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2008 Teaching Awards


The 2008 SAS Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education

Congratulations to the winners of this year's awards!

Scroll down, or click on a name to read the citation from the award presentation ceremony.

Professor:
Larry Temkin
Associate Professor: Michael Littman
Associate Professor: Gerald Pirog
Teaching Assistant: Paul Raff
Lecturer: Myriam Alami
Lecturer: Michael Weingart

 



Professor

Larry Temkin, Philosophy

Larry Temkin, Professor II in the Department of Philosophy, came to Rutgers from Rice University in 2000.  While at Rice he won every teaching award it is possible to win.  He twice won the University’s highest award for Excellence in Teaching, voted on by alumni, and the Distinguished Teaching award voted on by college seniors.  He has also won a Phi Beta Kappa Outstanding Teaching Award, and the American Philosophical Association teaching award multiple times. 

Here at Rutgers Larry Temkin regularly teaches a large and very popular introductory course, Current Moral and Social Issues.  He organizes and co-teaches the Advanced Seminar in Ethics.  This recurring, writing-intensive seminar affords senior philosophy majors the opportunity to work with Derek Parfit of All Souls College, Oxford, arguably the most distinguished living moral philosopher.  Temkin also teaches regularly in the Rutgers College (and now, SAS) honors program.  He taught a First-Year Seminar in the inaugural semester of the program last fall. 

Larry Temkin is deeply committed to the education of students at all stages of their careers at Rutgers. 

Larry is on leave and spending the year as a Visiting Fellow at the Australia National University in Canberra.




Associate Professor

Michael Littman, Computer Science

Computer scientist Michael Littman is an extraordinary teacher, mentor and researcher. His outstanding teaching abilities are demonstrated by his new successful computer fluency course, CS105 - 'Great Insights in Computer Science', as well as by stellar teaching evaluations and testimonies gathered from undergraduates who have worked with him. 

Michael created his new "Great Insights" course to address the recommendations of a blue-ribbon National Research Council committee; in 1999, they suggested offering a university-level course on ``computer fluency'' rather than ``computer literacy''.  Michael created this course from scratch, using both his ingenuity and innovativeness in covering the material. Lectures are designed to include feedback from the students on questions posed, physical demonstrations, videos, and Web-posted notes.  This course is extremely popular for good reasons.

In addition to managing a large and successful graduate research group, Michael also has supervised an unmatched number of undergraduates in independent studies and research (15), since he joined the CS department.  Student comments included the following:

"I wouldn't do undergraduate research with anyone else.  He really puts [in] a great effort and time for me to personally understand the topic before I would start . . . he was able to clearly explain [Artificial Intelligence] topics to me within a few meetings. Not many professors enjoy research with an undergrad without any experience in the subject. However, Professor Littman understands the great importance of exposing undergrads to subjects that they may be interested in. How else do students figure out which direction to go after graduating with their degree?"

Michael's teaching evaluations are superb.  For example, of the 332 undergraduate course sections taught by CS professors since 1995, Michael has 2 of the top 5 teaching effectiveness scores ever recorded (i.e., 4.92 and 4.9).  His average teaching effectiveness over all undergraduate courses (4.87 over the undergraduate course he has taught), is the highest in the CS department's history.

Clearly Michael Littman is an educator of distinction at Rutgers.




Associate Professor
 
Gerald Pirog, Germanic, Russian & Eastern European Lang & Lit

Since his arrival at Rutgers in 1975, Professor Pirog has been a leader in curricular innovation and program building: he has made formative contributions to the Programs in Russian and East European Languages and Literatures, Comparative Literature, Cinema Studies, and European Studies, and he is an exemplary classroom instructor. With over 30 years of distinguished service to undergraduate education at Rutgers, Jerry Pirog richly deserves the 2008 SAS Teaching Award.

Professor Pirog’s stalwart leadership of the Program in Russian and East European Languages and Literatures is a signal achievement. For many years the only full-time faculty member in this area at Rutgers-New Brunswick, Professor Pirog has done a remarkable job in building vibrant programs in Russian and Polish. Professor Pirog has taught an impressive range of courses in the Russian, Polish, Comparative Literature, and Honors Programs. His course syllabi are theoretically sophisticated and very rigorous, and promote interdisciplinary studies at Rutgers in meaningful and creative ways. Significantly, Professor Pirog’s courses routinely have high enrollments –students obviously like his innovative teaching methods.  Despite these large class sizes, students underscore the individual attention they receive in his classes. “Wonderful professor with a kind heart,” wrote one student in his “Russian Poetry” course evaluation. Impressively, students also note the enduring effect of Professor Pirog’s teaching has had on their academic development, and they repeatedly emphasize that Professor Pirog’s love of his subject matter is inspirational: “I developed an interest and appreciation for Russian literature and culture which until this course I was generally clueless about.”  They also recognize how effective Professor Pirog is in teaching critical analytic skills: “wholly different from anything I had ever learned;” “the professor has encouraged me to take a greater interest in poetry, to become more creative in my writing, and to be appreciative of the power of language.”

Last year Professor Pirog was again at the forefront of curricular innovation with his “Perspectives on Europe” course, which had an enrollment of 51 students. “Perspectives on Europe” integrated guest lectures given by Rutgers faculty from many disciplines into a cohesive course designed to introduce students to the new European Studies program.  A large number of highly enthusiastic course evaluations commented on the broad range of interesting topics, the great classroom discussions, and the top-notch job Professor Pirog did in organizing the class. Of the many enthusiastic responses, I would like to highlight three comments: “Professor Pirog did a really excellent job with the organization of the class. He made it more of a life-altering class than a standard issue 101 class.” “I strongly suggest this course [be] taught every semester. It has been one of the most enjoyable at Rutgers.”  “I really like and appreciated the enormous amount of time Professor Pirog put into each class session. Such professors are a rarity and their efforts should be rewarded.”




Teaching Assistant

 Paul Raff, Mathematics

Paul Raff combines outstanding teaching skills with technical computing expertise in ways that have been very beneficial to the Mathematics Department at Rutgers.

Paul did his undergraduate work at Carnegie Mellon University, completing an MS in mathematics and a BS in computer science before coming to Rutgers in Fall 2004, having already demonstrated a strong interest in education by participating in the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences in 2002 and 2004 as a Math TA and Counselor, and taking part in the NSA Director’s Summer program, an outreach effort to some of the best undergraduate mathematics majors in the nation, in 2003. Over the same period he participated as an undergraduate in a major undertaking in automatic theorem proving, getting a computer to work through the proof of a major mathematical result, the prime number theorem, which few humans have managed to digest. This resulted in a joint paper in the ACM Transactions on Computational Logic.

At Rutgers his skills as a teacher and in the use of computers have complemented each other. His teaching evaluations convey a sense of warm gratitude, and an appreciation for some of his technical innovations, such as the use of online quizzes. In addition, when the department was confronted with the sudden loss of its coordinator for the online homework system Webwork, used in Calculus for Liberal Arts, Paul stepped in and became Head TA for that course, and was involved both in automating the system so as to make it more manageable, and carrying out a major overhaul in the content to bring it more in line with the needs of the students. The sudden departure of the Webwork coordinator was viewed as a potential “disaster”, and the course coordinator commented afterward: “The fact that I have a good opinion of Webwork after my first semester as coordinator is a tribute to Paul’s efforts.” 

One reason that Paul has been asked to take on this type of responsibility is his tendency to quietly volunteer for anything that he thinks need doing. Before taking on the formal responsibility for Webwork, he had become the de facto coordinator of the system for the summer session, beginning by volunteering to help a couple of his friends get started with it, and graciously extending this to all the instructors in that course. 

In his technical work, Paul works on problems that could be viewed as aiming at replacing us all by thinking machines. But he stands as an illustration of just how irreplaceable we can be.




Lecturer (Special Award)

 Myriam Alami, French

Myriam Alami is an Assistant Instructor in the French Department, where she both teaches and coordinates introductory and intermediate language courses. She also trains and supervises teaching assistants and part-time lecturers, and is involved in proficiency test design, digital classroom development, and curriculum reform.

Myriam Alami’s accomplishments in all these areas of activity have been nothing short of extraordinary. Her  teaching evaluations are the stuff of legend, the best ever earned by a French language instructor, with frequent perfect “5.00” awarded by swooning sections of 20 or 25 students. The comments match the numbers; not only do students unanimously rave about Myriam’s sheer talent, enthusiasm, inventiveness, and utter devotion to their work, but they find that they love the language and culture she teaches them to a degree they did not suspect before, and often decide to pursue a French minor or major as a result of taking her classes.

Myriam’s outstanding contribution is not limited to the classroom. To TAs and lecturers, she is a tireless and caring mentor as well, working closely with each of them to develop skills and best practices while finding a teaching style that fits their personalities. She contributes immensely to the current rethinking of the French undergraduate curriculum; her reflection on the crucial transition from the study of language to that of culture and literature has been invaluable to the faculty. Likewise, Myriam’s expertise in proficiency testing will give her a key role in the implementation of the Department’s assessment plan over the next few years.

There might be a limit to the intensity of Myriam Alami’s commitment and to the number of work hours that she is able and willing to dedicate to the progress of French instruction at Rutgers, but the Department has not found it yet.




Lecturer (Special Award)

 Michael Weingart, Mathematics

Michael Weingart completed his doctorate last spring at Rutgers and has since been working as an instructor with responsibility for coordination of Mathematics for Liberal Arts. He is an outstanding teacher at all levels.

Already as a graduate student the range of his teaching was extraordinary. In academic year 2005/2006 he taught as a full time instructor, covering two large lectures of calculus and two sections of linear algebra each term. Then in mid-Fall 2006, one of our faculty was suddenly incapacitated, and Michael walked in as a replacement in a 300-level course, earning an evaluation for teaching effectiveness of 5.0 – not the only occasion on which he did so. For example, in Summer 2007 he taught a 400-level course, with an evaluation of 5.0, and elicited the following comment: “Weingart should train other instructors (esp. Ph.D. students new to this business) how to teach effectively.”  And another comment from the course taught in Fall 2006 leaps out: “This course is very hard” (underlined three times) – and this with a 5.0 evaluation. 

In Spring 2007 Michael taught Math 104, revising the syllabus to fit a new edition of the textbook. In Summer 2007 he was part of a team supervising summer school instruction, and has agreed to head that team this summer.

In Fall 2007 Weingart  took on a position teaching and coordinating Math for Liberal Arts, a large multi-section course which for many students is their last point of contact with the math department. Again, in one of his sections he earned an evaluation of 5.0 with 36 responses. To put this in context this section had a “prior interest” rating of 2.92,  and a “generated interest” rating of 5.0.

Comments on this course are lively:

- “The subject matter sucks, but he definately made it the best it could possibly be”;

- “He’s just [censored] awesome.”

There were also students who admitted that the material was interesting, but their remarks were less colorful.

One of his projects for the coming year is to redesign the course Math 104 to bring it more into the line of students interested in K-8 education.

Finally, we note that Michael Weingart has worked with middle school teachers in a program supported by the National Science Foundation, and has taught in an Edison N.J. public high school.  We are very fortunate – abundantly blessed – to have him working with the Mathematics Department.

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