2020 Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education
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 these instructors and are grateful for their untiring support of our students and stewardship of the future.
Scroll down or click on a name to read the citation
Professor: Chuck Keeton, Karin Stromswold
Associate Professor: Douglas Jones, Dámaris Otero-Torres, Michael Verzi
Assistant Professor: Carla Cevasco, Christopher E. Ellison, Chloë Kitzinger
Assistant Teaching Professor: Shyam Moondra, Alexander Pichugin
Teaching Instructor: Bridget Purcell
Teaching Assistant: Eagan Dean, Ting-An Lin
Online Teaching Award: Crystal Akers, Kristina Chew
Chuck Keeton, Physics and Astronomy
The Physics department describes Professor Keeton as one of its most outstanding teachers. He earns top ratings from students that glow with praise for his passion, clarity, warmth, and ability to inspire interest. One student noted, “The fact is that I came into this class having ZERO interest in the subject matter, but because of the way Professor Keeton presented the material—through his presentations and exciting demos—I feel like I finally have a genuine interest in some science. I feel as if I know much more than I could have ever if I never took this course! I even bought a telescope because this class stimulated my interest THAT much!” Another says, “Professor is stellar, extremely organized, quick, integrates technology into his course perfectly, great at conveying knowledge and understanding our questions, extremely patient with the students... I wish there were a professor like this for all my classes.”
Professor Keeton has also been a consistent leader in instructional innovation. He was instrumental in establishing the current form of “Principles of Astrophysics” (01:750:341/342), a two-semester introduction serving as the gateway to upper-level courses for all astronomy majors and minors. When teaching the course from 2005 through 2008, he creatively re-sequenced the material so that the two semesters could be taken by students in either order and developed a set of lecture notes that were later published as a textbook, Principles of Astrophysics: Using Gravity and Stellar Physics to Explore the Cosmos. This textbook has defined the foundation for the course ever since and has been adopted at several other universities and colleges, extending his intellectual leadership and impact on undergraduate education beyond Rutgers.
In spring 2018, Professor Keeton implemented a new active-learning version of the longstanding course on the solar system for non-majors (01:750:109). In fall 2019, he piloted a new “Computational Astrophysics” project-based laboratory course for undergraduate majors (01:750:345), again receiving outstanding scores for teaching effectiveness (4.8 out of 5.0) and lavish praise from students. Professor Keeton has infused multiple Byrne Seminars, taught in a variety of formats (Honors College, EOF, RU-1st, and Aresty-Byrne), with project-based learning. Perhaps most notable is “Launching Your Successful STEM Career.” The main goal of this seminar is to support the success of EOF and RU-1st students in STEM majors; Professor Keeton single-handedly designed a capstone project on orbital mechanics and its accompanying Python programming language curriculum.
Professor Keeton served six years at the helm of the Aresty Research Center, building the capacity of the university to support undergraduate research. Especially notable, in partnership with the Byrne Seminar Program Director, Professor Keeton created Aresty-Byrne Seminars, which are specifically designed to introduce students to hands-on research activities in a classroom setting. Working with the Aresty Executive Director, he revamped the curriculum for the biweekly meetings of Aresty students with their peer instructors to bring a more focused instructional approach to the undergraduate research enterprise. During his year as Undergraduate Program Director in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Professor Keeton received accolades throughout the department for the dedication and efficiency with which he approached the job.
This award recognizes Professor Keeton’s record of success in his classrooms and in two challenging undergraduate-focused leadership positions. It also explains why in 2019, he was the obvious choice for Academic Dean of the SAS Honors Program where he now continues to make distinguished contributions to undergraduate education.
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Karin Stromswold, Psychology and Cognitive Science
Professor Karin Stromswold is jointly nominated for this award by the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science (RuCCS), home of the Cognitive Science major) and the Psychology Department. She served as the Director of Undergraduate Programs for RuCCS from 1996 through 2013 and Vice Chair for Undergraduate Studies in Psychology from 2016 through 2019. In these roles she continuously developed new programs and curricula that hugely enriched undergraduate education at Rutgers, most notably establishing the first undergraduate programs in Cognitive Science and laying the groundwork for the thriving major that exists today.
Joining RuCCS in 1992, Professor Stromswold provided the key vision that incorporating undergraduate education into the Center would not only share the remarkable intellectual environment of RuCCS with our student body but would also catalyze new scholarship within the Center through undergraduate researchers. In 1996, she designed a Minor in Cognitive Science and became the first Director for Undergraduate Programs in Cognitive Science. This minor has been pursued by thousands of students. In 2003, she designed the interdisciplinary Individualized Major in Cognitive Science (revised extensively in 2005). During this time, Professor Stromswold created nearly the entire Cognitive Science undergraduate curriculum. She created the introductory courses; identified and evaluated courses in other departments to be included in the Cognitive Science program; founded and advised the undergraduate Cognitive Science Club (which is still going strong and now the heart of an engaged alumni network); and worked tirelessly to advise hundreds of individual students. During this period, the RuCCS undergraduate program quadrupled in size and became larger than those of many SAS departments. The academic program Dr. Stromswold envisioned, established, and developed was the foundation for the Cognitive Science major approved in 2018. Today, SAS’s undergraduate program in Cognitive Science enrolls more than a thousand students per year and has more than three hundred majors and minors.
From 2016 to 2019, Dr. Stromswold served as the Undergraduate Vice Chair in Psychology, the largest major at Rutgers. She revised the Psychology major and minor, added additional elective courses, and designed a new system of specialized tracks. She oversaw a substantial expansion of the non-tenure-track teaching (NTT) faculty, including chairing searches and overseeing the promotions of 7-10 NTT faculty per year. She wrote the first comprehensive report on the enormous Psychology undergraduate program, including extensive data and analyses of programs offered, courses offered, number of majors and minors, enrollments in courses, faculty teaching, and demographics of undergraduates.
Dr. Stromswold is astoundingly energetic and successful in advising individual undergraduate students from across the School of Arts and Sciences. Since 2005, Dr. Stromswold has personally supervised a breathtaking 300 semesters of undergraduate research done by about 150 different students drawn from Psychology, Linguistics, Biology, Computer Science, Genetics, and Cognitive Science, in most cases giving these students their very first hands-on experience in scientific research. During the same period, fully 23 of her undergraduate students have published papers or given extramural conference presentations.
Professor Stromswold’s fellow faculty and TAs report being inspired and motivated by her constant push for excellent instruction within an outstanding and ever-evolving undergraduate curriculum. They describe her as a “brilliant teacher” who “taught with expertise and enthusiasm” and “a balance between rigor and kindness” that is worthy of emulation. One undergraduate summed it up when she said, “Professor Stromswold is literally amazing [...] She's an inspiration to me and I can honestly say she's one of the professors I'll tell my grandkids about some day.”
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Douglas Jones, English
Professor Douglas Jones has a long record of exceptional undergraduate teaching. He has undertaken significant curriculum development in launching the English Department’s new Certificate in Drama and Performance Studies and in reimagining the place of the study of drama, more broadly, within the department’s course offerings.
A specialist in 18th and 19th century African American literature, drama, and performance, Professor Jones’s courses provide students with a deeper understanding of political and social issues of critical contemporary importance. Typical of his courses is an SAS Honors Interdisciplinary Seminar from 2018, “Slavery and American Culture,” in which students considered the critical and commercial success of mainstream films exploring the institution of slavery, such as 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained, in the historical context of works like Mark Twain’s Puddn’head Wilson and blackface minstrelsy, as well as in relation to award-wining contemporary visual artwork by Kara Walker and fiction by Toni Morrison and Colson Whitehead. In fall 2019, Professor Jones’s advanced seminar, “Political Theory and African American Literature,” showed the ways that the national conversation on race has been shaped by writing that not only describes slavery but that normalizes the consideration of certain moral and ethical problems in political life.
Professor Jones is a perennial student favorite. In SIRS reports, students not only describe him as brilliant, charismatic, and friendly, but they also note that they very much appreciate that his courses introduce them to important but obscure texts that they had not heard of before. Many students comment positively about the interdisciplinarity of his courses. As one student wrote, “Professor Jones... has a masterful way of leading interesting and entertaining discussions which keep the class interesting. Also, his reading selections are interesting and make the class feel like an English/History hybrid.” Students have reacted with uniform enthusiasm to his courses and his teaching. In fall 2019, his SIRS scores were near perfect, averaging 4.8-4.9 on the questions about “teaching effectiveness” and “course quality.”
Professor Jones has taken the leading role in developing the teaching of drama and performance in the English Department. Several years ago, he was largely responsible for organizing a specialized concentration and Certificate in Drama and Performance Studies. He chaired the committee that developed the curriculum requirements, ushered the proposal through departmental and SAS approval processes, oversaw the distribution of faculty teaching its various required courses, and personally supervised the capstone projects of students who completed the certificate. In 2020, he enlisted a group of faculty and graduate students in the development of a provocative series of modules on issues of drama and performance for use in the gateway course to the major, “Principles of Literary Study” (01:359:201), a course which he also teaches regularly. These modules make it much easier for other faculty to incorporate drama into their syllabi, further increasing the visibility of the certificate. Professor Jones has made the department’s strength in drama and performance much more coordinated and visible, both appealing to and drawing into existence a new group of SAS undergraduates interested in developing careers in and around the world of the performing arts. Professor Jones is beginning to develop collaborations between the English Department and the Theater BFA program at Mason Gross.
Professor Jones’s teaching and curricular innovation are truly distinguished contributions to undergraduate education at Rutgers-NB.
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Dámaris Otero-Torres, Spanish and Portuguese
Professor Dámaris Otero-Torres is renowned among our Spanish and Portuguese majors and minors for her innovative teaching. Students consistently praise Professor Otero-Torres’s passion, enthusiasm, patience, and the carefully structured way she unpacks difficult material. Students report that her essay assignments “genuinely helped us grow as readers and writers,” and that “she constantly pushed me and my classmates to be more critical and nuanced in our thinking.” Professor Otero-Torres has the gift of reaching every student, no matter their level or background in the subject. A non-traditional adult student praised her “natural talents as a teacher,” her professionalism, her enthusiasm, and her dedication saying, “she made every class enjoyable and would never continue in a lecture until every student understood.” It is no surprise that Professor Otero-Torres’s SIRS scores are consistent with this qualitative praise, ranging from 4.67 to 5.0 in teaching effectiveness and 4.40 to 5.0 in course quality.
Professor Otero-Torres continually opens students’ minds to the world of Renaissance Spain through both canonical and minority voices. Professor Otero-Torres’s courses include all genres—prose fiction, poetry, theater, memoir, religious texts—and create a learning experience for each student that is personal and committed. She makes sixteenth-and seventeenth-century materials come alive and connect with students’ lives. One student says she “gave us the tools to speak and write about the medieval and Renaissance periods. ... Now, instead of just ‘knowing’ something about Siglo de Oro literature, I have begun to understand it, and that makes it much more interesting.” Professor Otero-Torres’s course on Cervantes’s Don Quixote de la Mancha is a perennial favorite. Another of her courses uses a contemporary text to relate directly to students’ lives and aspirations. “From the Bronx to the Supreme Court: My Beloved World, the Memoir by Sonia Sotomayor,” was first offered as a Byrne seminar and later expanded into a three-credit course in which students study the genre of memoir; apply theories of gender, minority identities, and feminism; and write their own memoirs as a final project.
As Undergraduate Program Director since 2012, Professor Otero-Torres takes assessment very seriously; she pushes herself and her colleagues to continually reevaluate and fine-tune how they assess their students’ learning. She is spearheading a new initiative this year to track students’ progress in critical thinking in all of the department’s 300-and 400-level courses. Professor Otero-Torres’s work has been singled out as creating an assessment “best practices” department. And Professor Otero-Torres excels at planning the curriculum to ensure that, semester after semester, students have the most productive array of courses and instructors available to them, at all levels. The care that she devotes to this planning produces outstanding results as students move through their course of study.
Professor Otero-Torres’s department reports that, “No one better represents the values and mission of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese than Professor Otero-Torres. She is an appreciated and much-admired member of our faculty, and her contributions as a teacher are both deep and far-reaching.” Faculty and staff colleagues offer uniform praise for Professor Otero-Torres’s dedication to students, noting that she “spends countless hours mentoring students while fostering a positive relationship between undergraduates and their academic successes.” And staff recognized her as a model for “producing a respectful and balanced work environment.” Her many contributions are truly distinguished.
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Michael Verzi, Genetics
Professor Mike Verzi excels in teaching Genetics, both in the classroom and in the lab.
Professor Verzi’s primary classroom teaching is the first half of the flagship course for Genetics majors, (01:447:384), in which he skillfully deploys active-learning methods. A student letter describes the class by saying, “Dr. Verzi masterfully employed active-learning techniques to teach course content in a clear yet concise manner. Pausing frequently during his lectures, Dr. Verzi would often prompt students with thought-provoking questions and allowed enough time for students to ask questions. Dr. Verzi also incorporated peer instruction and collaboration by having us occasionally work on challenging questions and then would have one group present the correct solution.… Dr. Verzi included several case studies that intersected topics such as social, ethical, and legal implications and issues in genetics.… For example, when discussing artificial selection and environmental effects on gene pools, Dr. Verzi used a relevant example of the lactose intolerance narrative that white supremacists use, while the reality is a selective pressure behind the fact that dairy-based products were relatively a larger part of European whites’ diet than other populations.” Another reports, “Dr. Verzi engaged with the class and utilized iClickers to make sure that the class was up to speed on what he was discussing. After we had covered some background material, we would split up into groups and work through case problems related to the material. This was crucial in my development as a scientist… Dr. Verzi walked around to the different groups to ask follow-up questions or to answer our questions while we went through the case… At a huge school like Rutgers, Dr. Verzi made sure to make every student feel like they were getting one-on-one attention.” His quantitative and qualitative SIRS evaluations for this course also reflect his enthusiasm and dedication. Student’s report, “Dr. Verzi prioritizes our learning the material over our ability to recite textbook information… Dr. Verzi answers all questions thoughtfully and is clearly invested in the student understanding the answer.” One student wrote, “Professor Verzi is truly a great teacher, and I am lucky to be his student… he helped me come to understand a major I wanted to love.”
Dr. Verzi fully embraces the department’s mission to train Genetics majors with hands-on experiential learning. He consistently mentors large numbers of students in his lab doing research for credit – considerably more than any other faculty member in the department. His lab webpage clearly indicates that he considers his undergraduates central to the work of his lab. He has a well-developed syllabus that guides their work throughout the semester. He also excels at mentoring a broad range of students.
Building a synergy between his research and his teaching, students have excellent opportunities to learn from his research, and Dr. Verzi’s research benefits greatly from the work of these students. A student describes working in Professor Verzi’s lab: “I was encouraged from my first day in lab to develop my own hypotheses. He made the time to schedule weekly meetings with every member of the lab to discuss any troubleshooting, new directions of progress, and any updates. As a mentor, he made sure to ask each and every week for updates on my short-term and long-term career goals and how he could help me get to where I wanted to be. I never felt as though I was ‘just an undergraduate’ in the Verzi lab; I was always treated as a valued member of the lab.” Over 21 of the undergraduate students mentored in his lab have been authors on papers from his lab, sometimes on multiple papers.
With a deep commitment to active and experiential learning, Professor Verzi provides a model for engaging students in the work of the research university—distinguished contributions indeed.
Carla Cevasco, American Studies
From the moment Professor Carla Cevasco began teaching in American Studies in fall 2017, she has had a profound impact on the curriculum and the students.
Professor Cevasco is a specialist in early American history with emphases on Native American studies, material culture, and American food. She teaches courses such as “Learning from the Past, Early America and the 21st Century,” “Folk Life,” “Race Matters, Natives, Settlers and Borderlands,” and “Food Studies” that demand that students think hard about the place of the past in the present. Professor Cevasco’s pedagogy requires active participation by the students. As one student describes it, “Dr. Cevasco gives her students a Discussion-Leading Assignment where members of the class take turns leading class discussion about the readings and topics assigned. This task helps students with our public speaking, improves our reading comprehension, and encourages us to have an active role in each other’s education. Dr. Cevasco also facilitates writing workshops in her classes, teaching students the tools to give and receive constructive criticism. Through these workshops, Dr. Cevasco again refocuses the center of the classroom experience on the students rather than herself. It is this selfless quality to her teaching style that ensures the academic and personal improvement of her students.” Professor Cevasco is committed to giving students agency. For example, in one course, Professor Cevasco invites students to propose an area of study which she then goes to great lengths to build a lecture around. As one student writes, “She has proven over and over that is she is willing to go out of her way for the sake of her students by teaching history that relates to her students and meeting their educational needs.” Students praise their experiences with Professor Cevasco, “As a professor, Dr. Cevasco has shown me what academia can and should be, an inclusive space where new voices are given the chance to be heard, where arguments are supported by scholarship, and where the difficult questions are met with an open mind and a critical eye.”
Charged with leading the transition of the New Jersey Folk Festival, which is run out of the American Studies department, Professor Cevasco also teaches “Folk Festival Curation,” which involves experiential learning and project management as students conceptualize how to run the folk festival, do fieldwork, and make curatorial recommendations. Colleagues attending end-of-the semester student presentations found that her students offered cogent, well-researched, and impassioned talks on selected topics for a future festival based on the theme of transportation. Their verbal skills were remarkable and well-honed, and it was clear that they had learned to think hard about public history. To further encourage students to engage in public humanities work, Professor Cevasco also co-created a Certificate in Curation and Cultural Programming. The first students received the Certificate in May 2020.
Professor Cevasco is never too busy to meet with students, never unwilling to figure out how best to help them, push them, inspire them. She has advised numerous prize-winning senior theses on a variety of topics. One of her students writes, “As a thesis advisor, Dr. Cevasco again demonstrated her selflessness, compassion and diligence as she prepared me for my most strenuous academic undertaking to date . . . Dr. Cevasco has forever changed my life.” These contributions to undergraduate education in SAS are indeed distinguished.
Assistant ProfessorChristopher E. Ellison, Genetics
The use of computational approaches to analyze biological data is becoming routine, yet the vast majority of undergraduates in the biological sciences do not receive training in computational biology. Barriers to entry can be high, often requiring multiple prerequisites in both computer science and genetics. The relatively few undergraduates who do take computational biology courses do so in their junior or senior year, which means that they have very little time to then apply the computational methods to laboratory research.
Professor Christopher E. Ellison has transformed the learning of computational biology by developing an innovative honors course that introduces students to computational genetics during their freshmen year, requiring only “General Biology” as a co-requisite. He developed his course around the use of Jupyter Notebooks, which are open-source digital notebooks that combine formatted text with cells that run computer code. These notebooks are ideal for creating homework assignments and are simple and easy to use. The students immediately grasp the concept of an integrated notebook and begin using them to write Python code during the first class period of the semester. Professor Ellison put a lot of thought into the content of the course to make it accessible to students without a strong background in biology. The first half of the semester involves an introduction to Python programming which requires only a basic understanding of genetics. In the second half of the semester, Dr. Ellison uses programming exercises to introduce fundamental topics in genetics and genomics. By the end of the course, the students have a more sophisticated understanding of bioinformatics than many graduate students. Indeed, one first-year student in this course was able to train a graduate student who needed to do computational work for their thesis.
Professor Ellison also addressed a key challenge in teaching programming to students who all have different models of computers running different operating systems. Professor Ellison worked with the Office of Advanced Research Computing (OARC) at Rutgers to develop a computing cluster that is reserved specifically for teaching. The students are able to access this system and launch their Jupyter Notebooks via a web browser. Their code is then run on the computing cluster rather than their own computers. This system has since been adopted by two other courses in the Genetics Department, “Quantitative Biology & Bioinformatics” (01:447:302) and “Computational Genetics for Big Data” (01:447:303). This system has also made it very easy to transition to remote learning because the assignments are already distributed and collected electronically, and the students do not need any specialized software on their computer to do their homework.
While Professor Ellison’s classroom teaching receives strong student comments and SIRS scores, his teaching extends beyond the classroom as a committed mentor to undergraduate students. He serves as a mentor for the SAS Honors Program and a research mentor for the Aresty Program and the Douglass College Women in STEM program, as well as training Genetics majors who do research for credit. He has also hosted multiple high school students in his lab through the DLS Summer Research Program. Two of his undergraduate students have completed an honors thesis in his lab, one of whom is now a web developer for the Genomics Education Partnership at the University of Alabama, while the other will begin a PhD program at Washington University this fall. He has published a research article with one of his undergraduate students as the first author in the journal G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics and is preparing to submit another manuscript that includes a different undergraduate student as an author.
Professor Ellison’s innovative work is a distinguished contribution to undergraduate education in SAS.
Chloë Kitzinger, Russian and East European Languages and Literatures
Professor Chloë Kitzinger is an effective and creative teacher who challenges students to think and write in unexpected new ways.
A scholar of 19th-century Russian Realism, Professor Kitzinger teaches historical texts with an eye to the present, making seemingly “old” material highly relevant for her 21st-century student audience. Across her courses she develops effective assignments to teach writing, including peer-editing workshops, response diaries, and clear grading rubrics. She uses a digital humanities assignment (involving the visual mapping of character networks, themes, or spaces in Crime and Punishment) in her Dostoevsky course.
Professor Kitzinger advocated for changing “War and Peace” to a 200-level (rather than 400-level) course to fill a gap in the curriculum and to make this masterpiece accessible and attractive to first- and second-year students. As a result, Professor Kitzinger has had a profound impact on the intellectual development of a broader range of students. As one grateful student remarks, “At first, I only took this course to complete SAS requirements. However, within the first day, Professor Kitzinger managed to completely change my mindset. From the get-go, she was always incredibly enthusiastic and that truly helped me stay interested and want to learn more from her and the course.” Another student writes, “War and Peace is a phenomenal piece of literature with incredible depth of ideas that will stay with me for a very long time, and Professor Kitzinger's teaching style truly encourages everyone to develop unique and sophisticated interpretations of the text.” One STEM student admits, “I honestly didn’t expect to have such an incredible time being a student of literature as a STEM major.”
Professor Chloë Kitzinger moved beyond the typical text- or author-centered 19th century Russian literature course to design two very successful 300-level courses that speak directly to student interests and attract a broad range of students, “Serial Storytelling Across Media” and “Russian and Soviet Science Fiction.” A student in the latter writes, “She made me think about things in new ways that I didn't know was possible and I was just blown away every single class. Amazing professor.”
Professor Kitzinger’s ratings on SIRS evaluations are consistently high across her courses. Students almost unanimously praise her balance of lecture and discussion; her time management; her ability to stay focused and on track; and the incisive, useful feedback she provides. Professor Kitzinger inspires a remarkable degree of student participation, even in larger classes. Students routinely comment on her passion and enthusiasm for the material she teaches, her kindness and generosity, her intellectual rigor and wisdom, her ability to address students at all levels, and the dynamic and encouraging atmosphere she generates in the classroom. One says, “She… has me on the edge of my seat for the entire 80 minutes.” Echoing the praise from students, faculty peer observers report that her teaching is both poignant and extremely effective. Professor Kitzinger’s superior level of preparation and scaffolding enables enthusiastic and productive dialogue with and among students.
Perhaps one student in Professor Kitzinger’s Tolstoy class best sums up the results of her many distinguished contributions to undergraduate education. They write, “We covered a lot of existential topics which have been troubling me for a long time now, but I definitely feel, after leaving this class, that I am more equipped to face the complexity of life.”
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Assistant Teaching Professor
Shyam Moondra, Statistics
Having taught at Rutgers for more than 15 years, Professor Shyam Moondra is one of the most sought-after instructors for undergraduate statistics courses. He is widely praised for his teaching effectiveness as well as his caring personality and devotion to students. He regularly teaches high-enrollment service courses for the department and does so with care and precision.
Professor Moondra has taught a broad range of undergraduate statistics courses, including Introduction to Statistics I and II (01:960:211-212), Introductory Statistics for Business (01:960:285), Basic Probability and Statistics (01:960:379), Intermediate Statistical Analysis (01:960:384), and Basic Statistics for Research (01:960:401). Many of these courses are particularly difficult to teach, both because of their large enrollments and because students enter the courses with a wide range of background experience with the course material. Students appreciate the teaching strategies that Professor Moondra employs in his courses, including reverting to the chalk board rather than using PowerPoint slides during his lectures. While using the chalk board in real-time is more labor intensive, students report that it is highly effective in conveying the material and creates the impression that he is teaching specifically to them.
Professor Moondra is recognized and praised by students and colleagues alike for being well-prepared and organized, two qualities which are critically important when teaching large-enrollment courses. Graders and Teaching Assistants working for him commend him for his clear instructions and efficient organization, and the structure he has developed for grading tests, quizzes, and homework has served as a model for other instructors in the department. One grader remarked, “Thank you for all of your reminders and detailed instructions. I have learned a great deal from you. You are super kind, humorous and meticulous. I am so lucky to be one of your graders…”
Not surprisingly, given the skill and care that Professor Moondra brings to his teaching, his teaching evaluation scores are consistently higher than the average for other sections of the same courses. Students praise him for being conscientious, engaging, humorous, caring, and explaining the material well. They describe him as “amazing, exceptional, phenomenal, awesome, great, caring, passionate, and encouraging.” Students often pepper the open ended questions on the instructional rating surveys with things like, “He is the best professor ever” and “He is an amazing professor!”
The care with which he Professor Moondra designs and teaches his courses is exemplary. His contributions to the Statistics Department’s undergraduate program and to the many students he teaches each semester are indeed distinguished.
Assistant Teaching Professor
Alexander Pichugin, German Language and Literature
Professor Alexander Pichugin is a consistently high-achieving, energetic, and devoted teacher who has brought a wide range of teaching competencies to his department. As Director of German Language and Culture Studies, he not only teaches some crucial repeating courses, but has designed and taught numerous new courses, revised existing ones, and significantly updated the curriculum over the past six years. He also works closely with graduate teaching assistants and plays a central role in coordinating curricular offerings from one semester to the next.
Professor Pichugin’s energetic approach to revising the curriculum has begun to attract new types of students and has helped significantly in recruiting German majors, an invaluable and deeply impressive contribution. He teaches a large number of language acquisition courses on all levels and the graduate student apprenticeship course. He introduced a thoroughly revised version of the Translation I and II sequence and developed multiple new contemporary content courses that have attracted new student populations, including “Cultural Diversity,” “German Music,” “The Wonderful World of Opera,” “Ecocriticism,” “Knowledge, Language and Cognition,” “Ecocinema,” and “Hitler in Film.” His excellence in the classroom is reflected in consistently high numerical evaluations. Faculty observers laud his energetic, passionate, inclusive, and highly effective teaching style. He makes excellent use of class time, moving groups of 20 students productively and without rush through a well-thought-out sequence of instructional units. Professor Pichugin expects much of his students, but students feel encouraged, nevertheless. He gives detailed and extensive feedback and is deeply invested in each student’s success. His students call him “amazing,” “outstanding,” “rigorous and reliable,” and report “I have never learned more German more successfully!” One observed, “He will steer you towards the truth and show you that in fact there is no truth. He will bring you to doubt, to question, to wonder.” His combination of organizational and motivational rigor, genuine kindness, fairness, generosity, and dry humor makes Professor Pichugin a unique and popular teacher.
Professors Pichugin’s contributions to undergraduate education reach beyond Rutgers. Not only does he provide pedagogic training to graduate students whose careers include undergraduate teaching, he presents on pedagogy and cultural aspects of second-language acquisition at national and international conferences and is currently completing a book-length manuscript, Dynamics of Development of the Ecocritical Paradigm in German-language Literatures. His articles and presentations include “‘Greening’ the German Curriculum: Eco-critical Approaches to Teaching Language and Literature,” “Music in Languages Courses: Addressing Form and Content,” and “Native Speaker – Heritage Speaker — Foreign Language Speaker: Concepts and Implications.” He is deeply invested in exploring cross-linguistic interdisciplinary initiatives and their impact on foreign language learning and the use of instructional technology and online learning. Professor Pichugin’s pedagogic research has been supported by multiple grants, including ones from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, the German Language School Conference, and the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany funded by the European Recovery Program of the Federal Department of Economics and Energy. He has received awards from the National Heritage Language Resource Center the Max Kade Center for Contemporary German Literature, and the Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey.
Making distinguished contributions to undergraduate education, Professors Pichugin’s tremendous enthusiasm, energy, and rigor have helped to make the German undergraduate curriculum a place that intellectually and pedagogically tackles the contemporary issues and challenges of our time.
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Bridget Purcell, Anthropology
Professor Bridget Purcell has made her mark as a teacher, demonstrating exceptional passion and enthusiasm and a remarkable ability to engage and connect with her students in lecture and seminars. Professor Purcell also stepped up and served a stint as Undergraduate Advisor in Anthropology in spring 2019, bringing the same capacities and enthusiasm to that important work.
Professor Purcell teaches cultural anthropology, including the introductory level course, which was her first experience with a large lecture format. She showed a dedication to improving the course, soliciting anonymous feedback at the halfway point. Professor Purcell found the students highly critical, especially concerning the quantity and density of the scholarly articles and books assigned, which made many of the students feel excluded. This prompted Professor Purcell to reorganize the remainder of the course to prioritize close reading by assigning, for instance, a short excerpt from Mauss rather than the entirety of The Gift. In this way, she was able to maintain the course’s rigor while making it more inclusive of a wider range of students. At the end of the semester, Professor Purcell received a SIRS evaluation of 4.3. Since then, in the succeeding two terms, her SIRS evaluations for teaching effectiveness were both 4.6. These are the best ratings for this course in recent history, across instructors. Professor Purcell’s superior pedagogy and enthusiasm has brought enrollment in “Introduction to Cultural Anthropology” to its highest numbers in several years. Her iteration of this course has drawn new students into upper-level courses equipped with a strong grasp of disciplinary history and key concepts.
Professor Purcell has taught a broad range of upper-level seminars including “Medical Anthropology,” “Anthropology of Religion,” “Body Politics,” “Politics of Culture,” “History of Anthropology,” “Writing Ethnography,” and a new cutting-edge course “Urban Ecologies,” which received a SIRS evaluation of 5 both times she taught it. Her SIRS evaluations across these upper-level seminars are all exceptional – typically 5s with the lowest being a 4.7. Student comments buttress these numbers. One student says, “Thank you for an excellent semester! This was one of the best courses I've had in my four years at Rutgers.” Another writes, “She is a really awesome professor and this is the most interesting course I have ever taken [at] Rutgers.” The strength of Professor Purcell’s pedagogy is also apparent from the uniformly admiring teaching observation reports by Anthropology faculty. Colleagues observe that she makes “sophisticated concepts tangible... while facilitating a high degree of class participation” and knows “how to articulate complex thoughts clearly and [while] also… infus[ing] her lecture with a lot of well-placed surprises… Professor Purcell is a fantastic teacher!” and “a vibrant speaker with extraordinary pedagogical skills.” Clearly, she is one of the best teachers in the Department of Anthropology.
Professor Purcell has extraordinary sensitivity in dealing with difficult conversations. For example, an older white undergraduate used a racial slur in quoting from an assigned reading wherein a white author was quoting Black informants. Professor Purcell and her colleagues pondered, was the student wrong to use the word in this context? Was the author wrong? Was she wrong to have assigned that passage? Were the Black informants really at the root of the problem? Professor Purcell sought the advice of colleagues about these and other questions, developed a strategy, and workshopped through this morass with a class of more than 100 students onboard. Remarkably, no one complained, and the students left that class feeling both acknowledged and intellectually stimulated. Such negotiation of inequality and insult is no small feat.
Professor Purcell’s teaching is always excellent. She is beloved by students and respected by colleagues, truly making distinguished contributions to undergraduate education.
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Eagan Dean, Writing Program
A Teaching Assistant since the of 2018, Mr. Eagan Dean has established a record of excellent teaching in the Writing Program, the English Department, and beyond.
Mr. Dean describes his teaching philosophy as one in which “it is my role as an instructor to institute and foster a sense of ‘community.’…It is only through collaboration as a class that all students are best able to excel, from the peer feedback needed for less prepared students to the rigor provided to high-achieving students through their support of others. Students often write that they feel safe to express themselves in my classroom, and I encourage them to use collaborative labor in the classroom to enable individual excellence on their assignments. In a classroom community where students see each other and the instructor as collaborators, the ethic shifts from one of authority and competition to one of intellectual mutual aid, of cooperation toward group success.”
Student feedback and reports from his mentors and supervisors make it quite clear that Mr. Dean puts this into brilliant effect in all his classes – including sections of “Expository Writing” (01:355:101), “Basic Composition” (01:355:100), “Principles of Literary Study” (01:359:201) and writing workshops for students in Computer Science. As one student describes it, “The judgement–free environment E created for my section really allowed me to express my thoughts and to get feedback and clarification without feeling intimidated or uncomfortable.” Another adds, “E made the classroom… very warm and welcoming. I always felt comfortable enough to participate.” At the same time, students talk about how Mr. Dean supports their learning and success, “I think E is very excited to teach [his] students, which makes learning a lot easier and more intriguing,” and “Going into Basic Composition, I was a little nervous. Professor E has taught me how to write at the college level and has allowed me to learn from my mistakes that I did in the beginning of the semester… Professor E always made the class interesting, and I was always eager to learn more and learn from the readings that were provided in class.” With an air of some amazement, one student says, “My essays actually got better… All his critiques on my essays were encouraging and helpful.” Many others speak appreciatively about how their writing and ability to read closely and think critically improved because of Mr. Dean’s patient support and expert teaching.
The faculty member for whom Mr. Dean TA’ed in 01:359:202 has similar high praise. “I cannot say enough good things about E’s performance as a Mentored TA in English 202 this past semester. Already an inspiring source of skilled pedagogy, knowledgeable insights, and care for students.… he encourages students to do their best work but is also flexible and giving of his time.”
Mr. Dean was a Graduate Fellow for the Writing Program Innovations in Teaching Grant, “Extending the Conversation: Multimodal Innovations in Expository Writing,” assisting in devising new digital assignments for university-wide writing courses that emphasize the connection between academic writing skills and real-world digital storytelling and build connections between student life experiences and critical thinking/argumentation skills.
Of all the student tributes to Mr. Dean’s distinguished contributions, perhaps this one stands out most: “You’re really amazing and have kept me sane. I like the freedom allows for my ideas to really shine. I am able to show my thoughts through an author's text so I think that is really cool. This class has actually made me enjoy writing, so thanks for that. I just want to say thanks for everything. Keep being great.”
Ting-An Lin, Philosophy
Ms. Ting-An Lin excels in all the dimensions of undergraduate teaching—comprehension, presentation, dedication, innovation, and inspiration.
Ms. Lin teaches expertly across the philosophy curriculum, from social-political philosophy to a writing-intensive survey of the field, to technical formal logic. As her SIRS results show, scores in her sections are consistently and substantially higher than in the other sections of the course. This quantitative evidence is borne out by the high praise in student comments, who “love” and find “amazing” and “awesome” how well she presents the material and conducts discussions that are fulfilling, engaging, and confidence-building. They uniformly describe her as “patient” and “caring.” Student comments show that they cherish Ms. Lin’s organization skills as well.
Ms. Lin’s classroom innovations are also impressive. For example, her use of open access textbooks in logic (where traditional textbooks can cost over $100) is an equitable innovation that promotes access to her courses without sacrificing rigor and one that serves as a model for the rest of the department. Peer reviewers of her teaching note that the “level of thoughtfulness, concision, and detail [evident] in Ting’s course design, both across the semester and within a single session, is truly impressive…. I have rarely seen even faculty members perform this well in this regard, let alone other graduate students.” They add, Ms. Lin’s “slides are a model for how to use technology in the classroom; they actually use aesthetically pleasing elements of the platform to not only to draw student attention to the salient text but also to structure the text in ways that highlight conceptual interconnections,” incorporating meaningful images and clear outlines, assignments, and other course information for students. Another observes, “She thinks carefully about how to present philosophical ideas to students who may be struggling to understand them and may not find them immediately compelling.” Ms. Lin “ties abstract, theoretical issues in philosophy back to concrete, real-world applications” and uses these compelling cases to exemplify the issues for students. She skillfully extracts the philosophical point or question from the students’ discussion while being sure to solicit input from students that have not yet contributed. This is a great virtue in her teaching.
Ms. Lin has actively sought out opportunities to develop as a teacher, participating in a seminar on Teaching in Philosophy when at Texas Tech University, earning a Teacher Training Certificate from the Rutgers Philosophy Department, and joining an introductory seminar on online and hybrid teaching.
Faculty in the Philosophy department regularly find Ms. Lin enthusiastically leading long sessions at the whiteboard in a common area with multiple students, revealing her dedication to her students’ learning and success. The energy and enthusiasm in Ms. Lin’s teaching is infectious. “She is very invested in her students' success — she is generous with her time, and kind to those who are struggling,” demonstrating a level of commitment and compassion that is not often seen.
One student’s comment effectively sums up Ms. Lin’s distinguished contributions to undergraduate education: “I appreciated your enthusiasm and respectfulness when approaching students to participate. I really appreciated the detailed comments that were given on our papers, even on our final papers. Although I never did, it was really comforting to know you were so willing to help your students by offering yourself for office hours and even just minutes after section. Thank you.”
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Online Teaching Award
Crystal Akers, Assistant Teaching Professor, Linguistics
Professor Crystal Akers embodies everything that Rutgers values in undergraduate teaching in her dedication to teaching, her commitment to pedagogical advancement, and her holistic and continuous support of our undergraduate students’ education and the Linguistics Department’s undergraduate curriculum. And, she has been doing all of these things for a number of years in a suite of her own asynchronous online courses.
Professor Akers is a leader in online education within the Linguistics Department, throughout SAS, and across all of Rutgers. Her courses use an organized design that provides multiple ways for her students to stay engaged with the content, with each other, and with the instructor throughout the course. Her strategies for engaging students—from her legendarily thorough and personalized weekly announcements to the remarkably active “Lounge” forums—have established best practices in asynchronous online courses emulated across the school. In these ways, Professor Akers has crafted an online course presence that mirrors many of the qualities of a face-to-face course format while also integrating innovations that support the success of an asynchronous, online course format. Professor Akers is a creative innovator in online education, carefully evaluating and adopting novel tools like VoiceThread and PlayPosit. She also uses even the simplest and most familiar of tools in creative ways, as demonstrated by the mouth-watering “emoji recipe” discussion in her “Linguistics, the Internet, and Social Media” course. As one student commented, “I don't know how Professor Akers manages to make an online course feel like a classroom, but she succeeds.”
In her courses, Professor Akers makes meaningful, impactful connections to the students’ daily lives, leading students to seek out and love her courses. In “Language of Advertising,” one student said, “I have learned so incredibly much and love that I can apply this to my everyday life, just for fun.” Of her “Language and Law” course, another commented, “This class has sharpened my ability in seeing how people naturally communicate with each other and where communications sometimes break down. This is important in the real world and even more so in the legal world.” Students comment on the incorporation of multimedia in Canvas, her supportive feedback, her level of organization, and the clarity of her presentation. One student notes, “The consistency of deadlines really helps me be able to make sure I’ve turned in all assignments, which has not been my experience with other online classes.” Many remark that she is one of their favorite instructors at Rutgers and thank her personally in the course evaluations for her role in their education.
Not content with focusing only on her students’ many positive comments, Professor Akers continually works to improve her courses in each iteration, attends teaching workshops, and meets with those on campus who focus on online teaching. This is part of what makes her so strong as the Linguistics Department’s Online Coordinator, overseeing all online offerings and coordinating with Speech Pathology consultants in order to offer “Anatomy and Physiology of the Speech Mechanism and Audiology,” a critical part of the Speech and Hearing Certificate she oversees. This certificate, the courses that support it, and the Speech and Hearing Club for which she is the faculty advisor are critical in students’ success in pursuing graduate work in the Speech and Hearing Sciences.
Professor Akers’ distinguished contributions to undergraduate education extend beyond her own classroom to impact teaching across the school as she presents workshops, participates in Faculty Learning Communities, and happily shares her expertise and best practices whenever called upon, enabling SAS to present high-quality online courses in which students are enthusiastic learners.
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Online Teaching Award
Kristina Chew, Assistant Teaching Professor, Classics
Professor Kristina Chew excels at online teaching, developing asynchronous online courses of outstanding quality infused with a deep understanding of how online courses succeed and fail. She understands that isolation is a serious challenge to a successful online class, and she is brilliant in encouraging group work and chat functions.
Professor Chew’s multiple Canvas courses approach the Platonic ideal of clear, effective course organization. She provides students with clear “getting started” directions and straightforward chronological modules organizing course content. She makes particularly effective use of announcements and engaging video lectures to provide a sense of instructor presence in her fully asynchronous courses. Professor Chew also has a creative and highly effective approach to discussion forums, posting a written response to forum discussions after the forum has closed—thereby providing students feedback and guidance, but only after they have had the time and space to engage with each other and explore the material themselves. She also provides students with detailed lecture notes accompanying each of her video lectures, ensuring accessibility and providing an additional study resource for all students.
Professor Chew has developed a suite of 9 online courses, of which “Medical Terminology” is perhaps the most impressive. Catering to pre-med students, this course serves well over 200 students each time it is offered, yet it routinely receives glowing reviews highlighting both the ability to interact with classmates and the availability of Professor Chew to answer questions and provide feedback. One wrote, “I love her, she made me feel as though she was literally in class with me.” Similar comments include, “Despite this being an online course, she was still present throughout the whole semester,” “She’s very caring towards the students, always available to help and answers all questions clearly and thoroughly,” and “It didn't feel so much like an online course because I learned so much.” While “Medical Terminology” was a bit of an experiment in online teaching for the Classics Department, it has turned out to be a huge success. Professor Chew crafted the disparate material into a coherent whole in ways that make it more rather than less successful in the online format. This is a course that students in many medical fields are required to take to get to the next stage of their medical training. Student evaluations and comments make it dramatically clear that students are choosing this way to satisfy the requirement, rather than going outside Rutgers, because of the extraordinary quality of Professor Chew’s class.
Professor Chew’s “Criminals and Saints” course is also worth note. This is a “Writing in the Discipline” Core course that was initially taught in-person by a tenured member of the department who was skeptical that a course that required peer review would work in an online format. Professor Chew’s successful design of facilitated group discussions and integration of writing and content led to the same tenured professor reporting that Professor Chew’s online version is much more successful than his own in-person offering. One student writes, “It helped me better my writing skills. I feel like I may not of answered the essay questions exactly on point or exactly how we were expected to, but I really liked the topics enough to take a risk and put a twist on the opinions/perspectives people normally have about the readings.”
One student sums up Professor Chew’s distinguished contributions when they write, “Professor Chew is amazing. I have taken many online courses here at Rutgers…. However, Professor Chew's online classes, of which I have taken several, truly set the gold standard. They are well organized, planned, and executed. She is very good about corresponding with us students and effectively inspires us to learn. If Rutgers had any sense, they would conscript Professor Chew into teaching the other online professors how it’s done.”
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