The 2018 SAS Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education were announced at a May 1 ceremony at Rutgers Hillel. The awards honored seventeen 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 economics and French to psychology and anthropology.

Scroll down or click on a name to read the citation

Professor:  Douglas Blair, Mary S. Gossy, Saurabh Jha, Mary Shaw

Associate Professor: Ulla Berg, Julien Musolino, Nicholas Rennie

Assistant Professors:  Sylvia Chan-Malik, Shana Cole, Jamie Pietruska

Teaching Faculty:  Anne Carr-Schmid, Michael Gentile, Justin Kalef

Teaching Assistant:  Christopher Hauser, Susan Kenney, Abigail Reardon, Andrea Gaytán-Cuesta

Douglas Blair, Economics and Political Science

Douglas Blair

Professor Doug Blair has long been recognized as an outstanding teacher.  Most recently, he has developed a remarkable new Signature Course on Inequality.  Combining economics and political science to examine the growing income inequality in the United States and the world, his course provides a broad range of students with a nuanced understanding of a signature challenge of our era.  It is characteristic of Professor Blair that he would not simply rest on teaching the bread and butter economics courses, but would also spend well over a year developing this new course.  As he has done throughout his career, he continued to fine-tune this course up until the moment class began each week during this past fall and spring semesters.  And, many students’ comments are echoed in this simple one:  “Very nice man that wants the best for his students.”

Today we want to particularly recognize a unique role Professor Blair plays in undergraduate education in the economics department: training graduate students to be teachers.  Not only does Professor Blair teach a full load of courses with an average enrollment of nearly 200 students each, he spends many a morning hour in the long conversations about teaching that he requires of the department’s graduate students.  Under Professor Blair’s tutelage, these graduate students learn how to explain fundamental economic concepts like supply and demand to a novice audience. The department chair writes: “There is literally no contest—no one in the department spends more time teaching the ‘art of teaching’ to graduate students than Professor Blair does. He is exceptional. Unique.”

We are delighted to recognize Professor Doug Blair’s distinguished contribution to undergraduate education through outstanding mentoring of graduate students in the art of teaching in one of the largest undergraduate majors in Arts and Sciences.

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Mary S. Gossy, Women’s and Gender Studies

Mary S Gossy

Professor Mary S. Gossy has a long and consistent record of remarkable classroom teaching across three programs: Spanish literature, Comparative Literature, and Women’s and Gender Studies.  Joining Rutgers in 1988, she has taught literally thousands of students in her regularly oversubscribed undergraduate courses, opening their minds to new ways of thinking and to new possibilities. Student and faculty evaluations of Professor Gossy’s teaching repeatedly reinforce a common message: she is a fantastic teacher. Colleagues express something close to awe at her ease and ability in the classroom. Time after time colleagues remark on her superb knowledge, skills, wit, and excellent rapport with students.   Over and over, students describe her as the best professor they have ever had: amazing, brilliant, and always eager to help.  One remarked:  “I love this professor! I don't even like poetry but I learned sooo much in this class. She really makes you think.”

With great appreciation, we recognize Professor Mary S. Gossy’s capacity to help students of all stages and abilities to find and fan their own intellectual passions, and then to use that energy to build the kind of life they desire, with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.

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Saurabh Jha, Physics and Astronomy

Saurabh Jha

Professor Saurabh Jha is one of the Physics department’s most outstanding teachers and has played a major role in reforming the curriculum of three of the department’s courses, including two for non-majors—thereby reaching students throughout the Arts and Sciences.

In “Concepts of Physics,”Professor Jha developed innovative in-class workshops within a large lecture environment.  Students, largely from humanities and social sciences, also write “blogs” explaining physics concepts for a general public audience which are then peer-reviewed by fellow students.

In “Physics 110, Astronomy and Cosmology,” another course for non-science majors, Professor Jha introduced students to frontier research and data analysis. He organized in-class workshops in which students used actual astronomical data to measure the expansion rate and age of the universe, while also beginning each class with songs related to the day’s topic, astronomy in the news, and the astronomy picture of the day. Students reported that they would often discuss the class with their friends and family, relaying to them the astronomical knowledge they had learned.

Professor Jha also implemented peer-learning techniques in the upper-level “Principles of Astrophysics” course.  In conjunction with the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, he developed methods to assess the efficacy of this approach.  This assessment initiative led to a master’s student project and a presentation at a meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Professor Jha works closely with and supports the department’s graduate student group examining the latest research in physics education.  Among the graduate students who have participated, three have gone on to teaching-focused positions after graduation, one as a faculty member at Bucknell University, one as an associate director of a STEM education center at Princeton University, and one as a Stanford University “Thinking Matters” postdoctoral fellow. This is an incredible success story, and a model for how to nurture graduate students who have strong teaching interests.

For his pedagogic classroom innovations and his successful mentoring of physics education-focused future faculty, we are happy to present Professor Saurabh Jha with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.

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Mary Shaw, French

Mary Shaw

It is testament to Professor Mary Shaw’s devotion to undergraduate education that she is completing her fifteenth year as Undergraduate Director, during which time she has demonstrated unflagging energy, passion, and street-smarts.  And, throughout this era she has been well-known as a committed and caring classroom teacher.

Over the last year and a half, Professor Shaw took on a most remarkable large-scale multi-disciplinary project that demonstrates just what being a student at a research institution as large and complex as Rutgers can mean for undergraduates.  Professor Shaw constructed a new course, “Poetries - Politics: A Multilingual Poetry Exhibition Project,” in which the students served as curators of the poems that appeared on posters in the exhibition space on three floors of the West Wing of the new Academic Building during an international conference drawing scholars and poets from around the globe in November 2017.  These undergraduates were not only responsible for selecting poems and their translations, but also for crowd-sourcing ideas for poems and translations. Once that step was complete, they then created design briefs for the posters for undergraduates in a Mason Gross School of the Arts design class who then produced the posters.  Each poem presented unique challenges and Professor Shaw made sure that the student curators had all the resources they needed drawn from across the University.

The results were dazzling.  Over 100 political poems from Antiquity to the present representing a vast array of languages and cultures were featured on these large, individually designed posters that were narrated by these students during the conference.  This project produced so much more than a wonderful set of posters, a terrific conference, and student participation in multicultural political poetry slam.  One student describes her own transformation during the project:  “Aside from being a constant resource, Professor Shaw also taught me how to be a leader. As I was out curating my own section, I began to realize that I myself needed to further hone my leadership skills. Professor Shaw has a way of being persistently persuasive. She knows when to be direct and fixed on a point, just as she knows when to provide encouragement. When I was out in the community collecting poems, I aimed to emulate her ability to always be kind, but to couple the kindness with an immense fierceness about seeing that something is done the right way.”

The students enrolled in “Poetries - Politics” echoed what the many, many students who have passed through Professor Shaw’s courses over the past three decades have said.  “Passionate” and “nice” are not two words often paired, but over and over students pair them in describing Professor Shaw.  One student quite simply wrote, “Professor Mary Shaw is a force.” 

For these reasons, we are delighted to recognize Professor Mary Shaw’s distinguished contribution to undergraduate education.

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Associate Professor
Ulla Berg, Anthropology and Latino and Caribbean Studies

Ulla Berg

Professor Ulla Berg demonstrates remarkable engagement in student learning and an energetic creativity and passion for teaching, both in the classroom and outside of it.

Professor Berg’s teaching is characterized by a breadth of diverse course offerings, consistently high student and peer evaluations, active involvement in curricular development, and an innovative pedagogy using video and other technologies that takes students into the world outside the University and invites them to explore it.  Professor Berg launched and curated the film series “Jueves de Cine” which exposes Rutgers undergraduates to recently award-winning films in Latin American cinema, regularly drawing audiences of more than 80 undergraduates. Her teaching inspires students to think differently about the sociocultural world around them, and provides them with the tools they need to explore and understand it.  As one remarked:  “She was a very smart and well-rounded teacher who is passionate for the subject she teaches, and that overflows onto the students making it an incredibly beautiful learning environment.”

While Professor Berg excels when teaching traditional courses in her two home disciplines, her most remarkable pedagogic innovation integrates high-level film and social theory and advanced digital filmmaking production skills with learning about migration and migrant populations in a four-credit video production seminar titled “Documenting Latino Lives.”  Students produce, shoot, and edit their own 10-minute documentaries about some aspect of Latino life in the state of New Jersey.  In this class, over the course of just one semester, students from many different majors produce beautifully made, ten-minute documentary films on themes as diverse as a Puerto Rican grandmother’s adventures with new media, a Dominican family’s struggle to achieve the American Dream, growing up Muslim and Latino, and many other fascinating topics.  These films are screened during final exam week to packed houses of over 100 students.

Professor Berg’s innovative and meaningful work has been widely recognized and praised.  We join in this with by presenting Professor Ulla Berg with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.

Associate Professor
Julien Musolino, Psychology

Julien Musolino

Professor Julien Musolino is an extraordinarily effective, passionate, and popular teacher at Rutgers, and beyond.  Building out from his well-known research on developmental psycholinguistics, Professor Musolino has become an extraordinary undergraduate classroom teacher, an ambassador for engaged scholarship, and an internationally recognized public intellectual and educator.

Professor Musolino’s on-campus teaching is more than sufficient to merit this award.  Students adore his teaching and he devotes himself to the enterprise wholly.  Professor Musolino systematically makes himself available after each of his lectures; he often stays several hours after each class with smaller groups of undergraduate students to discuss ideas ranging from issues in cognitive psychology, to graduate education, to philosophical issues, and even the meaning of life itself, a perennial favorite of undergraduates.  

Students’ comments are peppered with praise; “the most effective educator I've had;” “beyond amazing;”  “his style of teaching is what it should be in all classrooms;” “he forces us to be critical thinkers;” his “love and knowledge of the subject shone through …and it made me absolutely love coming to class;“  “I have grown so much from this amazing course.” “I loved how much depth the class went into analyzing information. It gave me a totally different outlook on my surroundings and I loved it.”  Professor Musolino excels in his ability to translate complex scientific concepts into accessible terms while preserving the essence of scientific phenomena and provoking logically thought-out arguments.

In addition to being a researcher and a teacher on campus, Professor Musolino sees the world as a classroom for the discussion of ideas and values that are deeply important in modern society. Professor Musolino’s 2015 popular science book, The Soul Fallacy garnered praise from the likes of Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and Sean Carroll.  Professor Musolino has appeared on national and international podcasts, television and radio shows, and in various print media.  Professor Musolino’s very popular new undergraduate course, “The Religious Mind,” in part mirrors his outreach activities designed to promote a better understanding of science, reason, and critical thinking. Professor Musolino’s outreach activities have had a positive impact on his teaching here at Rutgers and Rutgers’ excellence is well-represented and highly respected by the many audiences he reaches.

Professor Julien Musolino believes that a “scientifically educated public is essential to the fulfillment of our democratic ideals.”  We agree.  For his work in furthering that both on campus with our own undergraduates, and off campus in the world we all inhabit, we present the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.

Associate Professor
Nicholas Rennie, German Language and Literature

Nicholas Rennie

Professor Nicholas Rennie has a remarkable record in both mentoring undergraduates and developing popular courses that successfully engage students in difficult but classic works.  His students praise his clarity and his ability to make challenging classic texts accessible—ranging from Dostoevsky to Nietzsche and Freud, from Cervantes to Goethe, and from Marx to Adorno.

In recent years, Professor Rennie has produced a number of highly successful classes that cover an impressive range of teaching goals: “Big Bang—Literature of Chaos and Order,” “Bargaining with the Devil,” and “Marx, Nietzsche, Freud.”  While all are based in German literature and philosophy, his courses always build a bridge to the larger European tradition and to issues of our contemporary culture.

“Marx, Nietzsche, Freud” is especially popular, drawing over 100 students each year from a range of disciplines.  A peer observer notes, “Few instructors, even those with extensive experience, can match his effectiveness in moving both large and small groups productively through very difficult material without intimidation or rush. He manages to give students the impression they are at once in a large lecture course and in an intimate seminar. He knows the 120 students’ names by heart within the first week and is sure to call on them using their given name.”

Professor Rennie has long served as the German department’s undergraduate chair and numerous students have benefitted immensely from his patient and thorough guidance, which always goes beyond the initial request and often enough results in substantial career advice. Indeed, his mentorship is reflected in the large number of German students who have received Fulbright Fellowships.  What stands out among Nicolas’s student evaluations is the great sense of fairness and kindness and the respect with which he encounters each individual student.  They frequently note his “genuine and positive presence,” and his generosity and helpfulness, along with describing him as  “knowledgeable,” “passionate,” “fair,” “enthusiastic,” and “amazing.”  One student sums it up succinctly: “Professor R. is awesome. This is the first class that I've looked forward to waking for and going to early in the morning.”

We are delighted to present Professor Nicholas Rennie with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

Assistant Professor
Sylvia Chan-Malik, Women’s and Gender Studies

Sylvia Chan Malik

Professor Sylvia Chan-Malik is a creative, energetic teacher and we are fortunate to have her pedagogical gifts and enthusiastic classroom presence among our faculty. 

Professor Chan-Malik’s work is critical to the Social Justice minor and she routinely teaches that introductory course.  A peer observer described the class thus, “The students were thoroughly engaged in the discussion of course materials and it was clear that they were taking pleasure in the instruction and in the intellectual exchange with their fellow students.  It was also clear that they were developing sophistication in their understandings of social justice.” 

Professor Chan-Malik also brings her compelling research on American Muslim women into the classroom in her “Islam in/and America” course.  This course was part of an Islamic studies initiative that aimed to reach students across the Big Ten Academic Alliance, and was shown through a videoconferencing system to students at the University of Fland, University of Michigan, and University of Nebraska-Lincoln. During one session Professor Chan-Malik had students list all the stereotypes they have heard about Muslims. She switched the sound off so that the groups from each school could work independently, and then compared what turned out to be very similar lists that included terrorism, oppressing women, and opposing democracy. One of her pedagogical goals is to disrupt the representations and stereotypes that students have about Muslims in the United States, and to teach about the complexity, diversity, and multiplicity of their actual lives and histories, challenging the common mischaracterization of Islam as “a foreign religion from the East” when in fact the majority of American Muslims were Black until changes in immigration law the mid-1970s diversified the U.S. Muslim population.  

In sum, Professor Chan-Malik is an inspiring teacher engaging complex and timely topics and challenging stereotypes and inspiring change.  She successfully creates community in the classroom and empowers students to move beyond the classroom. One heartfelt tribute from a student sums it up: “…I am … reminded that change does not only occur through big flashy ways—but through small things like the relationships I form every day. Your final quote to us has been in my heart for a while now—‘Go out and love people.’ Seriously thank you for reminding me that social justice at its core is loving people. You are awesome!”

Cleary, Professor Sylvia Chan-Malik has made a distinguished contribution to undergraduate education at Rutgers and beyond which we recognize with this Arts and Sciences award. 

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Assistant Professor
Shana Cole, Psychology

Shana Cole

Deploying an innovative “learning community” model of teaching, Professor Shana Cole is an exceptional undergraduate instructor in both large undergraduate lecture courses and smaller undergraduate seminars.

In her smaller seminar classes, students read and learn from articles independently each week prior to entering a classroom that relies heavily on learning through active discussion and participation. Everyone is encouraged to independently form their own thoughts, opinions, and criticisms and to share them with the class. Debate is encouraged and the classroom provides a safe learning space for students to disagree with each other.  Professor Cole has incorporated unique experiences into the course that help to encourage the learning community atmosphere, inspire critical thinking skills, and foster the application of the course concepts in everyday life.  For example, to demonstrate that science is malleable and ever shifting, in one week each student reads and summarizes an individual article that no one else in the class has read.  Students teach their article to the class in the temporal order the articles were written allowing the students to see the scientific “truths” and controversies evolve over time. 

In Professor Cole’s large lecture courses, she continues to actively engage students in the learning process, encouraging discussion, asking interactive questions, and using videos, games, class activities, and real world examples to engage students.  For example, the power of stereotypes is demonstrated through a few volunteers playing "telephone” with the initial student hearing a story that contains stereotypical and counter stereotypical information.  The class watches as the story inevitably changes during each reiteration in predictable ways; students tend to remember the stereotypical information much better than the counter stereotypical information and that information is retained throughout the story iterations.  This serves as an introduction to a discussion of the scientific research on stereotypes and sterotyping.

While teaching over 680 students in just four semesters, Professor Cole garners enthusiastic praise from her students along with strong scores on the instructional surveys.  They describe her as clear, enthusiastic, supportive, fair, and able to make a large lecture class interactive.  In supervising nearly 50 undergraduates, Professor Cole carries the learning community model over into her lab and is an excellent mentor to her undergraduates who have presented their work at research conferences and won prestigious awards.

For her successful adoption of innovative pedagogies, we are delighted to present Professor Shana Cole with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.

Assistant Professor
Jamie Pietruska, History

Jamie Pietruska

By all indicators, Professor Jamie Pietruska is a gifted and rigorous teacher. Rutgers students have consistently shown excitement about her classes, confidence in her teaching methods, and enthusiasm about the depth and range of their learning in her classroom.

Professor Pietruska teaches a wide-range of courses including the modern U.S. history survey course along with creating a sequence of innovative courses in the new field of History of Science, Technology, and Environment. Professor Pietruska deftly blends lecture and discussion, balances survey texts with primary sources, maintains an excellent rapport with her students, and promotes active learning through varied assignment types. Peer observers emphasize that “the hallmark of her innovative pedagogy is a combination of public history materials with traditional textbook and primary sources” to help students understand the political implications of how past histories are presented to the public. 

Students praise her teaching.  One wrote, “her classes are hard and rigorous and yet her talent for inspiring students is profound.”  Another remarked, “she … epitomizes what a Rutgers faculty member should be!” Another student described Jamie’s lecture style and reveals how misleading the label “lecture” can be: “The instructor has a very strong teaching style. Whereas most Rutgers professors lecture for 30/45 minutes then ask questions, the instructor for our course constantly asks questions from the readings and the textbook during the lecture. The questions keep students engaged and often resolve confusion from the readings. The instructor also uses Powerpoint more effectively than many of the other professors, especially the frequent use of visual documents, and asking students to analyze the photograph/painting during lecture. More professors should integrate source material into their lectures like this, especially at the 100-level classes.”  In short, as one student wrote, “This class and Professor Pietruska was amazing!”

We are happy to present Professor Jamie Pietruska with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education. 

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Teaching Faculty
Anne Carr-Schmid, Division of Life Sciences

Anne Carr Schmid

Professor Anne Carr-Schmid combines her primary role, Director of Advising in the Division of Life Sciences, with skilled teaching.  In both, her enthusiasm for undergraduate education is infectious.  

Dr. Carr-Schmid is warm and caring with students and always puts students front and center. She is equally supportive of our very best students and the ones who are struggling, advocating for each and ensuring they get the support they need and deserve.

Dr. Carr-Schmid has spearheaded a number of successful advising initiatives to better serve students.  Representing the interests of our very many life science students, she improves the support we provide our undergraduates through her service on numerous University committees.  She is a key member of the Biological Sciences Assessment Committee and is the lead on the senior survey as well as the assessment of our capstone research courses.

Dr. Carr-Schmid is a skilled and innovative instructor. She is able to reach and inspire non-science majors in “Biology, Society and Biomedical Issues” as well as upper-level science majors in two new courses she has designed:  “Virology” and “Honors Fundamentals of Cell and Developmental Biology.”  Peer observers say, “Excellent class, clear and organized material, plenty of student participation. Dr. Carr-Schmid does a great job explaining even complex concepts and keeping the students engaged.”

The student comments are equally enthusiastic “This class was excellent. Regardless of whether or not I obtain an A or a B, I can still wholeheartedly assert that I probably learned more in this course than I have in any other.”  Another says, “This course was probably the most interesting one I’ve taken so far at Rutgers.  Dr. Carr-Schmid … explains complicated concepts in a manner which renders them so interesting that I am undeniably able to understand them. I’ve already recommended this course to four of my friends based solely on the fact that I learned a TON and that Professor Carr-Schmid is amazing.”

Or, in short, “Great teaching! Many professors are bad or just ok but Dr. Carr-Schmid is really good!”

For the multiple ways in which she contributes, we are happy to present Professor Anne Carr-Schmid with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.

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Teaching Faculty
Michael Gentile, Physics and Astronomy

Michael Gentile

Professor Michael Gentile has sole responsibility for organizing, running, and teaching the two-semester introductory physics sequence, “Physics for the Sciences.”  Under his leadership, the current form of the course incorporates more than two decades of physics education research on how students develop physics knowledge and scientific reasoning abilities through collaborative investigations.  Under Michael’s watch, the course consistently receives high ratings from students and has seen a significant growth in enrollment since 2010.

The teaching assistants in the “Physics for the Sciences” course are predominantly master’s students in the Graduate School of Education’s science teacher certification program. More than fifty new teachers have graduated from the program since 2010 and a large fraction has gone on to teach high school physics in New Jersey. Many of the instructional techniques that they use in their classes were developed at Rutgers and were used by them as teaching assistants in the “Physics for the Sciences” course. “Physics for the Sciences” was also part of the pilot program for the learning assistant program at Rutgers and has been a model for training  on how to provide effective help for students.

Dr. Carr-Schmid has also brought collaborative learning to the “Analytical Physics IIB Laboratory” course and created a tighter synchronization with the accompanying “Analytical Physics II” lecture course, along with an increased emphasis on teaching assistant training.

Finally, Michael’s influence also extends to other colleges campuses.  He is the coauthor of College Physics by Etkina, Gentile, and Van Heuvelen, a highly regarded textbook published by Pearson in 2014 that makes heavy use of physics education research and the techniques pioneered by Dr. Carr-Schmid at Rutgers. It is finding increasing adoption in high school AP physics courses and college introductory physics courses because of its use of a modern understanding of how students learn and its compatibility with current testing standards. A second edition has just been published.

We are delighted to present Professor Michael Gentile with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.


 Teaching Faculty

Justin Kalef, Philosophy

Justin Kalef

Professor Justin Kalef stands out for his innovative teaching and his contributions to philosophical pedagogy. Dr. Kalef brings to the classroom an amalgamation of the best teaching approaches from philosophy, from university teachers across the disciplines, from teachers working outside of higher education, and from his own inventiveness.

Dr. Kalef is responsible for many “only at Rutgers” teaching methods, all of which highlight the autonomy of his students as reflective and engaged learners.  He developed a mastery-based method of teaching “Introduction to Logic” that allows students to work up to the full level of their abilities.  Under Dr. Kalef’s system, students keep taking exams over and over again until they master the material.  The course is exceptionally rigorous, and the exams (which are graded pass/fail) are challenging. There are four exams: Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4 that serve as markers of achievement; students who pass a level 4 exam earns an A, a level 3 exam a B, and so on.  With as many chances to pass exams as there are weeks in the course, this process ensures that every student in the course is working at a level that is challenging for him or her.  And, Dr. Kalef admirably takes advantage of this structure to promote camaraderie among the students. The students have ample time to study together in class, and they often spontaneously set up sessions of up to four hours long outside of class. Students who have passed a certain level enjoy sharing their skills with students still working at that level, and the students learn wonderfully from one another. This same recognition that students learn best and most enthusiastically from others who have very recently learned the very same skills lies behind Dr. Kalef's decision to work with the undergraduate Learning Assistants Program in his other courses.

Dr. Kalef is also a devotee of, and innovator in, Team-Based Learning.  Dr. Kalef’s goal in the “Introduction to Philosophy” course is to ensure that every student in his courses does some original philosophical work every day he or she attends class. Dr. Kalef’s in-class team activities stress the importance of reading, thinking, and writing at a deeper level, as his focus is always on teaching the students to reason critically as philosophers rather than merely teaching them what the great philosophers wrote.  This approach has the benefit of making the students responsible for their learning—not just to themselves, but to one another.

For his pedagogic innovations, we are happy to present Professor Justin Kalef with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.

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Teaching Assistant
Christopher Hauser, Philosophy

Christopher Hauser

Christopher Hauser thinks of his teaching as recreating in his students that feeling of wonder with which Aristotle says all philosophy begins and to get them to feel the force of Socrates’ famous dictum that “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

A peer observer describes Christopher’s classes, as “exemplary … teaching by a skilled and sensitive instructor who has clearly put an immense amount of thought and preparation into his work.”  Similarly Christopher’s scores on the student instructional rating surveys are off the charts. 

Christopher’s devotion to undergraduate education is clear.  He serves as an official advisor to majors and minors and as a mentor for two undergraduate students interested in graduate school.  He acts as a commentator at the Rutgers Undergraduate Philosophy Conference.  He has completed the American Association of Philosopher Teachers Workshop on Teaching and Learning in Philosophy and Rutgers’ Introduction to College Teaching semester-long course (2016).

We are happy to present Christopher Hauser with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.

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Teaching Assistant
Susan Kenney, French

Susan Kenny

Susan Kenney's intense and innovative engagement with students has helped to strengthen the French program at all levels in the Minor and Major.


Susan’s creativity in teaching is demonstrated by the course she designed based on her research—“Holy Hedonism in Renaissance French Poetry.”  This course creates an ideal synergy between creative and analytical approaches to reading and writing literature. It is no small feat for any scholar to frame a seemingly arcane topic in terms of broad appeal and relevance—in this case to make the religious poetry of the Renaissance attractive to our students, but Susan manages to do just that.  

Susan initiated a series of ingenious poetry workshops in which students have to imitate as well as analyze the poems being studied. This leads to a very serious yet festive poetry competition, where students write, analytically introduce, and recite original poems of their own that in one way or another captured the general style of the great poems they have studied, in either a Renaissance or Modern style. This poetry competition is fully designed by Susan and unfolds in the context of an elaborately designed "Jeux Floraux," a Spring poetry competition set in the context of a festive banquet (as French Renaissance poetry competitions actually did) that also feature early modern music and authentic Renaissance dishes.

Students routinely describe how Susan encouraged their intellectual growth and progress in many ways.  They are perhaps best summarized thus:  “I never would have taken a second look at poetry until this class. Learning how the instructor was so passionate about the works of each period rubbed off a little bit on me and I became very interested in learning more.”

We are happy to present Susan Kenney with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.

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Teaching Assistant
Abigail Reardon, English Writing Program
Nominated by: Kurt Spellmeyer

Abigail Reardon

Abigail Reardon is regarded as a scholar of great promise; she is also recognized as unusually committed to undergraduate education. Her student instructional survey ratings are the strongest of any Teaching Assistant in English Department.  And, she excels at teaching writing to students at quite varied levels of preparation, not only firstyears in “Expository Writing,” but also developmental students in the Educational Opportunities Fund Program’s summer courses and in “Basic Composition”

The teaching of writing at the developmental level is especially demanding.  It requires the patience of a saint and the determination of a Marine, along with great psychological acumen and a warm, affirming accessibility—qualities that only rarely intersect in a single person. Yet Abbie has brought all of these to her classrooms, and she has won the highest praise from even her least prepared students. For some years now, the Rutgers Future Scholars Program has regarded her as something of a star, and they have asked her to return more often than our policy usually allows. But Future Scholars hasn’t made this request simply because she’s thoughtful and articulate, although she certainly is, but because she’s extremely effective. Their data and ours show that Abbie’s students are exceptionally well prepared when they leave “Basic Composition” and begin the very demanding “Expository Writing” course.  She is exceptionally skilled at pushing students to think harder while earning their trust and bolstering their confidence.

In courses for the Undergraduate English Program as well, Abbie has made many hard cases into converts. Here’s what one student had to say about her “Introduction to Literary Studies,”:  “I hate reading and, even more importantly, I hate reading literature. But in this course, all of the course material was interesting, and it helped me get through the readings. . . Although I only took this class to have enough credits, I can truly say that I am happy I [did].”

We are happy to present Abigail Reardon with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.

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Teaching Assistant
Andrea Gaytán-Cuesta, Spanish and Portuguese
Nominated by: Dámaris Otero-Torres

Andrea Gaytan Cuesta

Andrea Gaytán-Cuesta is unanimously praised for bringing Latin American and Spanish culture into the classroom and making it "real" to her students. Andrea's ability to incorporate technology and props in the classroom has deepened her students' appreciation of art, music, poetry, and film produced in Spanish and fostered connections that unleash students creative and critical expression.

Students flock to Andrea’s classes despite her preference to teach early in the morning.  Because of Andrea's unwavering dedication to undergraduate education, she has taught every single class in the language sequence from the beginning to the more advanced levels, always to great success.

As one student says: "The fact that Andrea was so devoted to teaching Spanish really helped me a lot. She is the reason I decided not to give up and continue learning Spanish. She helped me build my confidence and strengthen my Spanish along with showing me so many reasons to love my origins and heritage. She was truly an angel and I hope to have teachers who love what they do in the future as much as she did."

She is a genuine ambassador of excellence in undergraduate education here at Rutgers; she epitomizes our commitment to educating a new generation of leaders that revere cultural diversity, justice, and inclusion through language study.

We are happy to present Andrea Gaytán-Cuesta with the Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.

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