2016 Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education
The 2016 SAS Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education were announced at a May 3 ceremony at Winants Hall.The awards honored nine teachers–from faculty members to graduate students–for accomplishments both within and beyond the classroom. Executive Dean Peter March opened the ceremony by emphasizing the critical role that undergraduate instruction plays in a strong Arts and Sciences program. He then presented the awards, which cover the spectrum of Arts and Sciences fields from Spanish and Portuguese to Mathematics to Political Science.
Professor: Louis P. Masur
Assistant Professor: Nicola Behrmann
Teaching Professor: Donna Cantor
Louis P. Masur, American Studies and History
Professor Louis Masur is an extraordinary teacher, a respected leader among his colleagues, and a kind and generous human being devoted to student success.
Professor Masur often tells the story of how a Professor at the University of Buffalo changed his life by encouraging him when he was a sophomore. Lou Masur has been trying to do the same for others ever since. And, by all accounts, he is succeeding.
One of his students writes:
“Louis Masur is the professor you think of when you think of what a college professor should be. He is extremely engaging, makes us laugh a lot, and his short tangents provide much needed outlets for students to express themselves on a level other than just sitting and listening to him lecture.”
“His lectures would give me the chills on occasion; they were great.”
Masur's general approach is to engage students to become collaborators at all levels of instruction. He is genuinely open to students' informed opinions and eager to grow and learn along with the students. Outside of class, he is generous with his time, making himself available to students at all levels. In the classroom, he uses innovative activities to help students engage with the material and learn critical thinking and communication skills. He introduces them to an array of primary sources and focuses not only on literary material but visual and aural as well. His syllabi show a clear curricular plan in the sense that his introductory courses have a different format requiring more basic skills than do his advanced courses, which are clearly geared to nurturing students' informed intellectual independence and leadership skills. And, the students recognize and appreciate this. Over and over, his students say “the course taught me how to critically analyze texts;” the professor “made me a deep thinker and better writer;” “the course has allowed me to open my mind while reading and has allowed me to think deeper into texts.”
Professor Masur’s support for undergraduate learning goes beyond the classroom. From the moment he arrived at Rutgers, he has been a zealous promoter of American Studies and the humanities. And, he is a wonderful ambassador for the humanities off campus. He lectures around the country for One Day University and frequently meets with alumni. In reminding graduates of their own undergraduate careers he also encourages them to think in terms of giving to undergraduate education at Rutgers. The administration is beginning to recognize the opportunity this provides. Last fall he spoke at the state of the State University dinner and he continues in every forum he is given to advocate for undergraduate education.
One student in particular summed up the secret to Masur’s success: “His passion for the subject matter is as evident as can be in every single class session. He’s excited to be there and that makes learning the material that much more enjoyable and easy.”
Lou Masur’s incredible impact on his students, coupled with his scholarship and innovation in American Studies education, make his an obvious choice for Distinguished Contributor to Undergraduate Education in Arts and Sciences.
Andrew R. Murphy, Political Science
Since joining the Rutgers faculty in 2008, Andy Murphy has taught a variety of courses in political theory, led the Whitman Center, served as the book review editor of the journal Politics and Religion, been elected to the university senate, and served on various SAS and university committees.
Most recently, Professor Murphy stepped up to direct the Lloyd C. Gardner Fellowship Program in Leadership and Social Policy. This program, now in its fifth year, attracts some of the most academically gifted and socially engaged students from across the School of Arts and Sciences for a year of intensive exploration of substantial and challenging issues facing us in the 21st century. Murphy’s contribution involves leading a seminar in the fall, guiding lengthy research projects in the spring, and organizing student outings to the United Nations and to Washington DC where they meet with lobbyists, diplomats, members of Congress, and national media outlets to engage with practitioners to discuss the issues raised in class.
A few quotes from his student evaluations illustrate his effectiveness:
"Professor Murphy is amazing! This is the second class I've taken with him and cannot wait to take another one of his classes in the fall!"
"Professor Murphy is by far one of the best professors I've had at Rutgers. I actually have taken him three semesters in a row because he is that great. His enthusiasm for the material and his way of engaging students with humor and general care for the subject is why this class was such a good one. He has occasional pop quizzes which keeps me in check with the readings which are also pretty interesting."
"Professor Murphy is one of the most effective instructors in the department. He regularly earns very high marks on student evaluations and supervises multiple senior honors theses. Many students have called him one of the most inspiring faculty we have."
Camilla Stevens, Latino and Caribbean Studies and Spanish and Portuguese
Professor Stevens is a dedicated and gifted teacher. Her syllabi demonstrate the great care she puts into designing courses to teach students to read literature in Spanish, while introducing them to the study of drama and performance. Since her arrival at Rutgers 16 years ago, Professor Stevens has taught 16 different preparations at the undergraduate level for the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies, the Center for Latin American Studies and the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program and the Byrne Seminar Series.
Professor Stevens is an exemplary professor who guides her undergraduate students to learn Spanish as a second language and to understand Latin American and Caribbean cultures as if they were their own. Professor Stevens enjoys superb student evaluations. In the last five years her average is 4.80 out of 5 for teaching effectiveness and 4.7 out of 5 for course quality. Students comments describe improving their writing and reading skills in Spanish, improving their critical thinking skills, and learning to think “outside the box.” Students notice her enthusiasm and love for teaching, her meticulous knowledge of the historical context and the cultural references included in the literary texts from the Caribbean or Latin American studied in class, and her approachable yet professional demeanor. Its not uncommon for student to characterize her as the best professor they have had during their entire college experience.
“I loved Professor Stevens’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the material that she presented in the classroom. She provided a clear syllabus and explained all assignments and plays in a very detailed manner, putting them all in historical perspective.”
“I enjoyed how she had different teaching methods and it wasn’t the same every day.”
“She is so well organized and she blends class discussions, films, and lectures so seamlessly that learning seems effortless.”
“Do your best, Rutgers University, to hold onto Professor Stevens here at the university because she is undoubtedly one of the best professors I have had in my four years at Rutgers. She is an irreplaceable asset...”
Professor Stevens’ service to Rutgers as mentor and undergraduate director has been spectacular. She has served Rutgers as Undergraduate Director at the Center of Latin American Studies, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and the Department of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies. Professors Stevens led and oversaw important curricular revisions in all three of these units and under her watch these programs achieved the “Best Practices” status.
Professor Stevens’s commitment to teaching expands beyond the space of the classroom and the university campus. She has managed and maintained the summer research grants for undergraduate and graduate students affiliated with CLAS. She has organized several extracurricular activities for her students by inviting distinguished Latin American, Latino and Caribbean performers such as the Peruvian theater collective Yuyachkani, Jamaican artist Honor Ford Smith with her performance collective of five performers, and Guillermo Gómez Peña. She has taken her undergraduate students to New York to see a Hispanic Caribbean play and she served as the faculty advisor to the Rutgers chapter of Silma Delta Pi, the National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society for ten years.
One of her former undergraduate students sums it up when he states:
“Camilla Stevens changed my perception about Rutgers University. When anyone asks me if I enjoyed being at such a large University, I tell him or her yes, because I had a professor that gave me the individual attention that every young adult needs, the attention that every Scarlet Knight deserves.”
Due to her outstanding service in guiding and inspiring our students intellectually and professionally, Camilla Stevens is an ideal candidate for the 2016 Arts and Sciences Awards for Distinguished Contributors to Undergraduate Education.
A truly outstanding and devoted educator, Nicola Behrmann stands out among junior faculty as someone who has served in a number of extremely demanding and time-consuming administrative positions: Director of the Rutgers in Berlin Summer Program and Undergraduate Director of German.
Student response to Professor Behrmann’s teaching has been overwhelmingly positive. Those in her Fairy Tales course, for example, noted they “felt more cultured,” that the professor encouraged “critical thinking” while “making it fun,” and enabling students “to look at the world [from] the perspective of a child and an adult at the same time.” In a comment directly addressed to Nicola one student wrote, “You open up to the class and show your passion and...that is very rare to find in professors.”
Students in her Classics of German Cinema wrote:
“I love Professor Behrmann. She always asks the correct question: we aren't spoon fed, but are instead prompted to come to conclusions on our own.”, “She...explains difficult concepts well.”
Among the things students in “From Nietzsche to Superman” liked best about the course was “the way that the ‘high theory’ seemed to grow out of the specific cultural objects we analyzed rather than simply applying concepts to dead material.”
Others noted the “wisdom of the professor,” her “openness,” ability to create “an incredibly enjoyable learning atmosphere,” and the way, as one student put it, she “encouraged me to think things through and rethink my own ideas.”
Another noted how the “professor has made me more enthusiastic about wanting to become a teacher at some point in my career.” Yet another speaking in more existential terms reflected that “I've taken a giant interest in the readings she's given us and I feel like she's really opened my mind in the direction that it needs to be going.”
While there is much more one could quote from the consistently enthusiastic responses to Professor Behrmann and her classes, a few representative phrases may in conclusion suffice:
“Favorite course of the year” (Tales of Horror); “Fantastic, understanding, and compassionate professor” (Tales of Horror); “Professor Behrmann has taught me to really focus on reading the text thoroughly, critically, and with a new lens devoted to intense literary study that will prove invaluable as I move forward in my college career” (Introduction to Literary Analysis); “Great course taught by a great professor. Very knowledgeable and interesting” (Realism and Revolution); “An excellent professor” (Bachelor Machines).
Donna Cantor, English, Writing Program
How do you maintain the highest standards while earning your students’ warmest praise? Donna Cantor knows the answer because she’s done it in the Writing Program since 2002.
Now an Assistant Teaching Professor, Donna has excelled at every level from summer classes for the Educational Opportunities Fund to research courses of her own design, including “The Changing Workplace,” informed by her MBA.
Donna’s SIRS evaluations clearly show her to be one of the English Department’s best teachers. On Question 9 of the SIRS rating form, which deals with her effectiveness as a teacher, her fourteen-year average is 4.68 out of 5.0. On Question 10, which addresses the course itself, her average score is 4.63. She almost always exceeds the course mean by a wide margin, and she does this semester after semester, teaching a 4-3 load.
Given this load, it’s all the more remarkable that she contributes in many other ways as well, most recently in the planning for the exponential growth of our international students. And the word “exponential” here is accurate—a tenfold increase in about four years. For everyone involved in the planning, Donna has stood calmly between them and total panic--thanks to her wisdom, her experience and her weatherproof sense of humor. If Rutgers succeeds in its bid to achieve a truly global reach, it will owe a great debt to Donna Cantor.
Donna Cantor is also the author of two novels: Sunnyside (1999) and Released from the Shadows (2015).
Patricia González-Darriba, Spanish & Portuguese
Patricia González-Darriba joined the Department of Spanish and Portuguese in 2011. After successful completion of her Master’s Degree in Translation and Interpreting, she was accepted into the PhD Program in Bilingualism and Second Language Education. Patricia has found the most fitting platform to embolden her intellectual curiosity and share her passion for Spanish language and culture in the classroom.
Patricia’s enthusiasm for Translation and Interpreting has been crystallized in curriculum development, implementation, and assessment in a myriad of ways. Under the supervision of Dr. Miguel Jiménez-Crespo, she has not only taught several upper-level courses in Translation, always to glowing evaluations, but she has been responsible for creating the online and hybrid versions for these courses as well. Many students have decided to pursue the certificate in translation due to Patricia’s encouragement, dedication and mentoring. Her versatility and empathy are magnetic sources of inspiration for our students. In the words of our Chairperson Liliana Sanchez: “Patricia is the best example of a graduate student who is able to do excellent academic work while seamlessly incorporating her scholarly knowledge in her teaching in ways that are engaging, interesting and fun.” Her students unequivocally praise her warmth, patience, and creativity whereas faculty members have been most impressed by Patricia’s leadership and pedagogical vision.
Patricia’s unparalleled contributions to our Undergraduate Program extend far beyond her commitment to the Translation and Interpreting track. As a Teaching Assistant she has successfully taught most courses: from the beginner level to the most advanced. Dr. Celinés Villalba-Rosado, language coordinator for our Department, highlights Patricia’s ability to make adjustments so all students feel that they are being treated as adults, even when their linguistic level is in its most elementary phase. In 2014 Patricia became her assistant for organizing the beginner level courses. Last year she was appointed Assistant Director of our Summer Program in Salamanca. She actively participated in promoting the program, advising the students, giving tutorial help, taking students to the hospital, or simply lending support in whatever capacity she was needed. She always responded with expediency, diligence and enthusiasm.
Since her arrival, Patricia’s evaluations have consistently ranked her teaching effectiveness well above the mean of the department, placing her among the most popular instructors. In a culture in which students have not yet learned the importance of providing feedback, it is refreshing to see our undergraduate’s appreciation for a fine instructor. Her superb contributions are best articulated by her students: “I thoroughly enjoyed coming to this class every week and would recommend it to any student interested in Spanish.” Another says “Profesora is very approachable, funny, and smart. Everyone in class loves her and wishes all professors could be like her because we have fun while learning a great amount. Everyone needs to take her classes! “The professor did a great job.” “She encourages students to explain their ideas in Spanish. Very good!” “I like the learning pace. I definitely don't feel overwhelmed by the course material.” “It's so different from how it's taught in high school. I like how my professor speaks entirely Spanish and encourages us to speak Spanish too. She also makes us feel very comfortable when speaking.” “Very relaxed but still hard working.” These comments mirror the generosity and dedication that Patricia’s peers and professors have felt by her mere presence and warmth.
Patricia González-Darriba has been an exemplary member of the graduate program in Translation and Interpreting and in Bilingualism/Second Language Acquisition. Her research elegantly connects the fields of second language acquisition and translation/interpreting studies, by applying the methodology and theories of SLA to the cognitive processes of translators and interpreters. Additionally, she has been a co-founder and essential member of RU Bilingual, a group that disseminates knowledge and information about bilingualism to local schools and communities to foster bilingual language maintenance among families that speak a minority language in addition to English. Patricia exemplifies beautifully the dance between solid scholarly research and the hands-on vitality of mentoring and inspiring students in the classroom. The Department of Spanish and Portuguese unanimously congratulates Patricia in receiving this award.
Miranda McLeod, English, Writing Program
Miranda McLeod is a promising literary scholar. But the secret to her classroom success is not her research on migration in the Americas, the fiction she has written, or her background as an editor. The secret is her ability to help students see themselves as intellectuals.
Miranda’s numbers on the SIRS evaluations are always well above the mean, and her students praise her effusively. “The class was my favorite this semester,” a student writes. “Professor McLeod challenged me in ways that I never thought possible, and now I’ve seen a huge improvement in my writing.”
But what stands out the most in the comments is the space for autonomy Miranda creates. Students in her writing classes praise her repeatedly for “always going with the students’ ideas and encouraging the expansion of those ideas.”
The same observations are a common refrain in the comments on Miranda’s sections of 359: 202, “Principles of Literary Studies.” As one student attests, “Miranda always encouraged us in our interesting discussions. I love how she helped everyone to participate and join in.”
Unless we read the comments carefully, we might easily overlook one word that turns up again and again--the word is “love.” The students don’t say they love Miranda herself, although they certainly might. And they don’t say they love the course or the subject. What they love is the freedom to think for themselves.
Matthew Russell, Mathematics
Matthew Russell has proven to be an exceptional teacher, and an outstanding contributor to the undergraduate program, who stands out uniquely in his cohort of graduate students. He has had an unusually distinguished teaching career as a graduate student, both as instructor of record and as a teaching assistant, always with impressive results in each role. He has taught courses on his own at the 100-, 200-, 300-, and 400- levels, from Topics in Mathematics for the Liberal Arts, taken by a general audience, to the sophomore level Linear Algebra, to the more advanced Linear Optimization, all the way to the high-level Combinatorial Theory, taken primarily by Mathematics majors. His SIRS ratings have been outstanding, as high as 4.92 and never less than 4.44, in every case exceeding the average for the course, level, and department -- often by very large margins.
His success in reaching students of quite different levels of mathematical skill and confidence, and of different academic interests, is evident in their consistently positive comments at the end of each semester. The following are a typical sample.
“The instructor has a positive attitude and is very open to questions regarding the course. No question is a stupid question.”
“The instructor’s enthusiasm for math is contagious.”
“Math is very difficult for me, but Matthew made it so I could relate and apply the material in every day life. He always made sure to engage with the students, open to re-explaining anything when we needed it. I found myself extremely interested in the material. His pace, method, and style of teaching had me truly engrossed in the course.”
“He was patient, explained everything thoroughly, and tackled all questioned asked by students with grace and enthusiasm.”
“He is caring and passionate about what he does.”
Matthew has taken a leadership role among graduate students in improving our recent efforts to provide online support for large lecture courses. In typical Matthew fashion, he voluntarily conducted an online review session for the Calculus I final, in a semester in which he wasn’t even the TA for the course!
In the Mathematics Department we have come to regard Matthew as a colleague, not just a graduate student. Having done excellent work as summer head TA, observing graduate students teaching and giving them helpful feedback, he will now take over the role of summer instructional supervisor, overseeing instruction in the full range of summer Mathematics courses. Matthew Russell has proven to be an outstanding teacher and young colleague with a deep, genuine commitment to his students’ success.
Lucia Vedovi, Italian
Lucia Vedovi is a stellar teacher, with unique pedagogical skills. She has taught a wide variety of courses in the Italian Department, ranging from Elementary and Intermediate classes to Composition and Stylistics, always earning excellent evaluations.
Because of her experience, demeanor, and technological savvy, in 2013-2014 she was nominated as Head Teaching Assistant. This is a very complex role, requiring a clear understanding of instructional objectives, along with a keen ability to manage other graduate students, with different backgrounds and levels of linguistic fluency. Lucia successfully mastered all these responsibilities, as she is extremely dedicated, well-organized, and creative.
Most notably, Lucia has redesigned and revamped the course Practical Commercial Italian, a class that no Faculty member was comfortable teaching. This was a real challenge, but she faced it with her usual professionalism, resourcefulness, and ease. She did a wonderful job, receiving outstanding evaluations.
In sum, Lucia Vedovi is a brilliant, versatile, and approachable teacher, who successfully tailors her instruction to the needs of her students, encouraging and helping them to progress in their studies.