2011 Recipients of Teaching Awards Announced
- Sherri Somers
Scroll down or click on a name to read the citation.
Professor: Cheryl Wall
Associate Professor: Carole Allamand
Associate Professor: Stephen Hansell
Assistant Professor: Paola Gambarota
Assistant Professor: Robert Scott
Assistant Professor: Daniel Seidel
Non-tenure Track Faculty: Geeta Govindarajoo
Non-tenure Track Faculty: George Schroepfer
Teaching Assistant: Chelsea Booth
Teaching Assistant: Kathleen Howard
Teaching Assistant: Benedicte Lebehot
Teaching Assistant: Neil Pischner
Teaching Assistant: Jason Hackenberg
Teaching Assistant: David Wang
Board of Governors Zora Neale Hurston Professor Cheryl Wall is a brilliant example of how teaching, research, and service to one's field, department, and university can be symbiotic, mutually energizing activities. A leading scholar on black literature and black women writers, she is also, at Rutgers, the co-chair of the President’s Council on Institutional Diversity and Equity. An absolutely breathtaking undergraduate lecturer, she has pioneered major curricular developments, establishing new and vital courses on black women writers, slavery and the literary imagination, black narrative, and the African-American essay. In the process, she has significantly expanded faculty and student understanding of what counts as “American” literature. With characteristic warmth and generosity of spirit, Professor Wall has mentored more students than one could possibly count. And she has made a profound difference in undergraduate education at Rutgers, as scholar, teacher, and visionary.
Professor Carole Allamand is not merely an excellent teacher, but an exemplary one. Her students are not satisfied with calling her “the best teacher they have ever had” – a superlative that she earns in virtually every class; they tend to describe her as “perfect” and “ideal.” What they mean by that is a rare combination of the most rigorous method with the most inspiring enthusiasm. The meticulousness of Professor Allamand’s preparation is legendary; so is her uncanny mastery of classroom time. Yet the same students who praise her rigor, clarity and self-discipline also extol the intellectual fervor she puts in everything she says, as well as the difficulty and urgency of the texts and concepts that her teaching illuminates. It is the fusion of these qualities that they find extraordinary, often finding themselves transformed by this experience. But Professor Allamand’s exceptional merit as a teacher is by no means limited to the classroom. It follows from her very notion of what teaching is that she has to become involved in its programmatic and institutional dimensions, in her Department and within SAS. She has done so in countless ways, as Undergraduate Director, as a leader and pioneer on assessment matters, and as a creator of new programs, reaching out, in particular, to teachers and students of French in New Jersey high schools. Teaching, for Professor Allamand, means nurturing an intellectual, aesthetic, human solidarity between all the partners, potential and actual, of this endeavor. The SAS Teaching Award is an opportunity to recognize both this high principle and the talent with which Carole Allamand puts it to work.
Professor Paola Gambarota is an exceptional teacher, who combines a sound expertise, great versatility, and a true interdisciplinary approach with original teaching strategies and innovative ideas, integrating all sorts of pedagogical tools in her instruction (from audio recordings to visual artifacts, to technological aids). She has designed new courses on intriguing topics, such as the cultural representations of Naples (initiating a series of courses on Italian cities) and Of Men and Supermen. Italian Literature and Fascism.
Her students’ evaluations praise the outstanding range of her knowledge and her intellectual acuity, coupled with a unique ability to convey information and stimulate discussion in the classroom in a challenging and effective fashion. Here are some of her students’ comments: “Paola is a great Professor! She … has great ideas and truly cares about what her students think.” “She is very passionate about what she is teaching” and has “great insight” and “enthusiasm.” “Paola is by far one of the BEST professors that I have ever had the pleasure of having! It’s obvious she is extremely knowledgeable but her approach in teaching is not intimidating and refreshing!”
Serving as Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Italian Department since last Fall, Professor Gambarota has done a tremendous job in energizing that program in a very short time, launching new, exciting initiatives, such as a prize for the best student’s essay at the 200-level. Furthermore, in order to improve undergraduate instruction she has been the driving force in bringing her Department up to pace in regards to assessment practices. This was a formidable task, which she has performed with incredible dedication, ingenuity, and selflessness.
Since joining Rutgers in 2007, Dr. Robert Scott has taught a wide range of courses. These include not only large and small classes on human evolution, osteology, and quantitative methods but also a Special Darwin Celebration Course on fossil apes and an SAS Signature Course on extinction. Dr. Scott also has a strong record as a mentor of undergraduates, having advised four honors thesis writers in as many years. The SAS Signature Course on extinctions, which Dr. Scott developed together with Fran Mascia-Lees, has been particularly successful in reaching and inspiring students. As one of them recently wrote in an email to Dr. Scott, “I wanted to thank you for being such a passionate lecturer and conveying the magnitude of this issue to me in such an interesting, relatable way. I see how much effort you put into your class and how much you care. I just wanted to let you know that I noticed and that YOU have inspired me to apply what I learned in different disciplines and spread the word.”
Daniel Seidel earned his Diplom at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena (Germany) and his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. Following postdoctoral research at Harvard as an Ernst Schering Postdoctoral Fellow, he joined Rutgers as an Assistant Professor in the summer of 2005. He was recently promoted to Associate Professor with tenure effective July 2011. Daniel has devised and introduced new teaching methodologies in Organic Chemistry (Chem 308) that effectively engage the students in the very large lecture sections. His approach innovatively combines the use of PowerPoint with a computer tablet to convey challenging synthesis and mechanism problems. Daniel’s outstanding research accomplishments (he just received the highly prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship and an Amgen Young Investigator Award) and his expertise at the cutting edge of organic synthesis significantly enhance his teaching. He gives the class relevant examples of what they are learning from his research as well as other current research. Students praise Daniel’s teaching methods and how much they have learned from him. Beyond the classroom, numerous undergraduate students have carried out research and some have co-authored publications under Daniel’s direction.
Geeta Govindarajoo earned her BS and Ph.D. at the University of California at Irvine, and she has been a member of the Rutgers University Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology since 1998. One of the Geeta's major undertakings in the department was to convert the macroscale Organic Chemistry Laboratory course and the Elementary Organic Chemistry course to successful microscale courses. She used the course websites extensively to guide students toward efficient laboratory execution, and to help students understand the continuity across their entire Chemistry curriculum. As a lecturer in the General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry courses, Geeta designed worksheets to help students learn complex material in a stepwise manner and timed drills for students to learn time management on exams. She also utilized a variety of assessment techniques such as peer teaching and dyads, to provide students input on the areas that needed improvement and feedback on their progress before taking exams. Geeta's students find her organized, enthusiastic, dedicated to students' learning and able to make difficult concepts understandable.
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Chelsea Booth, who recently defended her dissertation on language and politics in Darjeeling, has been an exemplary teaching assistant as well as an instructor in several of her own courses. Her advisor Laura Ahearn, who supervised Ms. Booth in Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology, describes her as the “absolute best” of many wonderful teaching assistants she has worked with in more than seventeen years of teaching at three different institutions. Dr. Ahearn describes her as “a teaching assistant’s teaching assistant” and “a born mentor who cares and thinks deeply about pedagogical issues.” Ms. Booth’s work as a teaching assistant has informed her many contributions to the TA Project’s TAP Talk newsletter, which have covered topics ranging from academic integrity to the best use of office hours. In addition to her work as a teaching assistant, Ms. Booth has also created and taught a new Introduction to Anthropology course, which has proven very popular with students. Ms. Booth herself is also very popular with students, who have described her as “better than most of the professors I’ve had” and “totally and completely awesome.”
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Kathleen Howard takes the teaching of writing and literature seriously as crucial to the health and shaping of culture and reaches students who might not otherwise be reached. As one writing student commented: “When a prof. can take a student like me, [who] failed Expos 3-4 times, and make him a B or higher writer, there is no room for improvement.” Students praise her for opening up the study of literature to the world. “Professor Howard,” one wrote, “taught us how to analyze the relationships that authors have with one another and then to create a bigger picture, to think about society. [In her classes], you get to look at the world as a dynamic place where cultures and traditions [intersect].” The end result is a student who not only reads and writes better than when she or he entered one of Kathleen’s courses, but who sees the world in a much more complex and compelling way.
Of Teaching Assistant Bénédicte Lebéhot, one of her students once wrote: “Nothing beats the perfection of her teaching.” As is made clear by enthusiastic observation reports and stratospheric evaluation numbers, students and mentors alike recognize, in Bénédicte, a rare mix of pedagogical brilliance, technological expertise, sincere devotion to her students, and perpetual drive for self-improvement – all of this leavened by a very dry wit. Students are unanimous in praising Bénédicte’s sense of humor, but they also marvel at how much they learned under her guidance; many of them credit her for sparking their interest in French culture and inciting them to become minors or majors; some return to her for advice as they advance in their studies. What they suspect but cannot really measure is the amount of hard work that nurtures Bénédicte’s pedagogical success. She is famous for her eagerness to register for every conceivable workshop, and for constantly revising her approach, learning new techniques, inventing new angles of presentation. She is always willing to take risks; she has taught more advanced courses that is typical of Teaching Assistants, and helped reform important parts of the French curriculum. Above all perhaps, Bénédicte has been an exemplary Head TA, at once hyper-competent and unfailingly generous with her time and effort. What drives all this is Bénédicte’s authentic passion for teaching – for enabling students, in class after class, to think, speak and write in a new language – although she would never put it in such solemn terms.
Neil Pischner has proven himself to be a teaching powerhouse. In four years he has independently designed and taught 14 sections for courses in world literature, short fiction, world mythology, and Spanish language, often teaching two or three courses per semester while pursuing his doctoral studies. He has also volunteered as a teaching assistant in the Graduate School of Education and helped to spearhead an innovative drop-in tutoring service at the Plangere Writing Center. Students frequently use superlatives such as "awesome" and "amazing" to describe his "extreme talent in teaching," praising his "passion," and uncanny ability to help them "think outside the box," “become more creative," and “see the word differently.” A significant number of students cite him as being the best instructor they have had at Rutgers; one student declared him "100-percent the best teacher I have ever had in my life." Students speak of his classes as being "a truly life changing experience," even lamenting that they are "UPSET" and "sad" that his class ends with the semester, while showing a determination to let him know of the extent of his impact:
- "He taught me how to be so much more open-minded. He gets so deep into every subject, and by the end of class it left me feeling like... WOW I would've never been able to think like this and access such deep parts of my brain if I didn't have this teacher. He's so experienced as a person, with everything he's done and everything he's studied during his life. This really shows in his teaching, you can seriously tell how passionate he is about everything and it instantly pulls you in. His lectures literally mesmerized me and made me feel like an overall smarter person.”
- "As a senior taking this class, I have to tell you, Mr. Pischner, that this has been the most enlightening and cultured class I have taken in my four years here at the University. I can honestly say that you as a professor and your teaching methods have inspired me and other students in your class to approach life differently and challenge our current ideals and opinions about the world. Taking this class has been one of the best things I have done at the University [....] Again, thank you, Mr. Pischner. Thank you."
David Wang and Jason Hackenberg, graduate students in the Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology, were instrumental in the development of the SAS Signature Course, Energy and Climate Change. The course offers a diverse variety of perspectives on the “Energy/Climate” landscape, ranging from physical and life sciences to policy and economics. As it is assumed that no faculty member has the expertise necessary to teach in all these areas, the course is divided into several modules, with lectures given by well established professors in their respective fields. David and Jason, however, were not so intellectually limited; they co-developed a recitation curriculum that spanned the entire course, thereby ensuring continuity as well as explaining “hard” sciences and economics to a class of primarily first-year non-science majors. In spite of this truly formidable challenge, David earned praise as “a really great recitation instructor” who “mixes humor with content” and is “very engaged in learning” while Jason was described as a “really great teacher” who has taught “enthusiastically with passion” and made recitation a “pleasure.” Both David and Jason were awarded the William Rieman Prize for Outstanding Achievements by a Teaching Assistant from the Chemistry Department for their work on this course. They have both served as teachers and mentors throughout their careers in recitation and lab settings, in organic and in general chemistry courses. David continues to teach and develop the recitation component of Energy and Climate Change. Although Jason is currently a Fellow in Rutgers’ “Renewable and Sustainable Fuel Solutions” NSF-IGERT project, he continues to remain active in Energy and Climate Change by serving as the course coordinator.