmer said. “Sharing knowledge and interacting with students is to me the most important and rewarding part of being a professor. We have outstanding professors at USD, so having been selected by the committee is a humbling experience.”
Julia Hellwege, Ph.D., honored in the non-tenured category, is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science in the College of Arts & Sciences.
Born and raised in Sweden to Colombian and Swedish parents, Hellwege received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of New Mexico in 2016 and arrived at USD shortly thereafter. She teaches a variety of courses in American government and institutions, as well as courses in Women and Politics, Politics of Inequality, Writing and Research, and Introduction to Political Science. Her courses center around an active learning pedagogy that is student-driven and promotes experiential learning. Students in her courses have led civic engagement projects that allow them to make a difference in their community, they have served on political campaigns and they have conducted original empirical research.
She is also the faculty advisor for USD’s Gamma Nu chapter of the Pi Sigma Alpha Honors Society in Political Science and the co-editor of the forthcoming book, “The Palgrave Handbook of Political Research Pedagogy” with Palgrave Macmillan. Hellwege enjoys including her students as part of her research and employs several research assistants through generous funding from the Chiesman Center for Democracy. Her research focuses on the role of identity in affecting institutions and institutional behavior, particularly legislative representation. Her co-authored book, “Working Parents Represent: How Parenthood Influences the Legislative Agenda of Members of Congress,” is currently under contract with NYU Press.
"I am so honored and humbled to be selected for this award and grateful to work at an institution that values teaching and fosters a great learning environment,” said Hellwege. “My students know this well, but I’ve wanted to be a professor since I was seven years old, and to see my dream come true each and every day is a remarkably joyful experience. My simple philosophy to teaching is to consider ‘Maslow before Bloom,’ meaning that I recognize that students’ fundamental needs must be met before learning can happen. This has been especially true and important in this last year as so many of our students, and us faculty and staff, have struggled but persevered during the pandemic. Further, I see critical thinking as a skill that anyone can learn and vital to student success, I emphasize the role of citizenship as a part of life-long learning, and I firmly hold that students are most successful when they are passionate and have efficacy in their learning. I truly love my students and love learning with them, and so I share this award with each and every one of them who know that, ‘once you’re my student, you’re always my student.'"