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The 2015 SAS Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education were announced at a May 7 ceremony at Livingston Campus.The awards honored twelve 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 English to Sociology and from Mathematics to French.

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Scroll down or click on a name to read the citation

Professor:  Richard Serrano

Associate Professors: Richard Dienst, Mary Trigg, Sharon Bzostek

Non-tenure Track Faculty:  Tisha Bender, Setareh Marvasti, Alice Seneres, Celinés Villalba-Rosado

Teaching Assistants: Michael Monescalchi, Ghassan Moussawi, Erik Wade, Lindsey Whitmore


Richard Serrano, French

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Whether in a class of 150 or in a small seminar of less than a dozen, Richard Serrano inspires his students. Here’s a sample of what some say about him: “The professor is absolutely brilliant. Hands down, best teacher I have ever had in my entire life. He is so smart, funny, intellectually- stimulating, and sarcastic. l00% would recommend this professor." "I was able to gain new knowledge about literature and cultures that I had never been exposed to prior to the class. The teacher was phenomenal." Serrano’s impact on undergraduates extends beyond the French Department. He led a major reform of the Comparative Literature Program in 2004, and in 2008, served on the Executive Committee to Propose the New Department of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Literatures (AMESALL), then became its founding chair. Richard Serrano is a unique, and a uniquely gifted undergraduate teacher of languages, literatures and cultures. French, Rutgers in general, and Arts and Sciences undergraduate students in particular, are lucky to have him among us.

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Associate Professor
Richard Dienst, English

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Richard Dienst's contributions to undergraduate education range from his excellence as a classroom teacher to his outstanding curricular developments. He teaches “big ideas” classes that help undergraduates understand and negotiate a relation to global media in the ever-shifting present moment. His teaching is marked by pedagogical innovation: creative and groundbreaking methods for teaching the humanities in a digital age.

The quality of his teaching is matched by his commitment to the larger project of undergraduate education: he has been the Director of the English Honors Program and the Acting Director of Undergraduate Studies; he has organized the Writers at Rutgers series; his most recent initiative, “Life After Rutgers” is a series of panels that brings graduated English majors together with current majors to talk about job possibilities, to see that there is “Life After Rutgers.”  He has long been a highly valued member of the English Department’s curriculum committee where he is recognized for his sharp analysis of sticky problems. There is no doubt that Richard Dienst has made distinguished contributions to undergraduate education from the classroom to the curriculum and  beyond.

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Associate Professor
Mary Trigg, Women's and Gender Studies

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Throughout her teaching career at Rutgers, Mary Trigg has made major contributions to the development of new and cutting edge curriculum that served a wide range of students, and in particular women interested in activism and leadership.  Trained in women’s history and American studies, her scholarship focuses on the history of feminism in the United States; motherhood studies and women, work, and family; and women’s/feminist leadership. She aims to be creative and empowering in her approach to teaching. Incorporating short lectures, facilitated discussion, and interactive group exercises, Trigg’s courses are writing-intensive and interdisciplinary.  As director of the Leadership Scholars Certificate Program, she designed, developed and implemented an innovative 19-credit honors program for undergraduate women (jointly sponsored by the Institute for Women’s Leadership and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies).  This unique program, focused on feminist leadership studies, activism, social justice and social change, was recognized in 2009 when it was awarded the Wynona M. Lipman Empowerment Award by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

Students express strong admiration for Trigg as a teacher and mentor, and describe her as “challenging,” “supportive,” and “innovative,” an “interactive” teacher who facilitates “great discussions” while teaching students to “read deeper.”  Overall, Trigg’s ability to move beyond traditional teaching approaches and to recognize that student learning takes place in diverse environments has contributed to the creation of novel, inventive curriculums that are popular among students, while also inspiring them to grow.  All evidence points to Mary Trigg’s outstanding contributions to undergraduate education and the development of undergraduate programs for women at Rutgers.   

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 Assistant Professor
Sharon Bzostek, Sociology

SharonBzostek Sociology IMG 7983 croppedSharon Bzostek is a superb instructor, one who develops and implements innovative and interactive exercises to teach students the principles of demography and the sociology of health. As one student summarized, “she embodies what other professors at Rutgers should strive to be.” Since arriving at Rutgers in 2011, and for every semester she has taught, her name has been on the Sociology department’s Undergraduate Teaching Honor Roll. Bzostek has been called “quite possibly the most passionate and kindest professor I've had at Rutgers.” She has helped to put demography firmly back into the curriculum at Rutgers with her popular Population and Society course. One student remarked that “she taught the class perfectly” while another claimed that “everything within her method of teaching is effective.” The Health and Inequality course she conceived and developed has become a mainstay of the rapidly growing Health and Society minor, an important program designed to educate future health professionals about the disparate social contexts within which health services are delivered, and across which health outcomes vary. A nationally known expert in demography, in the sociology of the family, and especially in the health risks faced by families living in fragile circumstances, Sharon Bzostek brings her knowledge and enthusiasm to the classroom on an exceptionally consistent basis and with superlative results.

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Non-tenure Track Faculty
Tisha Bender, English Writing Program

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What has Tisha Bender not achieved? An expert in online education with an international following, she also has played a key administrative role in the Writing Program for a decade while establishing a reputation as one of its very best teachers. Arriving at Rutgers in 2004, Bender brought a PhD in Geography from the London School of Economics and had recently published her pathbreaking book Discussion Based Online Teaching to Enhance Student Learning, now in its second edition. With a history of curricular design at NYU-Stern, Cornell, and the New School, she was ideally prepared to become the coordinator for English 101, “Expository Writing,” a course taken by nearly four thousand students each fall, and the only universal requirement at Rutgers–New Brunswick. After her term in that position expired, she did an equally exceptional job coordinating a second important course, English 201, “Research in the Disciplines,” taken by more than two thousand students every year. In both of these assignments Bender was inspired, inspiring, and enormously hard-working. Not only did she mentor new teachers with great sensitivity and intelligence, but she took the initiative to create workshops and study groups. She composed and circulated essay-style “Tips to Teachers” almost every week, and she invited outside speakers to address the Writing Program community. At the same time that she accomplished all this, she played a central role in developing the Writing Program’s online courses, singlehandedly creating a virtual research course co-taught by her and a colleague at Jilin University in China. As a teacher, a trainer of teachers, an administrator, and a curricular innovator, Tisha Bender has made truly extraordinary contributions to undergraduate education.

Non-tenure Track Faculty
Setareh Marvasti, Chemistry and Chemical Biology

SetarehMarvasti Chem IMG 7997 croppedSetareh Marvasti was an undergraduate at Russell Sage College in Troy, NY from which she graduated in three years while tutoring in Chemistry—and French. She came to Rutgers as a graduate student in Chemistry and received her PhD under the direction of Professor Ulrich Strauss. She then left us to work in industry for 15 years in the areas of analytical chemistry and polymer characterization. Apparently she missed her alma mater, for she came back 10 years ago to teach and eventually to run many key offerings of the department—General Chemistry, General Chemistry for Engineers, Introduction to Experimentation, and Analytical Chemistry.

In these ten years Marvasti has brought enthusiasm, knowledge, warmth and extraordinary organizational skills to all her classes. She is one who will freely proclaim that she loves to teach, and she means it wholeheartedly. She is responsible for educating thousands of students every year in classroom and laboratory settings. With the recent introduction of the chemistry program that lets honors students teach a general chemistry laboratory, she is now also responsible for the supervision and pedagogical education of more than 100 of these undergraduate TAs. Her chair reports with considerable satisfaction that he has heard only praise from students. Given the subject that Marvasti teaches and the extent of her responsibilities, this is, indeed, a remarkable achievement. We could quote the student evaluations all day, but they would only confirm what we've already said here—Setareh Marvasti is the epitome of what a great teacher should be.

Non-tenure Track Faculty
Alice Seneres, Mathematics

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Alice Seneres has been teaching full time in the Mathematics Department since Fall 2011, and her outstanding performance both as an instructor and in other roles has contributed enormously to our teaching program. Through a very approachable and energetic classroom style, and excellent pedagogic skills, she has successfully motivated, taught, and inspired students across a range of courses, most of whom are not STEM majors, and are in many cases overtly math-phobic. Her students benefit from both the atmosphere of optimism and encouragement she creates in the classroom, and the time and energy she generously devotes outside of class to interacting with them, whether in person or online.

Her average SIRS rating for teaching effectiveness of the instructor is 4.75, all the more impressive given the math anxieties of so many of her students prior to taking her courses. Her students’ many enthusiastic comments include the following:

I am a senior at Rutgers University and I have never met a teacher more dedicated to their students. Most students go into this class hating math, but this professor made it impossible to hate her class. She really went above and beyond every single day to make sure we got the most out of this class. 

Words cannot describe how much I really enjoyed this course. Math has always been a challenging topic for me and not only did I pass this course, I actually excelled!

Your teaching style was fantastic. Prior to this class, I despised calculus. Now, I actually enjoy working out problems and helping my friends. Thank you for being such an awesome teacher.

Seneres has made significant contributions to the undergraduate program outside the classroom as well. She has gathered and analyzed highly detailed course-wide final exam data in Math 135, a course with over 2,500 students in fall 2014, providing valuable feedback on where instructors can focus their efforts more effectively to improve student performance. She has also co-authored part of the instructor-written textbook used in Math 103. Most impressively, she has accomplished all this while pursuing a PhD in Math Education at Teachers College, Columbia, where her dissertation work--studying the academic performance and levels of interaction in our new hybrid version of Math 103–will significantly benefit the course.

Alice Seneres is an indispensable asset to SAS and its undergraduate teaching enterprise. She goes above and beyond the call of duty in everything she does, and shows a deep and energetic commitment to effective mathematics instruction.  She richly deserves the SAS Teaching Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education!

Non-tenure Track Faculty
Celinés Villalba-Rosado, Spanish and Portuguese

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Celinés Villalba-Rosado arrived in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese five years ago as a full-time non-tenure track faculty. In the relatively short time of her tenure at Rutgers she has invigorated the Undergraduate Program by training students and faculty alike on how to develop, improve and implementing assessment tools for language learning. As language coordinator, she has been instrumental in fostering a departmental culture cemented on following appropriate assessment measures to consolidate our undergraduates’ success in learning Spanish. Upon arrival her first priority was to align the existing courses with the Department learning goals. To this end, her efforts have been actively directed to examine the overall design, content, assignments and objectives for each language course at 100 level and above. She has used this opportunity to foster collaboration among part-time lecturers, teaching assistants and faculty in closing the gap between upper and lower level courses. Her dedication to bringing cutting edge approaches to our Department speaks eloquently of her commitment to keep our department at the forefront of foreign language education at Rutgers. As per Villalba-Rosado’s initiative, all our language courses are scheduled to incorporate online sessions with a native language coach from Guatemala at no extra cost to our students. This feature has been arranged after a pilot course solely designed and implemented by her in conjunction with the textbook publishing company.

Villalba-Rosado has also played a crucial in fine-tuning our graduate students teaching portfolios for the job market. Candidates that have landed jobs have not shied away from acknowledging her mentorship as a key to their success in today’s highly competitive market. As far as her teaching goes, her evaluations are nothing but a symphony of superlatives. Our undergraduates praise her organizational skills, availability, passion and the love she has instilled in them to keep pursuing a career in Spanish. They unanimously commend her ability to provide an environment conducive to learning. Both heritage and non-heritage speakers comment on how she has been able to hone in their skills, minimizing their linguistic challenges and helping them build confidence in speaking and writing Spanish. Celinés Villalba-Rosado’s dynamic commitment to our Undergraduate Education as instructor, coordinator, and mentor epitomizes the standards of excellence of Rutgers. Her vision, discipline and thirst for implementing innovative teaching methodologies have categorically brought a heightened enthusiasm in our faculty and undergraduates. On behalf of the faculty and the Undergraduate and graduate student body in Spanish and Portuguese, we can only look forward to many more years of fruitful collaboration.

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Teaching Assistant
Michael Monescalchi, English Writing Program

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Since he began teaching English 101 in the fall of 2013, Michael Monescalchi has become the Writing Program’s single most accomplished TA. On his very first semester’s SIRS evaluations, he earned a 4.82 for Question 9, which asks students to assess the quality of the instruction they receive. And since that semester, his numbers have gone up--for reasons that are not hard to see. The written comments on his SIRS forms routinely say that “he wants all his students to do well,” and that he devotes a great deal of time to intensive “one-on-one conferences.” Other comments describe his teaching style as “stimulating,” and ”eye-opening”—even early in the morning.  Monescalchi’s ability to gently lead his students to a higher level has made him something of a star in his own department, and perhaps the best example is his recent work with a student who had failed 101 several times even though he had previously worked with some of the Program’s strongest teachers. With his help, the student flourished. Formerly unable to generate two or three pages of rough draft, he was suddenly composing finished papers well beyond the minimum length.  And for the first time, the student’s arguments were carefully organized and showed a real command of the material. To everyone’s amazement—including his own—he finished the course with a B+. This student is just one of many who can thank Michael Monescalchi for his hard work, dedication and creativity.  

Teaching Assistant
Ghassan Moussawi, Sociology

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We all want to be “the most knowledgeable, intellectual, forward-thinking instructor at Rutgers,” but few of us are actually regarded as such. Ghassan Moussawi is. Arriving at Rutgers in 2009, from the beginning he has been a star in the Sociology graduate program—as a researcher, as an instructor, and as a department citizen. As a teacher, he has excelled with his tremendous knowledge of the sociology of gender and the sociology of race, and he has distinguished himself by his empathy and by his capacity to generate critical engagement in the classroom. Moussawi is one of those instructors about whom students say “he challenged my everyday understandings of nearly every facet of my life.” They say: “When you have a passionate and extremely educated teacher, students automatically feel encouraged to learn more.” They say: “Rather than lecturing at us, he was talking with us and allowed our opinions to be heard and wove that into the class.” They say: “I found myself frequently discussing the issues raised in Moussawi’s class with my friends, and challenging their understandings of these topics as well.” Ghassan Moussawi promotes precisely the kind of enlightenment and social engagement we want higher education to deliver. For that reason, he is a supremely deserving recipient of a 2015 SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

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 Teaching Assistant
Erik Wade, English

ErikWade English IMG 7977 croppedA stellar young medievalist now embarked on his dissertation, Erik Wade has already taught with distinction across almost the entire curriculum of the Writing Program and the English department. He has taught some of the most challenging courses in the English department and indeed in Rutgers as a whole. “Expository Writing,” for instance, is well known among undergraduates as one of the most demanding courses they will take during their time here, and, in the hands of the right instructor, one of the most valuable. Similarly, the English department’s upper-level seminar on “Old English Language and Literature” is legendary for the challenges it presents to bright undergraduates, who must attain fluency in what is essentially a foreign language as they attempt to unlock the mysteries of early medieval texts. So while it is impressive that Wade has taught such a broad range of courses during his relatively brief time here, it is quite remarkable that he has done so to almost universal acclaim from his students and faculty mentors. Student evaluations from Erik Wade’s courses consistently praise him for holding the class to high expectations and standards while providing the guidance, encouragement, and scholarly community that foster true intellectual growth.

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 Teaching Assistant
Lindsey Whitmore, Women's and Gender Studies

Lindsey Whitmore strives to create learning environments that are critical, collaborative, and creative. Drawing on feminist pedagogies, she encourages students to seek out the gray areas of the worlds around them where ‘either/or’ frameworks fail to capture the lived complexities of race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, and citizenship. Although she excels in traditional classroom environments, she has also developed innovative online teaching practices that draw on digital and social media and other web-based forms of knowledge making. The recipient of a 2014 Hybrid Course Conversion Grant, Whitmore developed hybrid versions of two of our core courses, Women, Culture and Society, and The Gendered Body. She was also the first graduate student invited to teach a course for the Institute for Women and Art called Race, Gender, and Contemporary Art. As a first generation, working class college student, Lindsey Whitmore uniquely understands the pivotal role that teachers can play in the lives of students struggling and desiring to contextualize their ‘at home’ worlds in the classroom.

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