2019 Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education
SAS Office of Communications
Each year, awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education are given to professors and teaching assistants 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. Each year, the theme that inevitably shines through in each nomination is the students’ understanding that these instructors “genuinely want us to learn.” We are indebted to them and 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: Martha B. Helfer, John Landon-Lane, Patricia A. Roos
Associate Professor: Sevil Salur, D. Randall Smith
Assistant Professors: Kasia M. Bieszczad , Matthew Buckley, Julia Stephens
Associate Teaching Professor: Frances P. Trees
Assistant Teaching Professors: Daijiro Okada
Teaching Instructor: Joseph Guadagni
Teaching Assistant: Kathryn Blakely, Matthew Charnley, Vera Gor, Katherine Gray
Martha B. Helfer, German Language and Literature
Professor Martha Helfer is a skilled, devoted teacher bringing generosity and an iron sense of fairness to her work. She’s also an artful administrator who has led the way in reimagining the role of language departments during a time when economic crises and negative national trends in humanities enrollments have threatened the integrity of smaller programs in SAS and across the nation. Her diligence, imagination, responsiveness to concerns, and fairness in leading the department through this process has produced a stronger undergraduate program that now provides a rich array of offerings for both majors and minors, and the broader student body at Rutgers.
Professor Helfer, of course, excels in the traditional small seminar format popular in humanities disciplines as evidenced by the student who writes: “I am so fascinated by how she breaks through each text's surface and opens it up with a fascinating (linguistic) interpretation. Although the class lasts for almost 3 hours, every time I left the seminar room, I felt more awake and energized than before!”
But it is a tribute to her versatility that Professor Helfer’s 200-student Fairy Tales course has become a legend in its own right. It is an impressive model of how to engage students from across disciplines in the humanities. Widely acknowledged to be a challenging course, enrollment demand still outstrips Professor Helfer’s best efforts. By guiding students to think critically about older texts as well as contemporary culture, Professor Helfer consistently challenges students to examine for themselves the ways in which fairy tales—and, by extension, other forms of narrativization in literature and the media—present ideology as truth.
One student notes: “When I tell people I took a class on fairy tales, they think it’s just an easy A-throwaway class, but in reality, I think I learned more relevant things in this class than in organic chemistry.” Another student comments: “I'm majoring in astrophysics, and this course re-sparked my interest in reading and writing analytically.”
No doubt this is, in part, a result of Professor Helfer’s remarkable ability to engage with individual students in a packed lecture hall—transforming the feel into that of an intimate seminar. It also comes from the remarkable attention she gives to developing her students’ writing, skillfully developing her graduate students into excellent instructors themselves as together they provide extensive, thoughtful and supportive comments on their papers. Another student report, “Very, very helpful feedback in our essays. She put the time in to give great comments that pointed out flaws yet also encouraged us. Reminded us of the bigger picture and gave us her genuine advice on the Real World, the applicability of studying literature, etc.”
Professor Helfer inspires and pushes students from every area of University life far beyond their own expectations, awakening them to new intellectual possibilities and to unseen potential within themselves. For this, we proudly present Professor Martha Helfer with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate
Back to Top
John Landon-Lane, Economics
Professor John Landon-Lane’s track record of teaching, mentoring, designing curriculum, and leading the undergraduate program in Economics make him a model educator.
Professor Landon-Lane teaches, and has redesigned, the Department’s mandatory “Econometrics” course. Requiring strong math and statistical skill, “Econometrics” is widely viewed as a “major-killer” class among students hoping to earn a degree in Economics. Even facing these head-winds, Professor Landon-Lane enjoys exceptional student ratings.
At a recent event, Economics juniors and seniors were asked what their favorite course was. They overwhelmingly cited Professor Landon-Lane’s “Econometrics” course. Why? Student comments reveal two keys: One comment, often echoed by others: “Professor Landon-Lane cares deeply about his students understanding the material.” Second, as another student puts it, they appreciate “The practicality as well as the applicability of the course. Professor Landon-Lane generates interest in the course by assigning forecasting experiments that allowed for us, as students, to apply the theoretical knowledge gained in the classroom.”
Facing wide variation in how “Econometrics” was taught among instructors in the department, Professor Landon-Lane devoted himself to thinking carefully about what needed to be taught in this course, and at what level, and developing appropriate and meaningful problem-sets. The department has now converged around his design, significantly improving the major and student preparation for subsequent courses in the major. Especially critical has been his mentorship of graduate students and PTLs teaching this course who, as new instructors with strong technical skills themselves, need special guidance on how to get the technical level “right” for undergraduates first encountering this material.
Professor Landon-Lane’s deep commitment to undergraduates also shines through in his own “Economic Forecasting” course, which he keeps revising as big data transforms how economists operate with massive real-time data sets; in his extraordinary work as a senior thesis advisor; and in his exemplary tenure as undergraduate chair.
Written like a true economist, Professor Landon-Lane’s Department Chair writes: “If I had a dime for every time I walked past his office and he was working with a student.... well, I’d be a rich man!”
Professor Landon-Lane is a tremendous asset not only to the Economics department but to the entire university. He is equally generous with a struggling sophomore as he is with a top-flight senior honors student. For his relentless devotion and unwavering dedication to his students, we are delighted to present Professor John Landon-Lane with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Back to Top
Patricia A. Roos, Sociology
Professor Pat Roos, during her 30-year career at Rutgers, has consistently brought innovative and creative approaches to her teaching.
Professor Roos has long taught the required methods course in Sociology which guides students through the entire process of using social scientific research methods to examine theoretically-informed hypotheses. Although students view this course with some trepidation, Professor Roos has long made it successful and effective.
However, several years ago she breathed new life into to it by revising it for our new active- learning classrooms. Dividing students into discussion groups, the class centers around students learning from each other, as well as from her, leading to improvements in mastery, retention, and student satisfaction.
Comments from students reveal that Professor Roos’s efforts paid off. For instance, one student writes: “I really enjoyed being in the active learning classroom and collaborating with my classmates as often as we did. I also liked that we were exposed to different case studies and examples of the different research methods we discussed in class.” Her already high course evaluations increased after she converted to an active learning format to impressive scores above 4.6. This high score is remarkable in any class, but most especially for a methods class.
Professor Roos also demonstrates tremendous innovation and skill in her elective class offerings with teaching effectiveness approaching a perfect 5 almost every semester. Her students rave about her dedication, enthusiasm, teaching style, and patience.
One student writes: “I really dreaded taking this class but ended up loving it! By the end of the course I learned a lot of interesting and useful things.”
Another student’s comment beautifully sums up the contributions that Professor Roos has made to undergraduate education: “Professor Roos is truly amazing. She knows exactly how to teach the material to students, and she makes it fun yet challenging to learn. I have done so well in this class and it is really because of her teaching style. She is always looking to help her students and she LOVES teaching! Every professor should be like her!”
For her innovative and creative approach to teaching, her ability to explain clearly and generate student enthusiasm for the methods and process of research, and her indefatigable and generous dedication to students, we are we are happy to present Professor Patricia Roos with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Back to Top
Sevil Salur, Physics and Astronomy
Professor Sevil Salur is an outstanding teacher who has played major roles in both curriculum development and undergraduate research. Her student evaluations are among the highest in the Physics department and, in 2013, Professor Salur received the Outstanding Teaching Award from the Rutgers Society of Physics Students.
Professor Salur has made important contributions to the Physics & Astronomy Department’s honors courses. She successfully revamped the curriculum and encouraged greater student participation by introducing clicker questions. In the spring of 2017, she further enhanced Honors Physics II adding even more rigorous content at a mathematically advanced level for the very best students in the honors sequence. Professor Salur also reaches a larger audience in her Interdisciplinary Honors Seminar called “The First Three Minutes After the Big Bang” that unites nuclear physics and cosmology to understand how the building blocks of our universe were formed.
Students clearly value Professor Salur’s approach to teaching. One student writes: “I liked the in-depth coverage of the various topics, as well as the more math-oriented topics covered. I also liked the more difficult homework assignments, as they helped me understand the topics better.” Another writes: “The use of calculus in the course was also something I enjoyed because it showed more of the ‘why’ behind certain formulas.” Students appreciate her combination of pedagogical approaches: “Professor Salur genuinely cares about her students’ understanding of the material and makes herself available for questions and help on the material.”
Professor Salur also excels in at providing research opportunities for undergraduate students. Since joining Rutgers in 2011, she has supervised the research of a diverse group of 13 undergraduates. Two of these students received Goldwater Scholarships; one received a Goldwater honorable mention; and three received NSF Fellowships. Most of the students continued on to top PhD programs in Physics. Professor Salur is actively engaged in attracting women into Physics; she was a co-leader of the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics held at Rutgers in 2015 and also helped to organize the one at Princeton in 2017.
In recognition of her excellent teaching record and her exceptional contributions to curriculum development and undergraduate research mentoring, we are happy to present Professor Sevil Salur with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Back to Top
D. Randall Smith, Sociology
Professor Randy Smith is not only an excellent and inspiring instructor, he routinely mentors and advises many undergraduate students; he revamped the entire undergraduate curriculum while Undergraduate Director; and he is always eager and excited to help with anything related to undergraduate education.
Professor Smith is particularly well-known for his Sociology of Sport course, having taught it 41 times! He uses the hook of sports to demonstrate to students how to analyze all aspects of the world sociologically, completely revising his syllabus every two years to make sure the course includes the most current literature and current events. One student commented: “I learned a lot of things I did not know before. It changed the way I see sports! Dr. Smith is prepared and clearly has done his research. He is also clearly passionate about and interested in the topic.”
Professor Smith receives exceptionally high scores for his seminar classes and his honors classes. The care and individual attention he devotes to each student in these smaller classes is truly extraordinary.
Even though most of his honors thesis students have never conducted independent research projects before, under his guidance they produce amazingly professional projects. This is not surprising once one hears a student describe his class:
“Dr. Smith encourages all of us to engage in discussions that help us all when thinking about our projects. The most important thing to me is that since last summer when I first contacted Dr. Smith about potentially taking this course—he has always taken me very seriously and never once discouraged me. Even though I had no idea what I was talking about or what I wanted to do with my project, Dr. Smith always answered all of my questions and made me feel like my thoughts were important. He made me feel that even if I didn't know the answer to something or didn't get it right the first time, that I had room to grow and improve. He also gives us a sense of control by constantly reminding us that his suggestions are only suggestions, we do not have to follow them if we don't want to (even though they are always good suggestions).”
Professor Smith is the Sociology department’s leading participant in the Aresty program, engaging undergraduates in research every year since 2005 and publishing six papers with Aresty students with another two in process.
In recognition of his career-long devotion to undergraduate education, his thoughtful and effective contributions to the design of the Sociology Department’s undergraduate curriculum, and his exceptional mentoring and excellent stewardship of our undergraduates through Aresty and the Sociology Honors programs, we are delighted to present Professor Randy Smith with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Kasia M. Bieszczad, Psychology
Professor Kasia Bieszczad is a passionate and engaging teacher who inspires our undergraduates to learn more and more about how the brain works and how science progresses.
In just four years at Rutgers, Professor Bieszczad has taught five different courses including two new courses she created, “History of Brain Science” (her signature accomplishment), and “This is Your Brain on Learning” (a Byrne seminar).
Her “History of Brain Science” course takes students on a rich journey through the history of neuroscience. Using a remarkable mixture of traditional lectures, joint student-faculty blogging, in-class discussion and debate, and student presentations, Professor Bieszczad teaches students to think critically about what truths have been accepted about the brain at different points in time and to see how new data and new ideas have allowed neuroscience to progress.
Students describe the course as: "unparalleled,” and as featuring "very engaging" class discussions that develop "a more critical viewpoint" in her students along with the skills to "dissect issues much more thoroughly." "I am truly stunned by the outstanding quality of the professor... she deserves the absolute highest honor for teaching," says one student. "Amazing, amazing professor!" raves another. And a third: "Professor Bieszczad was hands down the best professor I have ever had here at Rutgers! She made a class I had no prior interest in so interesting and I loved going to class each day!"
In teaching the Physiological Psychology and Learning Processes courses, Professor Bieszczad took on two of the most feared 300-level lecture courses in Psychology. These classes are by nature dense with facts, including extensive neurobiological and even mathematical content along with traditional psychological approaches. Professor Bieszczad has nonetheless managed to make these courses accessible to her students through quality lectures, force of personality, individual caring at office hours, and the courage to take pedagogical risks such as playing the piano to illustrate a lesson.
In addition to her classroom teaching, Dr. Bieszczad has trained an incredible thirty undergraduate students through their participation in research projects in her laboratory. This remarkable experience has truly paid academic dividends, as several of her undergraduates have shared authorship on peer-reviewed publications. She has also had notable success in recruiting and advancing the careers of a disproportionate number of students from underrepresented minorities, including from the McNair and RiSE programs.
For her outstanding contributions to undergraduate learning, we are delighted to present Professor Bieszczad with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Assistant ProfessorMatthew Buckley, Physics and Astronomy
Professor Matthew Buckley is one of the Physics Department’s most outstanding teachers whose repertoire spans from an introductory course for non-majors to upper-level undergraduate courses as well as a graduate course. In 2017, the Rutgers Society of Physics Students chose Professor Buckley for their Outstanding Teaching Award.
Student comments show that Professor Buckley uses a wide range of effective instructional techniques. In the upper-level Cosmology course, he incorporates computer programming in a way that is central to modern research. One student writes: “Many of the assignments were code-based which I think helped me out in understanding the content. I think actually sitting down and coding through the physics, and seeing plots you made yourself, assists greatly in learning the material.” In the introductory “Astronomy & Cosmology” course, Dr. Buckley combines lectures, simulations, live demonstrations, and clicker questions that challenge students to think critically in a way that they find engaging. As one student writes: “I love astronomy, pair that with Professor Buckley’s superb educational skills and you get a wonderfully fun course.” Perhaps more important, Professor Buckley is succeeding in transforming non-science students into life-long learners of science. Expressing a frequently repeated sentiment, one student reports: “[he] encouraged me to learn more about the topic on my own time.”
Professor Buckley goes to great lengths to encourage and support this love for learning about Physics and Astronomy. He maintains a blog, physicsmatt.com/blog, on current topics of interest in physics. A particularly notable component of it is a “Paper Explainer” in which Professor Buckley explains recent papers of interest in particle physics and cosmology in a way that can be clearly understood by members of the public who have an interest in physics.
In recognition of his outstanding teaching record and his strong commitment to explaining physics to both Rutgers students and the general public, we are pleased to present Professor Matthew Buckley with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Julia Stephens, History and South Asian Studies
Professor Julia Stephens teaches courses that speak directly to issues of pressing global importance as well as to the experiences of our diverse student body and their families. She deploys a range of cutting edge and traditional pedagogical techniques, taking full advantage of new media technologies to engage students in the discipline of historical understanding and research. With intellectual acuity, empathy, and charisma, she brings her students to appreciate the force of the past in shaping some of our most critical contemporary dilemmas.
Professor Stephens’s courses are relentlessly inventive in design and technique, including varying modes of pedagogy, types of reading, and forms of student assignment. History Department faculty peer-evaluators report that Professor Stephens generates a “simply astounding” degree “of often inspired interaction” between students and professor and among the students themselves. During a highly interactive small-group “primary source lab” activity, the observers noted that students were “thoroughly engaged in the discussion and most important, they seemed to be relishing this extraordinary classroom activity”.
Professor Stephens has also developed a range of creative assignments, include oral history interviews with Asian immigrants in the New Jersey/New York region; online discussions that use new media to sustain virtual class participation; and a highly innovative mapping exercise that engages students with the broader methodological question of how to use physical spaces as historical sources.
Student responses to Professor Stephens’s courses are enthusiastic. Students in “Political Islam” appreciate how much the course challenges their assumptions about Islam and thus helps them better understand their own world. Student comments praise the “flow and switch between reading and forums and visual learning” (as well as the use of food as a teaching device). One student notes how the class: “really helped me reanalyze my own identity.” Another says that Professor Stephens: “has made me think about my diverse neighborhood in a new way,” and a third appreciated how “natural” it felt in class to share “our experiences as immigrants or our perspective on immigrant issues.”
Her commitment to teaching, her creativity, and her example as a classroom innovator have made Professor Julia Stephens a leader in the History Department and entirely deserving of the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education. We are pleased to present her with it today.
Back to Top
Associate Teaching Professor
Frances P. Trees, Computer Science
Professor Frances Trees is an engaging and passionate teacher with a special expertise in teaching introductory computer science to students who enter with widely different backgrounds, from computing novices to those who could have easily skipped the course (or even the next course). Her expertise, her deep understanding of the subject matter, and her state-of-the-art pedagogy has led the Department to entrust her with content development for its two primary non-major introductory courses that enroll well over 2000 students annually. The Department describes her work as course coordinator for these two large non-major courses as “fantastic,” as is her own instruction in these courses. This summer she will also be bringing her pedagogic expertise to the team redesigning the introductory course for Computer Science majors.
Students respond very well to Professor Trees, noting: [She] “inspired me to double major in comp sci.” “Professor Trees encouraged students often to figure things out on their own rather than just being told an answer or how to do something.” “She is an amazing teacher.”
Garnering funding from Google and NSF, Professor Trees is working hard to address the lack of diversity in a discipline that very few underrepresented minorities pursue and in which men outnumber women by more than 5 to 1. These patterns have their roots in middle and high schools and cannot be addressed by higher education alone. Professor Trees provides high school and middle school teachers with professional development opportunities as well as organizing the Annual Summit on Computer Science Education in NJ. The third summit took place last year and attracted over 100 participants from NJ high schools, 2-year colleges, 4- year colleges and universities, industry, and the New Jersey Department of Education. Professor Trees serves as a member of the New Jersey Department of Education Computer Science Task Force where she works with the Education Department, K-12 teachers, and NJ legislative representatives to refine computer science standards for implementation in K-12 schools. Professor Trees has long been on the national Board of Directors for the Computer Science Teachers Association and has initiated the beginnings of over 50 CSTA chapters across the US and Canada.
But wait, there’s even more! Professor Trees is engaged in research on the use of Cooperative Learning structures and their impact on student efficacy and achievement. She is a co-author on a paper describing this work that was presented at one of the premier conferences on computer science education where she often shares her work. Her research seeks to understand why there is such a lack of diversity in computer science, and what outreach activities and pedagogy improvements will help to address the situation.
The Computer Science department characterizes Professor Trees as an “amazing asset for the department and our students.” We agree, and we would expand that to include the university, the state, and the nation. We are proud to present Professor Frances Trees with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Assistant Teaching Professor
Daijiro Okada, Economics
Professor Daijiro Okada is an accomplished teacher and a transformative force in the teaching of Economics at Rutgers. He plays a central role in teaching the first Economics courses students encounter and in identifying and developing additional instructors for these courses.
Professor Okada is a campus leader in promoting innovative, creative approaches to undergraduate education across disciplines. He has been a pioneer at Rutgers in adoption of collaborative, active learning that replaces “chalk-and-talk” with short lectures followed by problem-solving that develops and extends the points made in the lecture. He students reach their own policy conclusions based on their hands-on economic analysis of real-world data. Research shows that these pedagogies result in significantly higher student achievement, especially among first-generation students. Professor Okada demonstrates how these methods can be used even in very large enrollment courses.
Professor Okada is a central force in the development of an active learning community drawn from across disciplines in New Brunswick and he has worked with Digital Classroom Services, the Learning Centers, and Scheduling and Space Management giving well-received presentations and providing advice on the development of active-learning classrooms and support systems.
Already an accomplished and innovative teacher, this year Professor Okada was among the first class of Rutgers-New Brunswick participants in the Association of College and University Educators’ research-based pedagogic training sponsored by the Executive Vice-President’s Office. As a result of his participation in this training, Professor Okada has developed thoughtful and detailed plans for using research-based techniques to improve student learning. The Department sees him as laying the groundwork for implementation of these techniques as a standard element across undergraduate instruction, particularly in introductory and intermediate Economics courses.
For his excellent work in developing his own teaching, mentoring others, and his leadership in improving undergraduate instruction in one of our largest social science departments, we are delighted to present Professor Daijiro Okada with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Back to Top
Joseph Guadagni, Mathematics
Professor Joseph Guadagni has made invaluable contributions to thousands of undergraduate students in SAS and more broadly across Rutgers-New Brunswick.
Routinely achieving over a 4.4 rating in the instructional surveys is worth being proud of; achieving a 4.7 in the final Calculus course that thousands of students take each year because it’s required for a number of highly-desired majors is simply miraculous.
Student comments show how Professor Guadagni shines as a teacher: “Dr. G made convoluted and confusing topics very easy to understand.” Another remarks: “The way that Professor Guadagni teaches is so awesome for learning. He presents things so clearly and he makes it clear that we have to put effort in outside of the classroom too and is very honest with us. I appreciate that.” Another student says: “He is a tough but good teacher. His notes are gold.” In short, Professor Guadagni’s magic is: “He wants each student to succeed and gave us all the tools to do so.”
Professor Guadagni’s impact extends far outside his own classroom. He is a leader in furthering the Math Department’s efforts to implement active learning across its calculus classes. He has done much of the outside-of-the-classroom preparation that is required for active learning pedagogies to succeed, designing many problem sets for students to solve collaboratively in recitations. And, even in his large lectures, he promotes dialog with students. His amazingly helpful course-webpage called “Dr. G’s Teaching Page” supports thousands of students each year.
As the assistant course coordinator for Calculus 135, Professor Guadagni excels at building consensus among instructors as the Mathematics Department seeks to improve student success in this stumbling block course. This requires bringing instructors–who are accustomed to great autonomy— together to work more closely in coordinating the content, composition, and grading of midterm exams and to provide practice midterms and review sessions for all sections.
Professor Guadagni is proactive and creative, bringing insight, wisdom, precision, and great technical expertise to the oversight and improvement of our Calculus instruction. Peer observers describe the reports they write after visiting his classes as the most enthusiastic that they have written throughout their careers. And, his students add: “Dr. G was extremely prepared, punctual, helpful, and in my opinion hilarious. Anyone who can make math funny deserves a medal.” In lieu of a medal, we are happy to present Professor Joseph Guadagni with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Back to Top
Kathryn Blakely, Writing Program
Ms. Kathryn Blakely understand how to guide her students to some very good writing, and she also knows how to awaken in them that discovery.
Ms. Blakley is routinely ranked as the most outstanding Teaching Assistant in Basic Composition and Expository Writing by both directors in the Writing Program and her students. She successfully achieves the goals of the Writing Program by focusing her students on the need to make logical, well-organized arguments that deploy evidence, finely sifted through, to substantiate claims. She leads her students to discover their capacity to learn more deeply than they have ever been challenged to do before.
The transformative impact of her teaching is summarized by a student: “I originally came to this class just wanting for it to be over, but after the first paper I wrote, I found a passion for reading again. Writing has never been my strong field, but with Katie’s guidance I have worked to the best of my ability and done well for myself.” Another shares this quietly moving response: “I have started reading for pleasure again.”
Perhaps the most remarkable testament to Ms. Blakely’s skill is found in this remark: “She made me enjoy writing. I took basic comp last semester and it made me never want to write again. But now I enjoy analyzing a text and incorporating my ideas on paper.” With sincere congratulations, we are happy to present Ms. Kathryn Blakely with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Matthew Charnley, Mathematics
Mr. Matt Charnley wins high praise from faculty and students. He has proven to be an exceptional teacher and an outstanding contributor to the undergraduate program.
Both as a Teaching Assistant and as the instructor of record in courses ranging from the 100 level “Introduction to Probability,” taken by a general audience, to graduate courses in the PhD program in Mathematics and in the Master’s program in Mathematical Finance, Mr. Charnley earns high scores from students with a range of interests, skills, and levels of confidence.
Students have high praise for Mr. Charnley’s work as a TA. One describes him as “The best TA I have had at Rutgers.” Another added: “He made calc entertaining and easy to learn. Instead of telling us the material was extremely tough he would make it very doable and provided positive encouragement.”
Perhaps most impressive is the positive response Mr. Charnley evokes from the largely math-phobic audience that takes “Introduction to Probability” to meet a Core Curriculum requirement. One such student writes: “I've learned countless of new ways to think about probability and even find myself thinking about what I've learned during this course when I play card games with my family.”
Students have also responded very positively to Mr. Charnley’s introduction of active learning into several Differential Equations courses. “The way this class is set up encourages learning in a great new way. All math classes at Rutgers should be taught in this way. Active collaborative learning is the best.” “I really enjoyed the overall format of the class because it made me less lazy. It challenged me but at the same time allowed me to REALLY learn the material.”
For three consecutive summers, the Mathematics Department entrusted Mr. Charnley with the role of summer head TA, in which he did an excellent job. At a time of turnover in the Department leadership, Mr. Charnley rose to the occasion, performing classroom observations and mentoring graduate students who were teaching their own courses, many of them for the first time. The written guidelines for this role that he provided the Department will improve instruction in the department for a long time to come.
Mr. Charnley has been active in the School of Graduate Studies’ TA Project and the Rutgers Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, supporting the pedagogic development of graduate students across disciplines. Mr. Charnley is also one of the two founders of the Math Teaching Group. This group of highly motivated graduate students have explored such topics as active learning, flipped classrooms, and mastery-based grading; the findings they share with the Department have led to real improvements in the undergraduate program.
It is perhaps then not surprising that the Mathematics Department has had the wisdom and good fortune to add Mr. Charnley to the faculty as an Assistant Teaching Professor beginning fall 2019 where he will continue to play an indispensable role in the undergraduate program, especially in the calculus reform project. We are delighted to welcome Mr. Matt Charnley with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Back to Top
Vera Gor, Linguistics
Ms. Vera Gor has proven to be skilled and deeply caring as both a Teaching Assistant and as a primary instructor across a range of courses from the introductory level, where majors and non-majors alike are introduced to language and linguistics, to advanced-level courses for majors.
Ms. Gor actively engages her students, pushes them to develop their critical thinking skills, and instills an excitement about the content of the course. Student comments reflect this, noting: “The instructor encouraged my intellectual growth and progress by making sure I completely understood the material.” Others say: “Professor Gor has a wonderful teaching style. She brings in easy examples for students to relate to and explains everything clearly. If you don't understand a concept, she will take the time to explain it to you.” Another discovered her major “after taking this course, it helped me realize that I am interested in [a Linguistics major]. I also got to learn a lot about languages around the world and how they are different but so similar at the same time, which I found really fascinating!”
Ms. Gor has played a critical role in supporting the training and professional development of undergraduate research assistants in faculty labs. In addition to handling multiple administrative and instructional responsibilities in this role, Ms. Gor promotes a sense of solidarity and camaraderie on these research teams. She instills in the RAs a sense of responsibility and meticulousness that allows each one of them to tap into their potential in every single aspect of research and end the semester well prepared for their professional presentations at the annual Aresty Undergraduate Research Symposium.
For the truly positive mark Ms. Vera Gor has left on her undergraduate students and RAs, we are happy to present her with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Back to Top
Katherine Gray, Women’s and Gender Studies
Ms. Katherine (Katy) Gray is creative, compassionate, collaborative, and rigorous in her teaching practice. Her instruction has contributed to the Women’s and Gender Studies Department’s engagement with visual studies in its undergraduate course offerings, most notably in online courses for the Center for Women in the Arts and Humanities and the core course she designed for the Rutgers minor in Gender and Media.
Ms. Gray’s online courses, “Gender, Race, and Contemporary Art” and “Gender, Art, and Society,” offer students from diverse disciplines the tools for politicizing visual representation by bringing together feminist thought, critical race studies, and sexuality studies with art history, film studies, and media studies. Teaching these courses over five semesters, Ms. Gray has developed a robust online pedagogy, taking into account the specificities of online learning, questions of accessibility, and the qualities of online learning that offer fresh and exciting ways to teach visual media.
For the Gender and Media minor developed with the School of Communication and Information, Ms. Gray developed “Gender, Digital Media, and Social Curation” as a gateway into the study of the relationship between concepts of gender, race, sexuality, citizenship, and digital technology. The course blends critical analysis with the use of digital tools both inside and outside of class. Deploying the principle that digital engagement is collective engagement, Ms. Gray developed assignments which continually invite students to consider worldviews that are not their own, alongside classmates of diverse backgrounds and sets of knowledge, curating digital content in several group blog projects. The strength of Ms. Gray’s course design, and the success of her philosophy of collaborative engagement, are evident in her teaching evaluations.
A peer observer commented of Ms. Gray, “[She] underscores the key learning goals of each meeting while encouraging them to create strong connections between the course’s theoretical frames, and their lived experience. Ultimately, Gray’s pedagogical strength is that she understands her purpose as a teacher as that of a facilitating mentor. This approach fosters students’ critical thinking around the ideological implications of digital technology, much of which they use every day, and to consider the implications of these technologies in systems of power, privilege, and inequality.” Indeed Ms. Gray is becoming a leading voice on strategies for teaching intersectional feminisms and facilitating difficult discussions in the classroom across the fields of feminist thought, communications, media studies, and film studies.
One of Ms. Gray’s students writes: “It is clear that Katherine is passionate about not only the courses she teaches, but her students and their learning both inside and outside of the classroom. Through her exuberance for her students and the topics she teaches, Katherine Gray is exemplary of what a Teaching Assistant can provide for their students at Rutgers University and beyond.” We agree and are happy to present Ms. Katherine Gray with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Back to Top