The 2014 SAS Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education were held on May 6, honoring seventeen teachers--from faculty members to graduate students--for accomplishments both within and beyond the classroom. Acting Executive Dean Richard S. Falk opened the ceremony with remarks that emphasized how important instruction of undergraduates is to a strong arts and sciences program and then presented the awards which cover the spectrum of SAS fields from Biology and Classics to Economics and Geography.
Since 2009, Professor Martha Cotter has been both the lecturer and recitation instructor every fall in Chemistry 327, Physical Chemistry I. This course covers classical thermodynamics, an introduc-tion to statistical thermodynamics, and chemical kinetics at a relatively sophisticated mathematical level and is considered by most chemistry majors to be one of the most challenging courses in the chemistry curriculum. Professor Cotter has raised the mathematical and conceptual level of the course while providing even mathematically challenged students with the support they need to succeed. Students lavishly praise her teaching style and concern for students, the “perfect” organization of the course, and the “awesome” materials and extra help provided to students. As one student put it, “The instructor provided a learning environment in which I could thrive.” Another student summed things up by saying: “Awesome course. Great professor, highly recommended. Although it’s a hard course, she makes it very accessible and understandable.” Still another student said simply “Martha Cotter is probably the best professor I have ever had at Rutgers.”
When Dianne Sadoff arrived at Rutgers in 2006, she brought with her a broad range of experience at the highest levels of undergraduate education. Her time at Rutgers bears out the high estimation the English Department had at the time of her hire, and then quite a bit more as well. Few colleagues we have known demonstrate the same level of interdisciplinary imagination and variety in the classroom; even fewer have brought to the university a corresponding passion for and experience in curricular development, which Professor Sadoff has demonstrated by her work not only in English but also for Cinema Studies. Professor Sadoff is most well known among students for her hugely popular courses looking at issues raised by film adaptation of literary texts, courses like “Novels on Film,” “Screening Dickens” and “Our Vampires, Ourselves.” Student ratings of these courses have been not merely exceptional: they have been exceptional almost without variation. And Sadoff’s undergraduates have themselves had great success. She has directed departmental Honors theses for seven of her eight years at Rutgers, including three last year. Many of these students have gone on to graduate school at institutions like Georgetown, Fordham, and UVA. She has also convened panels of student papers at the Undergraduate Symposium in the English Department and at the Aresty Research Symposium. Over the course of her career, Professor Sadoff has developed a reputation among students for setting exacting and demanding standards for student work. Her courses help the English Department and Rutgers as a whole to imagine the project of the humanities as the transmission of stories over historical time. And her interdisciplinary vision for undergraduate education continues to manifest itself in her current work in curriculum development. For all of these reasons, we very pleased to recognize Dianne Sadoff for her exceptional contribution to undergraduate education at Rutgers.
David Feigley is an Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Studies Department who was the Chair and Undergraduate Program Director of the Department for 17 years. ProfessorFeigley’s efforts have contributed to the large growth and current success of the undergraduate program in the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Studies. Professor Feigley teaches 150-200 students each semester in his multiple courses. He consistently has high evaluation scores that can be attributed to his multiple methods to keep students engaged in the classroom. In addition, he developed and previously directed the continuing education program known as the Youth Sports Research Council that provides training to thousands of volunteer youth sports coaches and municipal recreation directors throughout the state of New Jersey. He has also made outstanding contributions to students through advising, orientations and internship efforts, besides initiating new programs and creating educational materials. David Feigley is a dedicated teacher who is compassionate, patient and accessible to his students, and has been a devoted member of the Rutgers faculty for 37 years.
Carolyn Moehling has an exemplary record as a teacher, undergraduate mentor and advisor, departmental undergraduate director, and member of SAS instructional committees. Her consistently high teaching evaluation scores in one of our most feared and difficult courses, Intermediate Microeconomics, reflect her ongoing commitment to excellence in the classroom. Her honors thesis students rave about her commitment to teaching them how to do research and helping them with their careers. She has been a model director of undergraduate studies for the economics department ensuring our programs' smooth operation and tending carefully and attentively to the many and varied problems of students and staff. Professor Moehling has been described as an invaluable member of SAS instructional committees with outstanding leadership skills. But the students really say it best: "She is one of those rare professors with an ability to shape the minds of her students"
Asher Ghertner is in his second year as an Assistant Professor at Rutgers after two years teaching at the London School of Economics. His performance on both sides of the Atlantic has played to rave reviews by students. Capturing the prevailing sentiment, one student described him as “one of those rare and exceptional professors, [who is] really gifted” as an instructor. Another claimed that he “articulates his lectures like a book”! Student after student testified that Professor Ghertner had dramatically reshaped the way they see the world, and that his courses were among the best they’d taken during their time at Rutgers. In addition to his regular teaching duties, Professor Ghertner also serves as Director of the South Asian Studies Program, in which capacity he has overseen a dramatic increase in co-curricular programming. Over the past year alone, he has helped organize over a dozen public lectures by prominent South Asian scholars; organized group advising sessions for all students seeking the Minor in South Asian Studies; and helped broker student internships at the South Asia Journal. In all of these ways, Professor Ghertner has made himself an invaluable asset in the pursuit of excellence in undergraduate education in SAS.
Sarah Novacich, who joined the English Department three years ago after completing her Ph.D. at Yale, very clearly belongs at a university like Rutgers that values teaching as an intellectual enterprise. When teachers complain about how difficult it is to get students to read the material assigned for class (as we all have), they often scant the significance of the institutional setting: in some ways the conventional mass lecture encourages students to see themselves as passive recipients of a knowledge that doesn’t belong to them. One virtue of Professor Novacich’s teaching is that she makes the act of reading socially salient: students have a credible reason to think they can play a part in shaping the knowledge at the center of the course. Were we asked to encapsulate Professor Novacich’s “philosophy of teaching,” we would say that it aims to inspire her students’ active participation in the “culture of books” that produced English studies itself—a culture of reading, writing, conversation, critical reflection, creativity and sharing. Her classes push back against a very different culture, one that imparts the resignation and learned helplessness underpinning the “society of the spectacle” in which we all find ourselves today. In her short time here at Rutgers, Sarah Novacich has contributed instrumentally to the personal and intellectual development of scores of undergraduates working in the humanities. She not only exemplifies the tradition of the English Department’s commitment to undergraduate education; she also projects its future.
In sum, Dr. Lewis presents a character and matching set of accomplishments that have vastly enriched majors, minors, and occasional students of Anthropology.
Dr. Patrick O'Connor began his teaching career forty seven years ago at an intermediate school in the South Bronx, at the time the Bronx was burning. From there he moved to a large public high school on Staten Island where he began to teach AP Chemistry and in doing so rediscovered his interest and love of Chemistry. This lead to earning PhD here, as a part-time student. Soon after, in 1996, Pat began teaching Organic Chemistry at Rutgers, and he has delivered exceptional lectures to thousands of students ever since. His SIRS numbers are inspirational given such a large class, with difficult material, and an average grade of C+. Pat has a reputation for clarity, organization, humor, patience, and understanding. In Dr. O'COnnor's own words: “I have always regarded teaching as the most important of the professions in that it subsumes all of the others: where would we be without a coherent transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next? I have always considered myself a public servant and I am proud to be one.”
It would be easy to quantify Vivian Kao's excellence. On Question 9 of the SIRS form, which addresses the teaching, her four-year average is 4.84—an almost impossible achievement for someone who often works with remedial students. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. In their written comments, many of Vivian’s students praise her for helping them to read more critically and to write in new ways. As one student said, “This is the first time I’ve ever had to pay attention to my grammar.” But apparently, being in Vivian’s class was an existential experience as well. “Now I see I can do better,” a student wrote. Another said, “This course has helped me to think beyond black and white and encouraged me to work at a higher level.” Still another had this to say: “She challenged me as a thinker to step out of my comfort zone. . . and to enjoy the challenge. I’ve become interested in ideas, and that amazes me.” The Director of the Writing Program recalls a conversation with a student in his class who had taken a course with Vivian the previous semester. The student, a young woman, described Vivian to him as the kind of person she wanted to become. She hoped that she would someday be as intelligent as Vivian, and also as funny and generous.
Kristie Butler, Ivelisse Irizarry, David Jespersen, Hillary Stires, Diana Vengsarkar, Katie Voskoboynik, Biology Group
The unexpected April 2013 news that Doolittle Hall would be demolished to make space for a new Chemistry Building forced SAS and the Division of Life Sciences to replace the traditional General Biology model with one where the weekly laboratory was replaced with a student-centered workshop supporting the lectures and an entirely new laboratory course that emphasizes the process of science. In just four months, our pilot program serving 280 students had to be up-scaled to service 2100+ students while the facilities renovations, equipment acquisition, and logistical changes for an anticipated enrollment of 800+ students in new teaching and preparatory space were completed for January. These exceptional graduate students, l. to r., Diana Vengsarkar, Kristie Butler, David Jespersen, Ivelisse Irizarry, Hillary Stires, and Katie Voskoboynik, provided essential assistance, encouragement, insight, and recommendations enabling us to provide this year’s students with the truly active, student-centered learning environments, assessments aligned to outcomes, content that better prepares them for their professional exams, and novel research opportunities that we envisioned. In addition to serving undergraduate students, they have provided guidance, processes, procedures, and logistical support for their graduate student peers conducting the workshops and laboratories. We were extremely fortunate to have had such a group help make this transformation a reality and with this award celebrate and recognize their significant contribution to undergraduate education.