Making Every Student Feel Important: Wythe Finalist Dr. Callé Friesen


Photo Courtesy of UMC

Olivia Wieseler, Co-Editor-in-Chief

*This article is the second in a series of features of the 2019 Wythe Award finalists.

The door is always wide open, and students are constantly in and out of her neatly disorganized office asking questions about homework, receiving advice about class courses, and even catching up on life.  If she isn’t in her office, she’s teaching—at BVU, Storm Lake St. Mary’s, or even at the local park. Take one look at her schedule, and you will see that her time books up fast, but that doesn’t really bother Dr. Callé Friesen. Her passion for teaching students and helping them develop academically and personally will never run out. 

Friesen, the associate professor of education and the department chair for literacy and early childhood education at Buena Vista University, was named as one of the four finalists for the George Wythe Award on Mar. 3.  The award is the highest honor a BVU faculty member can receive, and it is granted to a professor who illustrates excellence in teaching inside and outside the classroom. The honor comes with a $30,000 stipend and a sabbatical for professional development and/or conducting research.  

According to Professor Jerry Johnson, chair of the George Wythe Award selection committee, faculty are nominated by students, staff, and other faculty members in the fall. Four faculty are then selected from the pool of nominations. The four finalists must then gather 10 letters of recommendation from alumni, faculty, and/or current students, which will then be reviewed by the committee. 

The recommendation letters and nominations are always flattering to read for Friesen. It reminds her that her work has not gone unnoticed.  

2019 George Wythe Award Finalists from Left to Right: Dr. Calle Friesen, Dr. Shawn Stone, Dr. Nathan Backman, Dr. Jared White. Photo Courtesy of UMC

It says that your students and your faculty colleagues recognize that you’re doing exceptional work,” explains Friesen. “That was just a great honor to know that people were still taking note of the work I was doing. And more importantly, that I was having an impact on the students.” 

Colleagues and students definitely saw Friesen’s passion for teaching. Every time she talks about advising or teaching students, her face lights up and you can hear the enthusiasm in her voice.  

She’s very passionate about all her teaching, and every day she comes to class, she’s just super excited to be there,” says junior English secondary education major Katie Voortmann. You can tell that just by her voice and her tone whenever she’s teaching in the classroom.” 

Friesen claims constructivism as her teaching philosophy. According to Learning Theories, constructivists treat each student as having his or her own learning process in which the learner constructs new knowledge from the his/her previous knowledge rather than acquiring it and storing it in the mind objectively. That is why Friesen’s classroom is often full of discussion. 

In my classes, you will hear a lot of noise,” says Friesen. “I form my class time so that there [are] pockets of direct instruction. But then there’s also always pockets of student interaction and giving students the opportunity to rehearse their thinking about ideas.” 

One of the many innovative educational ideas Friesen has had this past year is the Bibliotrike. The vision was to help build up children’s personal libraries at home by pedaling the custom tricycle, stocked with nearly 300 children’s books, around to the different parks and playgrounds in the Storm Lake area. The idea then morphed into incorporating a little literacy programming initiative to go with it.   

BVU students participate in three Bibliotrike programs throughout the day: a preschool read-aloud program in the morning, an afterschool program for elementary and middle school children in the afternoon, and an evening program in which the students pedal to the tennis and basketball courts to talk about young adult literature with high schoolers.  After each program, the young learners are encouraged to pick out a book from the Bibliotrike to keep and take home. 

I’ve lived in the Storm Lake community for 20 years, and I’ve also been an educator in this community,” Friesen says. “I’ve very aware of the demographic of our community, and we have a lot of school-aged children that don’t have books at home.” 

The program is a testament to her enthusiasm and drive to encourage learning at all ages, and her authentic interest in each individual person. 

To me, she feels just kind of like a mom, like she cares about you genuinely,” Voortmann attests. “[She] always offers support and [will] give you a hug if you need one as well.” 

“I really feel like teachers make a difference in the lives of kids,” says Friesen. She says that she always tells her students who are looking to become educators that every student they will meet in the classroom will wear an invisible sign that says, “Please make me feel important.” 

What makes this philosophy that much more influential is Friesen doesn’t just teach it; she lives it. 

*Update May 17 2019: An earlier version of this article stated that Dr. Callé Friesen is an assistant professor of education.  However, she is an associate professor of education.  The article has been corrected.