Duffy teaching award winner: Sarah Sellhorst

USC Lancaster professor loves ‘the student experience’

Sarah Sellhorst never imagined not going to college, had minimal challenges earning her three degrees and never attended an institution with fewer than 30,000 students.

Now she’s a professor at USC Lancaster with its 1,500 students, many of whom come from low-income populations and are the first in their families to attend college. Sellhorst can’t imagine anywhere else she’d rather be.  

“A lot of our students are very underprepared for what college will expect of them, but this has been something I’ve enjoyed  — watching their transformation,” says Sellhorst, who is starting her 14th year at USC Lancaster this fall.

Sellhorst is doing more than watching her students’ growth — she actively cultivates it. Drawing on her master’s in community health promotion and a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, Sellhorst teaches anatomy and physiology, exercise science and health education, promotion and behavior — typically five courses and two labs sections per semester. Her students include nursing majors and students in pre-professional programs for other health professions.

In the past few years, she has begun to focus more on undergraduate research experiences. She and colleague Elizabeth Easley co-advise the USC Lancaster Research Club and have become involved with the university’s Center for Integrative and Experiential Learning and its Graduation with Leadership Distinction program.

Some of Sellhorst’s students fulfill the GLD requirements by participating in undergraduate research through a course titled “Body Composition and Health Research Planning and Promotion.”

A lot of our students are very underprepared for what college will expect of them, but this has been something I’ve enjoyed  — watching their transformation.

The course has turned into an intensive writing and project-centered endeavor, and last year led to a Maymester opportunity for students to attend the 2nd World Congress on Undergraduate Research in Oldenburg, Germany. Two of the students were selected to present their research there.

“I have students who are graduating with five or six abstracts they have presented at Discovery USC, local or regional conferences. Some are co-authors on published research papers,” Sellhorst says. “I get more excited helping them formulate their research questions than I do about putting forth any questions of my own anymore.”

One of Sellhorst’s students, facing her first poster presentation at Discovery USC, was in tears for several days. She not only overcame her anxiousness, but won an award at the event and has subsequently won additional recognition for her presentations.

“Now all she wants to do is present her research,” Sellhorst says. “These experiences have made such an impact on my life. I am a teacher because of my love of the student experience.”

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