The 2017 SAS Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education were announced at a May 3 ceremony at Winants Hall. The awards honored eleven teachers--from faculty members to graduate students--for accomplishments both within and beyond the classroom. Dean Lord, of the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program, was also honored with a Staff Career Award for her dedication to Rutgers students. 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 Latino and Caribbean Studies and Russian to sociology and physics.
Professor: Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel
Associate Professor: Emily Van Buskirk
Assistant Professors: Alyson Brooks, Norah MacKendrick
Associate Teaching Professors: Abdelbaki Brahmia, Gregg Transue
Assistant Teaching Professors: Ana Paula Serra, Andrew Tjang, Madeline Zehala
Teaching Assistant: Ian Bignall, Aniket Patra
Staff Career Award: Nancy (Muffin) Lord
Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel, Latino and Caribbean Studies
Professor Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel is an outstanding teacher and mentor.
Professor Martínez-San Miguel’s steadfast dedication to students across disciplines, and at all stages of their careers, pushes them to realize their academic potential. She has a deep commitment to serving historically underrepresented students. As a peer notes, her “life mission is to engender the study and knowledge of diversity in her courses and her students and to make sure that all students, but particularly first generation students, get the support and resources they need to succeed.” She does this admirably. Her commitment to diversity, cultivation of community, and careful course planning allow her to maintain high standards for her students, and it is difficult to imagine a more productive scenario for learning.
Professor Martínez-San Miguel takes risks in her teaching by navigating in the interdisciplinary approaches of ethnic and area studies, and gender and sexuality studies, and by frequently incorporating controversial topics, while still receiving exemplary scores in the student rating surveys. She has well developed pedagogical strategies to meet the challenges of addressing provocative issues and working with vulnerable student populations. She acknowledges the diversity of her students and creates an intellectual community in which students feel respected and free to express their ideas both in class and online. These student ideas are then referenced in her lectures and classroom discussions. She turns what could be a routine delivery of lectures into an invitation to all students to engage in debate and take part in producing knowledge. Professor Martínez-San Miguel creates a class environment in which all students thrive.
Professor Martínez-San Miguel has been indispensable in recent curricular innovations in the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies. She was instrumental in creating new humanities learning goals and courses that led to restructuring the major and minor to offer a truly interdisciplinary course of study. She has developed strong writing courses for the Core Curriculum and displays a noteworthy dedication to going above and beyond to help students become better writers. At the same time, she redesigned the Latino and Caribbean Studies Research Methods course. It not only teaches different approaches to research, but also questions the biases and exclusions of certain methodologies. The course evaluation comments from the first iteration of the course reveal students invigorated by discovering they could conduct research themselves. One student stated: “I honestly did not know one thing about research except the fact that other people did it and I usually used other people’s studies to do assignments. This course actually made me feel like I could produce knowledge that has not been explored before. This course gives students enough time to really think about what they are passionate about and take the time to solidify what they want to research. It really pushes each student to believe they CAN publish their own work.”
Professor Martínez-San Miguel dedication to the education and empowerment of Arts and Sciences undergraduates is evident in her outstanding teaching in her own courses; her development of new curriculums for the major and minor and the development of excellent new courses that develop students’ ability to write and discover on their own; teaching Byrne seminars; offering summer lectures for the Ronald E. McNair Early Identification Program, the Rutgers English Diversity Institute, and the Paul Robeson Summer Leadership program; collaborating in the development of the Latin Images Living-Learning Community; and, working individually with more than 19 undergraduates in research programs such as the McNair and Aresty Programs. And, Professor Martínez-San Miguel’s impact extends well beyond her own undergraduate students as she skillfully mentors graduate students and young scholars as they begin their careers in undergraduate education.
For her intellectual curiosity and generosity, compassion, and steadfast commitment to students, Professor Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel is most deserving of this honor for distinguished contribution in undergraduate education.
Emily Van Buskirk, Russian and East European Languages and Literatures
It is not unusual for Arts and Sciences faculty to get glowing course evaluations, and Professor Emily Van Buskirk is no exception. But how many of us inspire such adoration among students as to become a star in the video series called “Awesome Humans”?
This small episode from Professor Van Buskirk’s eight years of devoted and inspiring teaching at Rutgers University captures an essential part of her appeal: the fact that her impressive intellectual acumen combines so integrally with her human qualities of generosity, kindness, and caring. “She always smiles, even on a Monday morning,” marveled one student.
Professor Van Buskirk’s courses in Russian, Czech, Comparative Literature, and in the Honors Program have made a profound contribution to the teaching mission of Arts and Sciences. In the Russian and East European Program, she has created and taught eight undergraduate courses and revised one. Most were cross-listed with the Program in Comparative Literature, where this spring she is coordinating the high-profile course “Literature Across Borders” on the timely topic of “Surveillance.” In the Russian Program, she teaches courses essential to the major (such as “Reading Russian Literature in Russian” or “Literature and Revolution”). She also teaches four very popular and well-enrolled Core Curriculum courses in the areas of “Arts and Humanities” and “Writing and Communication.” Her wide-ranging courses combine work in literature, film, and music and focus on topics like masterpieces of the Russian short story; Russian life-writing and problems of selfhood and subjectivity; gender and sexuality; and representations of war in modern Russian culture.
Statistical indicators, student instructional rating scores, and peer observations indicate unequivocally that Professor Van Buskirk is an extraordinarily gifted teacher who challenges her students to work at the highest level of critical analysis. She prepares her classes meticulously, skillfully arranging thought-provoking student discussion, small group work, and audio-visual components around brief but information-packed teacher presentations designed to provide the historical and cultural background relevant for particular assignments.
Professor Van Buskirk’s syllabi are intellectually demanding and she has developed a following among students who value the combination of intellectual rigor and adventure with teaching methods that encourage and empower students, giving them the tools to succeed. One student confessed: “the course allowed me to get out of my comfort zone of what I normally read. It gave me unique perspectives on philosophy and insight on the history of Russia.” While preexisting interest in Russia is not what always brings students into Professor Van Buskirk’s classroom, many claim to become hooked on it and return to take other courses with her. One student voiced surprise: “I never thought I would find myself interested in Russia.” Another was emphatic that “the reading for this course changed my life.” Still another reports: “I rarely left a class not feeling moved by the works we’ve read.” To build skills and understanding, but also to “move” students: this is a mark of superb, transformative teaching.
Student repeatedly emphasize that the skills they gained in Professor Van Buskirk’s courses have been put to use in other areas: “I have adopted critical thinking skills that I can apply to all other types of reading, Russian or otherwise”; “I feel as if I have learned to interpret poetry and write well or the first time. These are certainly skills that I value and will use in the future”; and “I was forced to analyze literature that was at times very difficult to interpret and each time I got it, I felt stronger in my analyzing and interpretation skills.” Other students are drawn to Professor Van Buskirk’s courses by the cumulative experience of her unique teaching style: “Although I don't believe that bio-chemistry is her area of expertise, if her name was on the syllabus I'd take the course anyway.” Less artful, but clearly heartfelt are reactions include: “Man, I loved everything about the course. EVB, you’re great!”
Particularly notable is the enormous care Professor Van Buskirk puts into her responses to student writing and student appreciation of the meticulous attention she gives to their writing. One student singled out as the most valuable aspect of her course the fact that “she provided extensive and helpful commentary on our essays.” Since she teaches writing as inseparable from thinking, another student appreciated that the essay prompts designed for the course were on topics that “I actually wanted to write about. This was the first class where I’ve seen topics that are both interesting and out of the box.” Another student jocularly converted the writing instruction received from Professor Van Buskirk into a fabulous educational bargain: “By the time she’s done fixing my paper, I feel like I’ve gotten a Princeton education for free!”
Professor Van Buskirk has also been a tireless program builder who has helped to generate considerable growth in enrollments and majors. Indeed, since Fall 2012 the Russian Program enrollments have increased by 74% and the number of majors by 129%. Professor Van Buskirk’s energy, personal connection with students, and excellent teaching have played a large role in this success. She regularly organizes extracurricular events, such as our Evening of Poetry and Maslenitsa (the Russian Mardi Gras). She also often takes students on trips to the Zimmerli Museum, to performances and lectures at Princeton University, and to theater productions in New York City. She has advised many theses in the Russian and Comparative Literature Programs and mentored an Aresty Fellow. Professor Van Buskirk has a sustained commitment to engage students outside of the classroom, to get them excited about Russian culture, to nurture their enthusiasm, and to connect with them not just as students but also as people. And, deeply committed to fostering excellence in teaching at Rutgers, Professor Van Buskirk has served on a number of key university committees devoted to undergraduate education.
In short, Professor Emily Van Buskirk is a distinguished contributor to Arts and Sciences undergraduate education.
Alyson Brooks, Physics and Astronomy
Professor Alyson Brooks has established an outstanding record not only in teaching but also in curriculum development and diversity mentoring since coming to Rutgers in the Fall of 2013.
Professor Brooks’ course on Principles of Astrophysics is one of the most popular and highly regarded courses among physics majors and her student evaluations are among the highest in the department. But, even students who are not physics majors praise Professor Brooks’ teaching. One non-major remarked: “Professor Brooks was fantastic. I’m a non-physics major and I actually feel like I know what's going on....Really interesting material taught by a great Professor made this course great, definitely recommend.” Students regard her as one of the best teachers in the department and the Society of Physics Students selected Professor Brooks for its Outstanding Teaching Award in 2016.
In addition to her teaching, Professor Brooks has supervised the research of nine undergraduates during her four years at Rutgers. These include one undergraduate honors thesis student, one Price Foundation Fellow, one Project SUPER student, one Aresty student, and two Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) students. Of these, five are women and three are African Americans.
In addition to being a mentor for both the Price Foundation Fellows Program that provides supportive services for Rutgers youth coming from the child welfare system and the Project SUPER Program that offers research opportunities to STEM-focused undergraduate women, Professor Brooks is also an advisor for the Ronald E. McNair Early Identification Program that guides underrepresented undergraduates in their research and in their preparation for graduate school. Professor Brooks also serves on the Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy of the American Astronomical Society.
Professor Brooks has played an active role in curriculum development. She was PI on a successful Rutgers Student Computing Fee (SCF) proposal to obtain supercomputing nodes and disk space for the Rutgers High Performance Cooperative Cluster (HPCC) for classroom use and she has designed curricula based on the use of the HPCC that will be part of the department’s revised observational astronomy course.
Professor Brooks' exceptional record of outstanding achievement merits this Arts and Sciences award for distinguished contribution in undergraduate education.
Norah MacKendrick, Sociology
Professor Norah MacKendrick began her career at Rutgers in January 2012, and she has been a perennial presence on the Sociology department’s Undergraduate Teaching Honor Roll ever since. Her student instructional rating scores are always among the very highest in the department, but it is the substantive comments students make that really reveal Professor MacKendrick’s pedagogical skill.
Student comments are liberally peppered with adjectives like approachable, awesome, best, enthusiastic, fantastic, helpful, interesting, nicest, and wonderful. Or as one student summed it up: “Very amazing professor, definitely one of the greatest I've had at Rutgers these past 4 years.”
Professor MacKendrick teaches the Sociology of Women and the Sociology of Gender, each of which serves students in both the Sociology and the Women and Gender Studies department. Student comments on these courses testify to her ability to handle controversial material in ways that respect and engage with the multiple views students bring to the classroom, opening opportunities for real learning. Students say:
“Professor MacKendrick always showed multiple viewpoints of the topic we were learning, allowing me to think deeply into the topic. Absolutely loved her and this class.”
“This instructor welcomed opinions from both sides” and she “helped my intellectual growth in understanding to always look at things from several perspectives.”
“As a man...I want to try to understand and learn how women and other kinds of people function in the world, in order to better understand and help the people around me. This course did a great job offering this knowledge.”
Students describe these courses as “both interesting and life-changing.” They appreciate Professor MacKendrick’s ability to engage and converse with students even in a 200 person lecture course and comment on her willingness to work with students one-on-one, in person, and via email, to ensure they are each doing their best work and fully understanding the material.
Professor MacKendrick also developed her own new course on food. This Sociology of Food and Eating course has largely run as a lecture size course, although one semester she also adapted it as a senior seminar for majors under the title Food, Culture, and Society. In these courses Professor MacKendrick again demonstrates her skill at empowering students, catching their interest, and opening their eyes to new ways of thinking.
“What I liked the most about this course was the Professor and her teaching abilities. Whenever a student participated in class, she would carefully rephrase and elaborate on the students’ point afterwards, which gave me the impression that she really did appreciate our contributions.”
Students remark on how much they learned from the multiple ways in which Professor MacKendrick presents information using class conversation, video documentaries, book readings, and scientific journals. And, they appreciate her efforts to learn names in a very large lecture course and provide careful and thorough feedback on papers and projects in a seminar.
In short, in the words of one of her students: “The Professor generated interest and her teaching style was conducive to learning. In fact, I think every Professor should take a course with her in order to learn how to effectively teach a class as large as hers.”
Student testimony shows Professor Norah MacKendrick as the kind of truly superlative instructor that makes the distinguished contribution to undergraduate education we recognize with this award.
Associate Teaching Professor
Abdelbaki Brahmia, Physics and Astronomy
Professor Abdelbaki Brahmia is one of the most outstanding teachers and lecturers in the Physics and Astronomy Department.
Professor Brahmia teaches the two-semester general physics introductory sequence, General Physics I and General Physics II. These are the largest courses taught in the physics department, enrolling primarily pre-medical and biological science majors. Professor Brahmia, assisted by a group of teaching assistants, is the sole faculty member responsible for teaching and administering these courses. Professor Brahmia also teaches the extended versions of the General Physics introductory sequence designed for students who are less well prepared and who need additional attention and contact hours. Professor Brahmia is thoroughly committed to ensuring that the students in the extended courses achieve at the full level of their abilities. His devotion has helped many students from underrepresented groups overcome the hurdle of entering into the STEM curriculum. Together these General Physics courses enroll 900 to 1000 students each semester and over 300 each summer.
In 2013, Professor Brahmia introduced an online section for both General Physics I and General Physics II. He developed a highly effective online course management system that contains features lacking in other online platforms including those available commercially. Through this system, Professor Brahmia makes available to the students several hundred five-to-ten minute videos, including some done as mini-lectures and some done as recitation style problem-solving sessions. A notable component of his online system is a Discussion Board though which students post questions that are then answered by Professor Brahmia, or by a teaching assistant, on a nearly 24/7 basis. Professor Brahmia developed a way to overcome the typical problems involved in providing quantitative responses online to student questions regarding homework or practice exam problems. The online sections have been highly successful and their popularity has grown since they were introduced in 2013. Many students who choose a classical lecture section in the first semester opt to switch to the online section in the second semester. In addition to providing the students with a high quality learning experience, Professor Brahmia's creativity and work in developing these online capabilities allows Physics to accommodate significantly more of the very high student demand for the introductory physics sequence.
Professor Brahmia's student evaluations are consistently the highest in the department. He even received a perfect score of 5.0 for the spring 2015 semester of Extended General Physics I, enrolling over 150 students. It is worth noting, that Professor Brahmia receives these high evaluations even though his grading standard is routinely the strictest of any of the introductory physics courses. Professor Brahmia allows the students to see their current letter grade throughout the semester, so even though they know his grading is strict, they know where they stand and perceive the grading as fair.
Professor Brahmia also has an outstanding record of service to the department and to the university. The course management system, “Gradebook,” that he developed several years ago has become essential to the department’s management of its large introductory courses. The system is easy to use, contains many custom features for instructors in the physics courses, and is well interfaced with the exam and grading system used for the department's courses. Professor Brahmia promptly addresses problems encountered by instructors and expeditiously and accommodatingly incorporates any additional features requested by the faculty. Professor Brahmia also assists the course management and online systems of other Arts and Sciences departments.
Extending his service contribution, Professor Brahmia established and maintains the approximately thirty physics demonstration experiments located in the Math and Science Learning Center on the Busch Campus. These demonstrations are popular with students and provide an important outreach element for school groups visiting the university.
Professor Adelbaki Brahmia is an outstanding teacher whose distinguished contributions to undergraduate education recognized by this award extend far beyond his own classroom.
Associate Teaching Professor
Gregg Transue, Biological Sciences (DLS)
Professor Greggory Transue has transformed and modernized the General Biology courses offered by Arts and Sciences, notably improving student achievement of learning outcomes and increasing interest in the course.
Acting on recommended learning goals provided by the General Biology Review Committee and informed by the American Association of the Advancement of Science Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education and the 2015 version of the Medical College Admission Exam, Professor Transue has been the inspiration and guiding strength behind the design and course transformation of the introductory General Biology courses, 01:119:115, 01:119:116 and 01:119:117. Throughout this process Professor Transue provided masterful leadership to the program’s faculty, staff, teaching assistants, and students in modernizing these courses and providing a model for course transformation and continuous improvement in large introductory science courses across the University. His tireless efforts have resulted in a professional learning community that incorporates over 2500 undergraduate students, fifty teaching assistants, and over a half dozen faculty and staff members in any given semester. And, careful measures of student success in meeting course and department learning goals are conducted each year and are relied upon to improve the course. This data demonstrate significant progress in improving student learning.
Employing inclusive and collaborative organizational methods and leveraging best practices from the literature, Professor Transue brought faculty together to organize and align newly developed student learning outcomes, curriculum, instructional practices, measurements and student learning activities for the General Biology course sequence. Under his leadership, this has brought the different course lecturers into alignment with each other, and brought the course as a whole into alignment with upper level courses so that students are able to continue their coursework in any life sciences discipline, from cell biology and genetics to plant science and ecology.
Drawing on research supported methods for improving teaching and learning, Professor Transue replaced the old lab model with student-centered weekly workshop sessions. These active, collaborative, and reflective learning sessions are tightly coordinated with the course learning outcomes and instructional activities. Along with these efforts, the program has mapped a sequence for learning known as the “RU” Learning, a process that serves as a foundation for quality assurance in the program.
Undergraduate students report that they really enjoy the structure of the course. More importantly, they say that they gain so much appreciation for the learning methods emphasized in lectures and in the workshops that they adopt them to succeed in their other courses.
Professor Transue introduced a new General Biology lab as a stand-alone course in which students learn techniques directly and immediately applicable to biological research. Students work in a team to propose a research project, carry out the experiments, and then present to their results and conclusions to their peers.
This all works because of Professor Transue’s remarkable system in which approximately 50 TAs provide structured guidance to the undergraduates in the workshop sessions and labs while themselves gaining invaluable professional development. Weekly teaching assistants’ sessions with Professor Transue and course lecturers focus on course concepts, facilitating student learning, motivating students to become engaged learners, and assessment.
Professor Transue’s work in undergraduate education is both inspiring and humbling. Motivated by his genuine interest in students and powered by his effort and creativity, Professor Transue has transformed not only a large introductory course and the experiences of over 2500 students every year, but also how Life Science faculty, staff and graduate students think about teaching, collaboration, and assessment efforts. Professor Transue is definitively making distinguished contributions to undergraduate education in the Arts and Sciences and throughout Rutgers.
Professor Ana Paula Serra has been unanimously praised by all her students since she first began teaching Portuguese in Arts and Sciences in 2000.
Without exception, students praise Professor Serra’s breadth of knowledge and her ability create a healthy and non-intimidating classroom atmosphere for intellectually challenging discussions. Professor Serra’s students appreciate her zest for tackling important issues with humor, yet maintaining a heightened critical lens while promoting respect, engagement, and validation of the contributions students bring to the table. Her students look to her as the ultimate mentor: always ready and willing to steer them in the right direction with respect and deep enthusiasm. Professor Serra awakens students’ intellectual curiosity and hunger and inspires them to dive happily and intelligently into academic lands they had never envisioned. Her impeccable work ethic is an inspiration to students and faculty alike.
Professor Serra’s passion for teaching springs from her acknowledgement that genuine scholars are always familiarizing themselves with new knowledge. For the past seventeen years her strong instructional ratings and the accompanying comments celebrate her sense of wonder and passion in the classroom. Her students describe her teaching style as contagious, engaging, and provocative. Her research on the Jewish diaspora in Latin America, gender and cultural politics, globalization and colonialism in Luso-African and Luso-Brazilian cultures has provided the perfect platform for educating a new generation of men and women attentive to the complexities of today’s multicultural and multilinguistic world. Her passion for Luso-African and Luso-Brazilian cultures and literatures has inspired some of our students to pursue graduate degrees, apply for Fulbright scholarships with success, and to branch out into the areas of diplomacy.
Professor Serra undertook the task of being the sole advisor for all students in Portuguese when the two tenured-faculty members in Portuguese moved on to other institutions. She stepped in with courageous determination and she generously offered independent studies to our undergrads so they could complete their majors and minors in a timely schedule.
Professor Serra’s students describe having her as a teacher as transformative. A non-traditional student who graduated last year with a double major in Portuguese and Latin American studies, recalls the sparks Ana Paula’s lectures ignited in her:
"I was amazed by Professor Serra’s passion to teach and through her lectures and amazing books she used for the classes, my mind opened up to literature: the field was indeed a powerful tool that had the capability to denounce all the social, economic and political issues of a community, a country and a society. I became fascinated by Professor Serra’s commitment to her students and to the subjects discussed in class. She encouraged her students to have their own voices and to be part of social changes, and she thought us that we could only do that through education. Through education, everything can be changed."
Another student who graduated in 2012 with a double major in German Languages and Portuguese and who is now working in Stuttgart Germany eloquently captured Professor Serra’s influence:
"During my four years at Rutgers, Professor Serra was the most encouraging educator I had the pleasure of encountering. Her passion for both the Portuguese language and education made my Rutgers experience nothing less than exceptional. In the majority of my Portuguese classes, I was the only non-native speaker and Professor Serra always took any extra time I may have needed to help me with any questions I had, and above all, she always made me feel like I belonged, despite being the 'outsider.' ...She showed her support for the department and Portuguese language club by coming to our events and advocating for her students in every way she could. I always looked forward to class with Professor Ana Paula Serra, who knew how to make class enjoyable, yet educational."
Professor Serra’s stellar record of teaching extends seamlessly to areas beyond the classroom. Since 2014 she has been the main advisor for the Portuguese Club at Rutgers whose charge is to promote the educational and cultural legacy of this thriving community, not only at Rutgers, but across the state of New Jersey. Her active participation in various groups in the State of New Jersey further documents her deeply-rooted commitment to promoting cultural, pedagogical, and leadership engagements. For instance, she has generously served in the Board of Education in Elizabeth and has served as a member of the New Jersey Bilingual Advisory Board. She has been at the forefront of training bilingual teachers. This past October she attended the Big 10 Romance Language Meeting in Chicago representing our Portuguese section.
Professor Ana Paula Serra’s passion for teaching and for stimulating the intellectual muscle in our students; her tireless dedication in shaping a new generation of leaders that revere critical thinking, cultural diversity, and justice; and her commitment to a more inclusive way of living in the US and the world at large makes a distinguished contribution to undergraduate education in Arts and Sciences.
Assistant Teaching Professor
Andrew Tjang, Computer Science
As the Computer Science Teaching Effectiveness Committee began its nomination, “Professor Andrew Tjang is a tremendous teacher!” He is also remarkably accomplished as a Computer Science Education researcher and developer. In 2014-15 Professor Tjang Andrew initiated the effort that resulted in a Google “3X in 3 Years” Award of $693,000 over 3 years leading to a number of Professor Tjang’s recent accomplishments. All of these are also directly related to improving undergraduate computer science education in Arts and Sciences.
First, Professor Tjang published “Exploring Gender Diversity in CS at a Large Public R1 Research University” in one of the top venues for Computer Science Education research, the annual ACM Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education Technical Symposium, 2017. One of Professor Tjang’s students eloquently describes how Professor Tjang’s enacts his commitment to increasing gender diversity in his classrooms:
"I first met Professor Tjang the spring of my sophomore year when I took his introduction to computer science course. I had gone back and forth about taking the class. I felt like it was a little late for me to be getting into a whole new field, and I assumed everyone else in the class would already know so much about it. I still clearly remember the first day of class... [Professor Tjaing] asked a series of questions. What year was everyone? What gender? What major? How much previous computer science exposure had we had? As a female sophomore genetics major who didn’t know anything about computers, in the span of 5 minutes he had addressed all of the anxieties I felt about exploring computer science. Some of the numbers came back reassuring -- a large portion of the class also had no prior computer science exposure -- and some didn’t -- only about 20% of the class was female. Yet simply by bringing up these topics, by pointing them out and saying he was aware of them, I felt more comfortable, more willing to participate, and more welcome at office hours. Professor Tjang made it a point throughout the semester to involve women in the class, encouraging their participation, and even personally encouraging me and several other women in the class to pursue hackathons and additional computer science opportunities. ...He also continued to encourage me personally to pursue computer science. I wound up minoring in computer science and am currently working at the intersection of genetics (my major) and computer science in an informatics lab.”
Second, Professor Tjang is leading the development of an auto-grading system that uses programs written by instructors to automatically grade programming assignments submitted by students. This directly addresses the number one problem for computer science education in Arts and Sciences and across the nation: the demand for courses far outstrips the ability to teach those courses relying solely on faculty and graders. The system is also a pedagogical enhancement since further development is allowing it to automatically give hints that will help students to learn and make progress with their assignments. Professor Tjang directly involved undergraduates in the development of this tool. One of them summarizes: “We ended up converting the grading of student assignments from a manual 2 week process to an instant online feedback system. This helped us handle the insane growth rate of incoming students in the Computer Science program while also improving the overall grades.”
Third, the Google grant has also allowed Professor Tjang to co-organized a New Jersey Computer Science Summit in May 2016 and again in May 2017. The Summit attracts educators and state officials from across New Jersey to discuss the state of computer science education in high school, community colleges, and 4-year universities, to share best practices, and to explore how computer science education at these three levels can be better aligned to promote student success. Professor Tjang has brought the same enthusiasm and active support to our own computer science student organizations and hackathons.
Professor Tjang does all of this while teaching five or six classes each year. Faced with massive enrollment growth, the Introduction to Computer Science course is now taught to over 900 students a semester in five large lectures with small recitation sections led by undergraduate Peer Leaders who provide students with help in a small group setting. Professor Tjang, as course coordinator, is responsible for the course syllabus, coordinating the class across five instructors, and working with the Rutgers Learning Center to and hire, train, and manage Peer Leaders for over 70 recitation sections each fall. He teaches one large lecture section of Introduction to Computer Science himself while also teaching a very large offering of Data Structures. Students’ enthusiasm for Professor Tjang’s teaching is demonstrated in his student instructional rating scores and in their comments.
Students describe Professor Tjang as amazing, awesome, the best, clear and concise, enthusiastic, helpful, and passionate about the material. They emphasize that he really wants every student to succeed, and he really helps them achieve success, even in a large lecture hall. One student noted that he “understood that we were struggling and supported us emotionally." Students describe him as “flexible in office hours and gives students help in any way they need it. He is available all the time; he really wants students to learn more about computer science."
Professor Tjang transformed the curriculum in Introduction to Computer Science, shifting away from standard exam based midterms to larger project based assignments with multi-week milestones. Students with no programming experience leave the course having created something tangible and complete, from start to finish. In letters supporting Professor Tjang’s nomination, students describe his state of the art pedagogy:
"The class proved to be one of my favorite ones I took in all of my time at Rutgers. While the assignments gave us valuable practice in basic computer science skills through various problem-solving scenarios, I learned the most from sitting in class. He would carefully work through examples by drawing out exactly what suggested student solutions were telling the computer. In doing so he taught us how to approach writing code and use it to solve problems. This helped me think of coding not as the annoying technicalities of a compiler complaining when you left out a semicolon, but instead as stepwise answers to a problem being carefully parsed from the computer’s perspective."
"His class was always interactive. When we were learning ...through an example ...[Professor Tjang] took a class poll of which value we thought would be returned. Instead of telling us the right answer right away, he asked us to turn to our neighbors and try to convince them of the answer, and then took the poll again. He repeated this a couple of times (adding some hints in between votes) until all of the class agreed on the correct answer. This gave me more confidence in my understanding of the material and forced me to think about the solution through all the various lines of reasoning that my classmates took to approach the question. It also got me thinking and talking with my classmates about computer science subtleties."
As one student summarized, Professor Andrew Tjang is an "Absolutely Amazing Professor.” His contributions to undergraduate education in Arts and Sciences are truly distinguished.
Assistant Teaching Professor
Madeline Zehala, English Writing Program
Professor Madeline Zehala has done an extraordinary work for twelve years in developing and teaching Writing Program course for students who come to Rutgers with needs that place them outside the mainstream freshman writing courses. These include students from disadvantaged backgrounds, starting their college writing experience in Composition Skills or preparing for the academic rigors of college in the Summer Bridge Program, and international students starting in the ESL English for Academic Discourse sequence. Both of these groups are critical parts of the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences mission to expand access and excellence to all talented students.
Professor Zehala’s wide-ranging experience and expertise in courses that prepare students for Expository Writing make her a natural leader in the development of new courses that prepare students for Expository Writing. Her competence with these challenging courses is manifest not only in the good results she receives, but also in her calm and steady demeanor, her uncomplaining and cheerful attitude, her tireless work ethic, and her quiet confidence. In addition to taking on some of the most difficult teaching assignments herself, Professor Zehala is a sought-out resident expert and mentor to many of the Writing Program faculty who turn to her for advice and suggestions regarding curriculum design, activates, and tasks that are successful with developmental or ESL students. Even experienced Expository Writing instructors turn to her when faced with teaching one of the lower-level preparatory courses.
Professor Zehala has particularly dedicated herself to helping our ESL population, and her commitment has been both absolute and unwavering. The leading universities in the 21st century will be places where second-language learning plays an integral role in the education that students receive, and Professor Zehala is extremely successful, even with the least prepared students. Professor Zehala’s dedication, patience, and skill is manifest in her determination to provide each second language student the attention necessary to help that student enhance his or her writing skills. And, she is very effective in doing so. When we track the progress of these students from their first “English for Academic Discourse” semester to “Basic Composition,” and then to “Expository Writing” and beyond, Professor Zehala’s students consistently perform at the top of their cohort.
Students invariably feel very lucky and grateful when they encounter Professor Zehala in what for them is often their most difficult class in that first crucial year at Rutgers. She guides them skillfully through the writing assignments, provides helpful feedback, and frequently instills them with the confidence that they can write well enough to succeed in college. She is a tough but kind and patient teacher who rewards students’ earnest efforts with corresponding earnestness as a teacher, fully dedicated to her students’ success. One student, who began at the most fundamental level, summarized: Professor Zehala’s “teaching built a strong foundation. The skills she taught me, I still use them in the papers I write today. I believe that without her help, I could not finish all the other writing classes smoothly. I want to thank her for being such a great and warmhearted professor. Taking her course is one of my best memories at Rutgers.”
Professor Madeline Zehala’s success in building the skills students need to succeed across the Arts and Sciences curriculum is a remarkable and distinguished contribution to undergraduate education.
Ian Bignall, English Writing Program
Mr. Ian Bignall, a TA in the Writing Program since the fall of 2012, is an extraordinary teacher who stands out among 170 TAs and PTLs teaching Expository Writing each year.
Mr. Bignall is a teacher who makes his students love a class that is required and often regarded as challenging. Students consistently point to the amount of personal attention he gives students, routinely holding extended office hours, working one-on-one with students who are struggling, and genuinely listening to what students have to say. His students say that he is caring, enthusiastic, and helpful. Almost every single set of comments on student instructional rating forms includes a testament that Mr. Bignall has made his students “better writers and thinkers.” The praise is effusive, consistent, and telling of the kind of impression he makes in the classroom. It is matched by quantitative scores that are among the very best in the Writing Program, even scoring a perfect 5 on teaching effectiveness during one summer session.
Mr. Bignall helps his students to produce excellent papers, even in the compressed summer terms with a mix of students who are off-cycle because they have been in developmental prerequisites or need to repeat Expository Writing. His students succeed because he has a wonderful ability to present them with challenging writing prompts and then to help them take up that challenge, while also imparting to them his supreme optimism that they can succeed. Mr. Bignall’s superbly crafted assignments have been featured in the training manual for new Expository Writing instructors over the past three years and many other instructors have adopted it in their sections. This is typically the first assignment in the course and it pushes students to use terms and ideas from different parts of a single assigned text so that they not only understand the root of the critique but also can better explain what it left out. Assignments like this help students bridge the gap from the standardized “five-paragraph essays” typical of high school writing to the pursuit of real knowledge at Rutgers.
Mr. Bignall impresses with his thoughtfulness and intellectual generosity. With his students, he is the kind of interlocutor who helps his students clarify their own thinking and pursue their own agendas. He is creative but careful, rigorous but supportive. And, he combines all of these qualities with a humanity that students definitely take note of. He embodies the idea of “the University” by building relationships in which he as a teacher shows students the generosity that makes learning possible.
As described by one of his students, Mr. Bignall “inspires students to find the connections between writers and to explore their ideas. ...No matter what [passage from the readings] I would pick, he always knew what I intended to say and tried to guide me there. ... I was extremely grateful for the advice he gave me.” Another adds, “Through this class my critical reading skills have improved dramatically and I feel much more confident in my writing.”
Mr. Ian Bignall’s outstanding teaching of Expository Writing makes a distinguished contribution to Arts and Sciences undergraduate education.
Aniket Patra, Physics and Astronomy
Mr. Aniket Patra’s is a dedicated and talented teacher. He has served as both a TA for and an instructor of Analytical Physics IIa, which attracts upwards of 600 students.
The material covered in Analytical Physics IIa is arguably the most challenging in the 4-semester introductory Analytical Physics sequence for engineering students. The concepts of electricity and especially magnetism are challenging and require a mastery of calculus and ability to incorporate vector calculus into solving problems.
Mr. Patra was instrumental in developing and refining a set of collaborative problem solving assignments for Analytical Physics IIa over several semesters. And he received very high student instructional rating scores each semester. Students in both traditional and collaborative recitations regard Mr. Patra highly.
Student describe Mr. Patra as amazing, clear and concise, extremely enthusiastic, and excellent. They report:
“I learned far more in this recitation than I did in any lecture or any sit down with any other professor. ... Overall just the best teacher I've ever had here at Rutgers.”
“Mr. Patra ...gave lessons that blew the lectures out of the water. He was ...determined to make us all understand the course.”
Mr. Patra “was so involved with every students’ intellectual advancements that it was hard not to feel at least responsible to care about the class. All of the necessary steps to learn in this class were there.”
Mr. Patra routinely goes beyond the minimum to help his students not only in, but also beyond, recitations. His office hours were so popular, he had to move to room that could accommodate more students than his own office could. Beyond what was expected of any other TA, he hosts review sessions before the exams.
Mr. Patra actively sought to incorporate methods from Physics Education Research into his classrooms, into his worksheets for collaborative problems, and into developing and perfecting collaborative activities for Analytical Physics IIa. For example, Mr. Patra developed worksheets and used simple objects (a hair pick and loop of plastic) to demonstrate the 3-D nature of electromagnetic induction and to allow students to become comfortable with calculating changes in magnetic flux inducing an electrical current, one of the most difficult concepts in the course.
Mr. Aniket Patra’s dedication, skill, and creativity in teaching physics make a distinguished contribution to undergraduate education.
Staff Career Award
Nancy (Muffin) Lord, SAS Honors Program Director and Advisor
Dean Lord was presented with a special lifetime achievement award for her dedication to Rutgers students and for her administrative and programmatic leadership in the honors programs in Rutgers College and the School of Arts and Sciences.
Nancy Lord, or as all the world knows her, Muffin, has been a skilled and nurturing advising dean for Rutgers students for well over 29 years. As Dean Lord retires this summer, she leaves a remarkable legacy in which she has profoundly touched the lives of literally thousands and thousands of Rutgers undergraduates, often our most high achieving students.
In 1988, Dean Lord joined the University as Assistant Director of the Rutgers College Honors Program under the careful tutelage of Elsa Vineberg, a name those of you well-versed in the history of Rutgers College will remember. From the beginning, Dean Lord was tireless in her dedication to students, her anticipatory planning, and the careful proofreading Elsa schooled her in. Dean Lord has been a vigorous advocate for students and a gentle steward of some of our most endearing alumni scholarship donors.
Over the years, Dean Lord has seen many changes at Rutgers, but probably none was as monumental as the creation of the School of Arts and Sciences. Building on her success in chairing a group that began coordinating the various college honors programs in the early 2000s, she brought her deep experience and her extensive networks of connections across New Brunswick to the task of creating the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program. She became its first, and to date, only director. She has been indispensable to every Dean of the SAS Honors Program. And, she served as a voice of experience, most recently, in shaping the network that today includes the SASHP and the Honors College.
Many of the initiatives that Dean Lord implemented over the years now live on in the SAS Honors Program including the Faculty Mentor Program, the Honors Ambassadors Program, and Scholars’ Days where Dean Lord always stays until she has answered the very last question from every last parent and prospective student. At the other end of the student experience, Dean Lord was instrumental in advancing multiple capstone options out of the classic "thesis" model to serve a wider range of students’ scholarly pursuits and interests and she helped create the elegant annual Arts and Sciences Honors Program senior celebration.
But, Dean Lord’s first love is always working directly with students. She is a problem solver. She never pushes students or faculty off to another office. She makes sure that the problems they present to her get solved. And, while she has a fierce dedication to our Honors Students, she never checks IDs; she stops to assist any student that seeks her advice. Dean Lord is a master of communicating to students in clear and direct language. This is no small accomplishment in a university as complex as Rutgers, where the answer to nearly every question begins with, “it depends...”
Perhaps most treasured is the characteristic warmth Dean Lord brings to everything she does. She always takes great joy in her work. Her advising and her leadership have made Rutgers, and the Arts and Sciences Honors Program, a nurturing and supportive home for innumerable students.
The University and our students are immensely grateful for Dean Muffin Lord’s long, and clearly distinguished, career of outstanding contributions to undergraduate education.