Faculty Award winners 2022 

Each year, awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education are given to professors, teaching assistants, and staff in the School of Arts and Sciences to recognize their outstanding achievements in and beyond the classroom, their engagement with their students and pedagogic communities, and their overall commitment to the undergraduate education mission. And, each year, the theme that inevitably shines through in each nomination is the students’ understanding that these staff and instructors “genuinely want us to learn.”

This year Interim Executive Deans Susan Lawrence and Jim Masschaele presented awards in person on October 29, 2022, to honor and show appreciation to these award winners. 

We are indebted to each of these instructors and staff members and are grateful for their untiring support of our students and stewardship of the future.

Scroll down or click on a name to read the citation

 

Professor:  Alex GuerreroLawrence Williams

Associate Professor: Kyla Schuller

Assistant Professor:  Preetha ManiTetsuya Nakamura

Assistant Teaching Professor:  Matthew CharnleyAva MajlesiSimon Wickhamsmith

Teaching Assistant:  Denise DykstraAriela Parisi, David Tate

Special Award: Christine Altinis-Kiraz, Marc Muñiz, Mary EmenikeLenore Neigeborn, RAsheda Young


 

Professor 
Alex Guerrero, Philosophy

Alex Guerrero

Professor Alex Guerrero is a leading figure in Philosophy at Rutgers, not only as a well-recognized academic and instructor, but as a staunch proponent for diversity in the curriculum and the field, consistently finding ways to broaden representation and participation.

In his classes, Professor Guerrero creates a safe space for engagement and growth, even with topics that are not known to be easy. Students report that he makes difficult concepts easy to understand, and that he “presented challenging material in an extremely digestible way that helped me to think about more advanced content.” One student described him as “a phenomenal instructor who encourages students to interact with him at all stages of their philosophical thinking (i.e., when they have budding ideas, when they’re struggling to form an idea, when things have hit a snag, when things need polished, etc.).” His generosity with his time supporting students is evidenced by the number of honors theses he has supervised in the department (at least six honors theses in the last four years), his often-crowded office hours, and his online writings, which offer insight for aspiring graduate students into the graduate school application process.

Professor Guerrero is committed to fostering diversity in Philosophy. In his own teaching, he has moved beyond what might be his ‘comfort zone,’ teaching courses in non-Western Philosophy, including Chinese Philosophy and African, Latin American, and Native American Philosophy. The influence of these courses has even reached the graduate level, with some graduate students complementing these offerings with independent studies in these areas.

What makes Professor Guerrero stand out, however, is not only his individual commitment to diversifying the philosophy curriculum, but ensuring that these efforts are broad-ranging and sustainable. He recognizes that asking other instructors to do the same is not reasonable if they do not have adequate preparation, and therefore engages in “teaching the teachers,” for example, offering mini-courses in these areas, and organizing a collaborative annual week-long workshop series entitled NEWLAMP (the Northeast Workshop to Learn About Multicultural Philosophy). Not only has he served as director of the graduate admissions process in Philosophy for the last 4+ years, he has also helped to ensure a broad pool of promising applicants, amidst an already stellar selection, by leading the acclaimed Rutgers Summer Institute for Diversity, acting as a bridge between directorships. The summer institute is renowned for bringing in promising undergraduate students from various cultural, ethnic, and social-economic backgrounds to inform and encourage them to consider a career in academic philosophy.

Professor Guerrero is not just an advocate for diversity in a field that is staunchly Anglo-American in its traditions. He is an agent for change, whose individual commitment and institutional service is leaving a lasting effect on the Rutgers University–New Brunswick Department of Philosophy and the discipline of Philosophy for years to come. It is for these reasons that Professor Guerrero is deserving of the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

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Professor
Lawrence Williams, Chemistry & Biology

Lawrence Williams

Over 15 years ago, Professor Lawrence Williams received an award for distinguished contributions to Undergraduate Education at Rutgers as an Assistant Professor. He was only a few years into his time in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. Over the years, as he continued to excel through the ranks, secure external funding through grants, and advise graduate students, his commitment to undergraduate education never waned. Student after student have come into his lab as research assistants, learned from his careful teaching in chemistry courses that are notoriously challenging, and benefitted from his mentoring in teaching internships in Organic Chemistry and Honors Organic Chemistry. The list is long and impressive.

Professor Williams repeatedly shows his commitment to welcoming new students into the field of Chemistry—students who may be traditionally underrepresented or marginalized in STEM. He has served as a mentor for the Aresty Research Center, Project SEED, and RISE (Research In Science and Engineering), which presents underrepresented undergraduates with an opportunity to engage in scientific research and encourages them to pursue graduate studies in science.

In courses that are known to pose a significant learning challenge to students following a path in the life sciences and health professions, Professor Williams designs his syllabi with purpose and clarity. Students know what to expect, where to go for support, and how the learning goals guide the instruction and course structure. Professor Williams has made an especially important contribution as a course developer and instructor for the Honors Organic Chemistry sequence and as a course coordinator for the Organic Chemistry sequence. These courses enroll more than 1,300 students every year, and have the reputation of ‘weeding students out.’

Knowing this and being committed to fostering an appreciation of chemistry in undergraduate students, Professor Williams undertook efforts to engage in course redesign. With Honors Organic Chemistry, he flipped the classroom, creating a library of short videos that highlight the foundational concepts of organic chemistry. This was not a solo flight: he worked with a team of highly talented organic chemistry teaching interns who had completed his internship sequence. They linked learning goals to high- and low-stakes assessments, designed ‘survival guides’ to accompany chapters, and generated a sizable online organic chemistry problem platform. Such a course could be a gatekeeper at the initial level, but Professor Williams opened the door to incoming first-year students with AP chemistry 5 scores. The risky decision paid off; among the Spring 2022 cohort, 75% received As and scored above the 90th percentile on the ACS standardized Organic Chemistry exam. These results are especially impressive given that these students had experienced almost entirely remote instruction in the two preceding years. 

Students and colleagues describe Professor Williams as dedicated, wise, passionate, engaging—all of the attributes we look for in a skilled instructor. Even more than that, he makes science fun and removes obstacles to learning, inviting more students into chemistry and helping them achieve success. As one student said, “Prof. W. is truly a one-of-a-kind professor. He is wise.... He is engaging... He cares... The workload and expectations are high. But I’ve never had so much fun and learned so much from an educator before.” As in 2005, now in 2022, Professor Williams embodies what it means to make Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education in the School of Arts and Sciences.


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Associate Professor
Kyla Schuller, Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies

Kyla Schuller

Associate Professor Kyla Schuller has established her presence as a superb instructor in the Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). She has taught classes such as Gender and Science; Gender, Race, and Visual Media; Introduction to Critical Sexualities Studies; and Introduction to Transgender Studies. Her teaching has extended to a first-year Byrne seminar entitled, “Queer Lives and Literatures Before Gay Liberation.” In fact, Professor Schuller has taught over ten different classes, which contribute to multiple degree programs across the curriculum and the WGSS major and minor. This breadth is perhaps why one student labeled her as “ridiculously knowledgeable.”

Recognizing that students benefit from hearing from multiple voices and experiences, Professor Schuller regularly invites guest speakers to her courses and organized the Transgender Studies Speaker Series. She is an instructor, mentor, and role model both inside and outside the classroom. During the pandemic, she was conscious of the challenges of learning in a time of trauma, but even before that, she actively conveyed to students that they matter, and that their voices are unique and should be celebrated. Comment after comment reflects this.

One student wrote that, “Individuals in the classroom are freely able to leave their mark in their class, which adds uniqueness and so many different perspectives that may not necessarily be in the curriculum, yet are still highly relevant.” Another student lauded her by saying, “Professor Schuller is by far the best professor I have had at Rutgers. To not only make course material interesting but also encourage students to continue their intellectual growth is one of her many talents. She is one of those professors you want to take all of their classes.” One student ranked her class as among the top three classes they ever took at Rutgers, and another praised her as a “gem to the department.” Such comments are present throughout her evaluations in every semester.

Students’ comments reflect both Professor Schuller’s excellent teaching and genuine kindness she demonstrates and infuses in her students. In the words of one student, “Dr. Schuller has shown me that in the face of adversity, especially personal adversity, we shouldn't seek sympathy or empathy, but instead we should go and give sympathy and empathy because it is in times of struggle that we seem the strongest to those who are also experiencing adversity. She has taught me what it means to truly be a beacon of hope.”

Outside of the classroom, Professor Schuller is committed to enhancing the undergraduate learning experience. She has served, and still serves, as the Faculty Advisor of Women’s Global Health Leadership Program, which works in partnership with the National Nurses Union to bring together working health professionals with Rutgers undergraduates in classes that focus on health equity. She has supervised at least five honors theses, and served as the second reader on others.

Two years after being awarded tenure Professor Schuller assumed the role as Undergraduate Director in WGSS. In this capacity, working closely with the department chair, she has expanded curricular offerings, refreshed and revitalized curriculum, and hosted workshops to support instructors during uncertain times, ensuring high-quality undergraduate instruction.

For all of these reasons, from her kind, respectful, generous engagement with students to her consistently superb instruction, and her curricular development, Professor Kyla Schuller embodies what it means to make a Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.

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 Assistant Professor
Preetha Mani, AMESALL

Preetha Mani

In course after course, with unrelenting, quiet positivity and enthusiasm, Assistant Professor Preetha Mani has instilled in her students a newfound appreciation for South Asian literature, translation, politics, social movements, and issues connected to gender. Whether she is engaging students in discussion, presenting media, conducting textual analysis, or reading advanced writing, she is piquing her students’ interest, enriching their knowledge of the historical background as she makes a connection between them and the material. As one student puts it, “Preetha Mani has made me a better student in many ways. She has encouraged my intellectual growth and progress by allowing me to explore my own mind.” 

Not content to simply re-teach courses handed down to her or remain stagnant in her own teaching, Professor Mani has taken initiative to develop courses, including Women Writers of South Asia; Gender, Nation, and Literature in South Asia; Love in South Asia; and Banned Books (AMESALL’s first SAS Signature Course). She has also redesigned several introductory courses: Literatures of South Asia; Translation Studies; and Postcolonial Literatures and Theories. As part of the departmental Curriculum Development Committee, Professor Mani helped to design the popular Global Humanities option in AMESALL.

Students who take Professor Mani’s courses end up wanting to learn more about diverse cultures, and Indian culture in particular. She has also given a number of invited guest lectures in courses at Rutgers as well as at the University of Washington-Seattle, the University of California-Berkely, and the School of Oriental and African Studies. Outside of the classroom, she has spent time individually advising honors theses, mentoring Aresty research students, and supervising independent studies.

As an Assistant Professor, Preetha Mani has demonstrated an impressive commitment to undergraduate curricular development. Having stepped into the role of Undergraduate Director only months after the pandemic swept the University, she found herself helping her department make the move to online instruction. She devoted herself to working with instructors to adapt their teaching, revising messaging to the students on the department website, and facilitating discussions about online instruction policy. Her careful administrative work paired with her attention to excellent teaching and research have made her invaluable not only to AMESALL, but to the School of Arts and Sciences as a whole.

We agree with the student who wrote, “Professor Mani is the scholar par excellence,” and we are pleased to recognize all of her contributions to undergraduate education with this award.


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Assistant Professor
Tetsuya Nakamura, Genetics

Tetsuya Nakamura

How does an Assistant Professor new to Rutgers find a way to rapidly pivot to online instruction of Genetics, and do it well? Ask Professor Tetsuya Nakamura. Since joining Rutgers in 2017, Professor Nakamura has taught his Evolutionary Developmental Biology course in multiple formats due to the pandemic. In 2019, his class took a field trip to the American Museum of Natural History, which added a depth to the learning experience that a classroom could not offer. As one student reflected, “The trip to AMNH gave us an opportunity to go out and see how developmental biology was being done, as well as look at a large number of samples that demonstrated the key ideas from class and expanded upon them.” Students appreciated being able to ask questions, make connections, and understand more about how or why certain lives evolved. In a course evaluation featuring feedback from 20 out of 22 students, both the course and instructor averaged over 4.5, multiple decimal points above the department mean. The educational value of this field trip and Professor Nakamura’s interactive mentoring in the lab were recently highlighted in an SAS News and Events article.

One might predict, then, that in the absence of field trips due to the pandemic, and a move to online instruction, Professor Nakamura’s course evaluations might suffer. How could such rich engagement and excitement about evolutional biology be maintained? Surprisingly, it was, because it wasn’t the location that mattered, but the instructor. Students resolved to accept the course without the field trip. As one student acquiesced, “I wish we could have gone to the museum–– but of course, we had the pandemic.” But the pandemic did not present an obstacle to student learning, or to Professor Nakamura’s superb instruction. In 2020 (when the pandemic hit mid-semester), the SIRS score for teaching effectiveness was above 4.8, and the overall course quality above 4.6, and in 2021, the SIRS score for teaching effectiveness was a 5, and the overall course quality above a 4.9. Much like his research subject, Professor Nakamura had to evolve. As he ventured into new territory, he brought with him his positive energy, his meticulous preparation, his genuine interest in student success and intellectual growth, and his keen desire to foster a connection between students and course content. He did so both in his courses and in mentoring the research assistants in his lab. 

In every aspect of what we value in an instructor, Professor Nakamura shines, and his students recognize it. He not only possesses knowledge of his discipline, but conveys it clearly, logically, and with patience. As one student wrote, “Dr. Nakamura is clearly well-versed in the subject matter of the course. He presented things logically, and took time to answer any questions, as sometimes the material could be difficult to grasp on the first try.” Another student noted that, “He was always excited about the course material and made sure that we all understood everything before moving on to the next topic. Furthermore, the class itself was extremely fun in general and really organized in a way that allowed a lot of intellectual growth.” Students report extending what they learned into study habits and conducting research.

While we certainly hope that students would not have to re-take Professor Nakamura’s course, at least one student’s testimonial suggests that doing so could be worthwhile: “10/10 would take the class again if I had to.” This is because he is, quite simply, a “Really, really, really excellent professor!!” 

 

Assistant Teaching Professor
Matthew Charnley, Mathematics

Matthew Charnley

Assistant Teaching Professor Matthew Charnley is no stranger to curricular innovation in mathematics. Even as a Mathematics doctoral student here at Rutgers, his passion for pedagogy was evident. Not content to merely teach his own courses well, his influence on departmental instruction was noticeable enough to earn him a Distinguished Contributions Award to Undergraduate Education at the teaching assistant level. Since then, his contributions have only grown.

Professor Charnley has found a way to make a lasting impact beyond individual classes so that new instructors of mathematics approach their courses in a careful, equity-minded, pedagogically sound way. He revisited and restructured the TA Training program for first-year graduate students, focusing on issues of pedagogy and equity. When the pandemic hit, derailing instruction, he served on the departmental emergency committee to support the transition through uncertain times, providing material to other instructors to teach in a new format and modality. His experience with “flipped” classrooms had already given him the experience with online materials and videos on which the rest of the department was able to rely. In addition, he revised the MATLAB (a programming platform) assignments common to all sections, and secured an Open and Affordable Textbooks Award to create an open-source textbook. In April 2022, he was a panelist for the CTAAR workshop on alternative gradings schemes. His focus has always been on ensuring sustainable, high-quality mathematics at Rutgers.

Not only does he support others on this path, Professor Charnley demonstrates sound pedagogy in his own teaching, consistently scoring well above the department mean. In courses such as Differential Equations for Engineering and Physics, Calc II, and Introduction to Mathematic Reasoning, students recognize his ability to offer clear explanations, make connections across topics, and make mathematical topics fun. In the words of one student, his “amicability and willingness to address even the most stupid-seeming questions was awesome.”

Professor Charnley’s students also appreciate his ability to create a welcoming environment, his approachability, his optimism, his effective teaching methods, and the fact that he truly cares about his students, their grades, and their learning. As one student described, “Professor Charnley, unlike most math professors I've had in college, is great at instilling a conceptual foundation for all of the topics covered in this course within his students. This inherently makes math more fun as we are taught to actually think critically.” The undergraduates at Rutgers University–New Brunswick are fortunate to learn mathematics from a professor such as Matthew Charnley, which is why we are recognizing him with this well-deserved Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

 

Assistant Teaching Professor
Ava Majlesi, Political Science

Ava Majlesi

Associate Professor of Professional Practice Ava Majlesi is not content to just do her job well. In fact, it may be hard to pin down what exactly that “job” is, because she is so adept at coordinating and leading multiple projects for Rutgers. From development to management to directing to implementation, she has proved her worth. But the contribution that most stands out in its impact on undergraduate education at Rutgers is her role in the creation and growth of the undergraduate minor in Critical Intelligence Studies. The minor was developed via support from a federal grant secured in 2015, naming Rutgers as one of nine national Intelligence Community Centers for Academic Excellence. Professor Majlesi subsequently secured three additional federal grants to expand the Center for Critical Intelligence Studies and the minor into new research and teaching areas. The minor, which was rolled out in 2017, currently has over 200 participating students from School of Arts and Sciences departments such as Computer Science, Political Science, and Criminal Justice, as well as other schools at Rutgers.

In her capacity as a leader in the minor, Professor Majlesi developed new policies and courses and served as the main advisor to students in the program. She helped secure appropriate part-time lecturers for the courses in the minor through a network of practitioners in the field, and has developed and taught core classes herself, including Introduction to Critical Intelligence Studies; Critical Thinking and Analytic Writing for the Intelligence Community; and Research in Critical Intelligence Studies. Professor Majlesi also teaches the Internship in Critical Intelligence Studies. In Political Science undergraduate director William Field’s words, “She is a tireless advocate for the students and an excellent collaborator on offering our students the best possible education for career development while remaining grounded in the liberal arts.” In her introductory course, students grapple with how to balance national security needs with constitutional rights. In more advanced courses, students extend and apply this knowledge to work on substantive state- or federal-level questions of homeland security.

Students in her courses applaud the high level of engagement and discussion, her honesty in answering students, the open environment, the debates, the guest speakers, and the invitation to think critically and analytically. When asked what they would do differently, some students simply reply, “n/a” or “Nothing!” The rows and rows of positive feedback serve to complement and bolster the exceptional scores, which are well above the department mean, consistently high across categories, and consistently high across classes. What we hope students take away from the CIS minor is precisely what they take away from her classes. Given Professor Majlesi’s experience and expertise, it may seem surprising to read from one student that, “When she talks to the class, she speaks to us as equals. The class doesn’t feel like a class, it feels like I’m having a conversation with a knowledgeable peer.” They’re not alone. Says another, “She allowed us to express our opinions on important matters and treated us like adults throughout the course.” It is engaged, critical thinkers like these that Professor Majlesi is training to become the leaders and players in Critical Intelligence, demonstrating the values of an undergraduate education from Rutgers.

We are very pleased to recognize her efforts with this Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

 


Assistant Teaching Professor
Simon Wickhamsmith, English Writing Program

Simon Wickhamsimth

The English Writing Program’s Executive Director Lynda Dexheimer refers to Assistant Teaching Professor Simon  Wickhamsmith as “one of the most intellectually engaged and empathetic instructors I have worked with.” He has been a valuable contributor to the Writing Program since 2014, introducing students from a range of linguistic backgrounds to the beauty of expression in the English language. In foundational courses such as English for Academic Purposes and Research in the Disciplines, observers and students alike recognize his ability to “cultivate students’ intellectual independence,” “his responsiveness and caring attitude,” his “personalized comments and suggestions,” and his willingness to “motivate and encourage” his students. One student wrote to him to call his class an “absolutely fantastic, enriching experience.”

The English Writing Program’s Executive Director Lynda Dexheimer refers to Assistant Teaching Professor Simon Wickhamsmith as “one of the most intellectually engaged and empathetic instructors I have worked with.” He has been a valuable contributor to the Writing Program since 2014, introducing students from a range of linguistic backgrounds to the beauty of expression in the English language. In foundational courses such as English for Academic Purposes and Research in the Disciplines, observers and students alike recognize his ability to “cultivate students’ intellectual independence,” “his responsiveness and caring attitude,” his “personalized comments and suggestions,” and his willingness to “motivate and encourage” his students. One student wrote to him to call his class an “absolutely fantastic, enriching experience.”

Professor Wickhamsmith’s fluency reading in French, German, Mongolian, and Russian, among other languages, enables him to understand the intricacies of communicating a message in multiple languages, and the kind of preparation, flexibility, and patience needed in teaching multilingual and non-native English learners. What’s more, he reflects deeply on the challenges of teaching writing drawing from multiple modalities, the efficacy of the structure and direction of certain assignments, and the messages he communicates to students in the feedback he shares with them. In all of these areas, Professor Wickhamsmith thinks carefully about how to improve the next iteration of a course, and what students are taking away from his classes. 

His thoughtful, positive approach to teaching writing makes Professor Wickhamsmith deserving of the School of Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

 


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Teaching Assistant
Denise Dykstra, Philosophy

Denise Dykstra

An introductory class in Philosophy is designed to raise deep questions about ethics, morality, and truth, and to invite students to think deeply about these questions and participate in lively debates about the possible answers. Stepping into her role as a lead instructor of Introduction to Philosophy and Introduction to Logic, Denise Dykstra was committed to maintaining this lively engagement in an online format. Based on the comments from her students and Philosophy faculty, she did just that. In fact, according to Assistant Undergraduate Director and Professor Alexander Skiles, “Denise’s asynchronous courses are a model of how they should be conducted.”

Objectively, Dykstra’s evaluations reflect her developing strengths as an instructor. In all of the main areas, her scores are considerably above the department mean, and student evaluations consistently praise her pedagogical approach. As one student wrote, “This was the most effectively structured asynchronous course I have taken at this university in five years. The format of the assignments/papers were extremely fair and did a great job tying real life to philosophical debates centuries old. I am not being disingenuous when I say I would tell my friends about what I learned in a given week for this course and just discuss the topic with them to hear their thoughts leading to debate, which is what this class is meant to do.”

For first-time students of Philosophy, working through logic can be daunting. But students write that Dykstra explains assignments with clarity, grades fairly, and “encouraged opinionated thinking and writing” in a way that lessened the pressure. Not every student who takes Philosophy at Rutgers University–New Brunswick will become a philosopher, but those who take Philosophy with an instructor like Denise Dykstra are invited into the field of philosophy in a way that allows them to appreciate the timeless appeal and rigor of this discipline

We are very pleased to recognize her efforts with this Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

 

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Teaching Assistant
Ariela Parisi, Spanish & Portuguese

Ariela Parisi

Learning a language can be an exciting, and sometimes frustrating, process. It takes an instructor who loves language and languages, who is patient and creative, and who understands the challenges of language learning to do it well. Ariela Parisi is one such instructor. From the moment she began teaching for the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the students and the department chair noticed her skills and talents. According to former chair Marcy Schwartz, Ariela Parisi is one of the department’s most talented instructors, whose “intellectual maturity,” “clear and concise communication,” passion, and enthusiasm shine. Says Schwartz, “She is an expert at awakening students’ intellectual and linguistic curiosity and inspires them to make meaningful connections to the material.”

Across multiple iterations of Intermediate Spanish between fall 2019 and spring 2021, and in Modernity and Identity in Spanish America, Ariela Parisi’s SIRS scores are well above the department mean, if not at ceiling. As if that weren’t enough, the comments are what really stand out. These four student comments capture a general spirit conveyed in every evaluation.

“I really appreciate how open and patient Prof. Parisi was towards mistakes and how she would correct them respectfully. To me, that helped me learn Spanish in a way that past teachers in high school never did for me…Prof. Parisi and her class motivated me to read more Spanish literature and other pieces of writing (especially news articles) …because of her class, I have learned how to better articulate complicated thoughts in Spanish, both in writing and speaking.”

“Ariela was always supportive when you don't understand something and made sure the class understood instructions and the material. She made the class fun and I think speaking with classmates was the most influential because being able to speak the language helped me understand it much more.”

“During class, I really enjoyed the small breakout rooms and collaborations with my classmates. It not only helped solidify concepts that we read, but I loved getting to know everyone in a virtual environment…I greatly appreciated the writing lessons on how to plan, write, and edit an essay because as a pre–med student, we don't really have much exposure to this type of essay writing, so it was very helpful.”

Students who have taken courses with Professor Parisi find themselves compelled to continue their exploration of Spanish by taking more courses, declaring a minor, or completing one of the department’s certificate programs. Rutgers is an incredibly diverse community, with tens of world languages taught at the undergraduate level, and even more represented among its community population. In this Year of Languages in the Humanities and beyond at Rutgers, we are pleased to recognize this budding instructor who has the potential to spark a love of world languages in our students for many years to come. Ariela Parisi is well deserving of this award for her distinguished contributions to undergraduate education. ¡Felicidades, Ariela!

 

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Teaching Assistant 
David Tate, English Writing Program

David Tate

From more than 60 Teaching Assistants in the English Writing Program, David Tate emerged as the clear candidate for this award. His track record indicates why. In class after class, Tate consistently scores among the top 10% of all TAs, and among the top 20% of all instructors in the Writing Program. He regularly teaches Expository Writing (Expos), which is a challenging course to teach both because it is required for most students, meaning that not all of the students will be eager to take it, and because of the program-wide pedagogical approach that requires “intense, focused engagement with student writing.”

Tate appears to embrace the challenges associated with teaching Expos, providing “consistently incisive, intellectually generous feedback” in a way that creates a safe space for learning how to become a skilled writer, and generates respect for students as writers who take ownership of the course. In the words of one student, “I didn’t like doing the work, but I liked the payoff of doing it.” And another, “At first I was really scared about this class, but I think having it with David Tate…made things much…easier, and I actually felt I could learn something and do well.” Executive Director Lynda Dexheimer notes that not only has Tate been a model instructor in many ways, but he also “has been a vital contributor to the administration and evolution of the course,” contributing to pedagogical discussions about Expos, archiving materials, and helping train new instructors.

Instead of fleeing from Expository Writing after they are done with the semester, many students who take a writing course with Tate return to lead a workshop for current students and share their positive experiences related to writing and studying at Rutgers. Several have gone on to become peer tutors in the Writing Centers, helping new generations of students. So, while some students may report that what they like best about the course is that, “It is only one semester,” others are reflective, saying it “challenged me to form ideas…The class also made me better at critical thinking and gave me an outlet to speak publicly…about my ideas.” These comments are complemented by solid SIRS scores.

Expository Writing is an entrée to writing, upon which other, more advanced classes build and on which many depend for prerequisite knowledge. We are therefore proud to have TAs such as David Tate who embrace the role of writing instructor in the way he does.

He is definitely deserving of the recognition that comes with this Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

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Special Award
Christine Altinis-Kiraz, Associate Teaching Professor, Marc Muñiz, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice, and Mary Emenike, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice, Chemistry & STEM Education

Christine Altinis-Kiraz and Marc Muñiz

Extended General Chemistry is a course normally taken by first-year students who have placed into pre-calculus or otherwise lack some of the preparation needed to succeed in General Chemistry. Recognizing that these students have often struggled and felt discouraged, Associate Teaching Professor Christine Altinis-Kiraz, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice Mary Emenike, and Assistant Professor of Professional Practice Marc Muñiz have worked closely together to redesign this course in a way that eschews didactic instruction, avoids frustration and discouragement, and instead promotes excitement and a growth mindset. Their strategy required them to think of the student as a holistic learner, using a "heads and hearts" approach targeting not just content, but the learning experience and affect toward learning the subject matter.

Team AEM may stand for Altinis-Kiraz, Emenike, and Muñiz, but it might also stand for Active, Engaged, and Multifaceted. As Associate Dean for STEM Education Ronald Ransome, Chair for the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology John Brennan, and Undergraduate Program Director for the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology Ralf Warmuth collectively write, “AEM reformed the course on several fronts: they developed and introduced active learning techniques; they set up a highly structured format with many formative assessments; they introduced self-reflective activities to help develop meta-cognition skills; they developed exercises to be supportive of minoritized and other students who may feel they don’t belong in chemistry.”

These efforts have paid off, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The average score on the American Chemical Society standard exam in Fall 2019 was just over the 50th percentile, whereas for 2021, it was about the 60th percentile—this increase occurred despite the documented learning slide of the pandemic! The students also recognize the value of this very different learning environment, with one student referring to it as the “ideal environment to learn a lot especially if you are interested in chemistry.”

In their SIRS comments, students praised the “teaching methods,” which included a variety of approaches to promote student engagement like study groups, breakout room activities, and the use of Learning Assistants and Teaching Interns. As the following comments illustrate, students praise each of these instructors and the important role they play on this team. “Dr. Muñiz is probably the best thing to ever happen to the Rutgers Chem department.” “Dr. Altinis-Kiraz always encouraged us and made sure that we understood that we are smart and we just have to keep working and she believed in us.” “Mary Emenike made recitation very comfortable and I felt excited to learn. She made the format of class very helpful and I always learn in recitation.”

We are proud to see this kind of active learning environment in STEM showcased at Rutgers and are delighted to recognize this team with a well-deserved School of Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

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Special Award
Lenore Neigeborn, Office of Advising & Academic Services (OAAS)

Lenore NeigebornWhen earlier this fall SAS Associate Dean of Advising and Academic Services Lenore Neigeborn announced that she would be retiring, a collective gasp could be heard across campus. With a legacy of over three decades of tireless work on behalf of our students, it is impossible to think of anyone who has had a larger impact on advising and support for our undergraduate students than Dean Neigeborn.

Beginning her career at Rutgers as a Geneticist, she moved into advising first as Director of Advising for Life Sciences and then as Director of Advising for Rutgers College where she soon emerged as a campus leader. Dean Neigeborn was the original, and remains the current, project manager for Degree Navigator for the entire University, relying on her deep understanding of the curriculum to meticulously program in hundreds of majors and minors and general education requirements—and tens of thousands of courses. During the Transformation of Undergraduate Education, she successfully created a single office of advising and academic services to serve students from the four legacy colleges and those in the new School of Arts and Sciences. This tremendous effort earned her the 2008 President’s Recognition Award, in recognition of her pivotal role in preserving the student experience through the reorganization. Over the years, she has schooled multiple SAS Undergraduate Education Deans and department leaders in SAS academic policies and procedures, student data, registration processes, effective advising support, and the mysterious ways of Rutgers systems.

Dean Neigeborn built the SAS Office of Advising and Academic Services (OAAS) into an institutional powerhouse, with more than 45 full-time advisors and staff as she advocated for a long-term plan to reach national standards for advisor-student ratios. Dean Neigeborn led OAAS in becoming a paperless office, working with SAS IT to develop MyAdvisor and multiple other online systems that our students and advisors rely on, and that meet students where they are, both online and in physical locations on four campuses. Under Dean Neigeborn’s leadership, SAS OAAS became the first advising office in which 100% of the advisors are Safer space trained to help support our LGBTQIA+ students and colleagues and she initiated the group that developed into the SAS Coalition for Anti-Racism, Social Justice, and Equity (CASE). Again, under her leadership, SAS Advising was a Rutgers pioneer in institutionalizing the use of LiveChat, long before the pandemic. During the pandemic, Dean Neigeborn immediately pivoted Advising to all remote, somehow ensuring that students did not experience even a single day without access to individual advising services via LiveChat, email, and zoom; and, as we brought in a new class for fall 2020, she and her team developed countless videos and web resources for remote Admitted Student Open House and APA and STAR days.

As a supervisor, Dean Neigeborn strongly supports the professional development of her team and has encouraged them to imagine and implement new and innovative ideas. She is a strong champion for advising programs to support student success and retention, including the nationally recognized, best practice, First-Year Retention Program and Students in Transition Seminar (STS) for transfer students. She also supported the expansion of the Academic Success Seminar course from one to eight sections, and the shift from volunteer to paid instructors for this course as well as the STS, recognizing the value of these initiatives in promoting student success. Most recently, Dean Neigeborn and her First-Year office oversaw the transition to self-registration for first-year students in Summer 2022.

Dean Neigeborn’s counsel about how to improve the student experience and her guidance on advising policies and processes, and their implications, are widely sought within SAS and across the campus. SAS undergraduate directors, department chairs, and deans turn to her daily for assistance and advice in dealing with everything ranging from SPNs (Special Permission Numbers) not working to how to market courses effectively to how to address delicate situations with students. She is always serving on multiple committees addressing University or campus-wide policies. She engages in discussions about academic advising at every level, from those in the BIG 10 Academic Alliance Advising Committee to those with individual students, and everything in-between. And she does it all with unparalleled dedication, passion, and expertise.

In all these ways and so many more, Dean Neigeborn has truly made innumerable distinguished contributions to undergraduate education writ large and to the individual experiences of the tens of thousands of students she has welcome, supported, and congratulated as they graduated. We are deeply indebted to Dean Lenore Neigeborn for her transformative impact on undergraduate success. She could not be more deserving of this award.

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Special Award
RAsheda Young, English Writing Program

RAsheda Young

Songs to start class. Peer group activities. Energy from the instructor. Real-life current issues. Chill vibe. Safe space. Cameras on. Does this sound like a classroom where Basic Composition or Expository Writing is taught? It does when RAsheda Young teaches. And it works.

Since joining Rutgers as a teaching instructor in the English Writing Program in 2019, Assistant Teaching Professor Young—even while serving as an adjunct instructor elsewhere and working on completing her Ph.D. at IUP in English Composition and Applied Linguistics—has been (in her own words) steadily “creating pedagogically sound learning experiences that align with the Writing Program learning goals with a primary focus on creating engaging, rigorous lesson plans for a diverse learning population.” This description, however, in no way does justice to the quality of her instruction and the contribution she has made within the Writing Program and to the undergraduate students at Rutgers taking these introductory classes and honing their writing craft. In an approach to teaching writing that embraces radical love, diversity, and authenticity, Professor Young stands out.

Professor Young consistently earns scores above the mean for the Writing Program for both quality of the course and the instructor. Her students not only comment on the organization of her Canvas course site and the high-quality feedback she provides, but also on her ability to see their potential as writers and to bring them out of their shells. When the executive director of the Writing Program observed Professor Young teach a Basic Composition class, she “found it to be dynamic and exciting,” noting that “the classroom climate was warm and engaging while being intellectually rigorous, and students worked hard to contribute meaningful answers while being unafraid to express confusion or doubt.”

Writing can be intimidating, and call up differences in access, demographics, and culture. Professor Young is fully aware of this and cultivates a safe, welcoming space to learn how to write in her own classroom. She has also helped to design pedagogical initiatives centered around linguistic justice, cultural responsiveness, and inclusive teaching—topics that are perennially important, but of particular importance during a time of heightened unrest, unease, and uncertainty.

It is exciting and inspiring to see an instructor so dedicated to their craft, their students, and pedagogy, and we are fortunate to have such an instructor at Rutgers in RAsheda Young, who is well deserving of this Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

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