2021 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. And, each year, the theme that inevitably shines through in each nomination is the students’ understanding that these instructors “genuinely want us to learn.”
This year a new, special category has been added: Pandemic Pedagogy. Since March 10, 2020—when the pandemic necessitated online instruction—there have been so many extraordinary contributions to under education. This special category, open to any full-time SAS faculty or staff, or group of faculty and staff, recognizes outstanding work in supporting others during the pandemic in developing instruction that meets the highest standards for online pedagogy.
We are indebted to each of these instructors and staff members and are grateful for their untiring support of our students and stewardship of the future.
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Professor: Eric Gawiser
Eric Gawiser, Physics and Astronomy
Professor Eric Gawiser has established a long record of outstanding teaching at all levels in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. This year he made remarkable adjustments in courses with a wide range of formats to ensure that students continued to have outstanding learning experiences.
When the pandemic arrived in spring 2020, Professor Gawiser was teaching an upper-level astrophysics course for 61 students from a variety of technical majors. He quickly pivoted from chalkboard derivations to WebEx presentations without compromising any material. One student wrote that Professor Gawiser “taught seemingly intimidating concepts with ease,” and another wrote, “All topics covered in the class stay relevant until the end—the way the course is organized inspires new ways of viewing and understanding the cosmos.” Professor Gawiser had adopted a personalized approach even before the pandemic—one student observed that, despite the size of the class, “He knew our name within the second week which shows that he really cares about his students”—and he did all he could to ensure that his students persevered through the challenge. Students deeply appreciated his efforts, rating both the teaching effectiveness and course quality a perfect 5/5.
In fall 2020, Professor Gawiser reimagined a large introductory astronomy course for non-majors. He retained synchronous lectures in order to harness his energy and presence, while employing active learning strategies and technical tools to keep students motivated and involved. According to students the lectures were “informative, easy-going and engaging all at the same time,” and “an absolute blast”; one student added, “I’ve never seen a zoom chat so engaged in the material.” After consulting with experts in physics education, Professor Gawiser developed a collaborative exam format that drew rare praise from students (students don’t usually comment on exams except to complain). Many students lauded Professor Gawiser’s enthusiasm, and one perceptively observed, “I liked how happy teaching this course made the professor.” They also appreciated that “He was very understanding and accommodating especially during these uncertain times and was always kind and tried to help us in every way he could.” One student concluded, “I truly mean it when I say that this course changed my life for the better.”
In spring 2021, Professor Gawiser taught a newly revised lab course in Observational Astronomy. The course is built around extended projects that provide an introduction to research in the field: small teams of students collaborate to analyze real research data and communicate their results in both oral and written forms. Professor Gawiser provided PowerPoint and LaTeX templates appropriate for professional talks and journal articles, and he gave extensive feedback on drafts and final versions in the spirit of a professional mentor or editor. One student wrote, “The course's emphasis on presentations and group-based assignments … was a welcome sight in these difficult times.” Another student added, “I liked that this course was, in many ways, a research course.”
Professor Gawiser is a dedicated and effective instructor. He cares about his students, and he took exceptional care in the difficult pandemic conditions to ensure the success and growth of students. His kind, positive, encouraging, passionate, and student-respecting attitude played an important role in making his teaching effective, making him well-deserving of the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education during one of the most challenging periods of our history.
Kristen Syrett, Linguistics
Professor Kristen Syrett, Associate Professor in Linguistics and the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Sciences (RuCCS) since 2017, is the Director of the Rutgers Laboratory for Developmental Language Studies and the Undergraduate Program Director in Linguistics. Professor Syrett’s wildly popular courses serve students in Linguistics and in the language track in Cognitive Science. She consistently leads the department in SIRS ratings; students report that she builds a strong and vibrant learning community where students are welcomed as learners, researchers, and people. As one student summarizes, “Every day, Professor Syrett encourages her students to think critically and creatively through sparking curiosity and fostering a safe, open space for academic discourse….She works diligently to help students with their struggles and challenges, whether they be academic or not, and is the first in line to celebrate their accomplishments with them.”
When the pandemic forced all instruction online, Professor Syrett readily met the challenge in her own instruction. In one particularly creative touch, she turned her planned proctored exam into an open-book “Do It Yourself” exam, in which the students were tasked with designing their own exam questions meeting explicit guidelines. They later reported that they had to review even more intensively for this DIY exam than they would have for a proctored exam. In a very effective authentic assessment of student knowledge, students in her Language Development course—many of whom are aspiring speech-language pathologists or audiologists—designed resources to communicate concepts to a “lay audience” such as parents and teachers. Similarly, she lent much need support to all of her department’s faculty. Along with Professor Crystal Akers, Professor Syrett organized internal seminars on online teaching each semester. These gave many Linguistics instructors their first real ideas about how to teach online. And, she was the sounding board who offered wise counsel to faculty presented with the challenges of balancing equitable treatment of all students with the need to be empathetic to students with exceptional need.
Professor Syrett is also a generous teacher outside the classroom. Each year between 8 and 14 undergrads participate in her lab, which has become an informal center of community life in Linguistics while also training students in research techniques and mindsets that can help them in applications to graduate and professional schools, and many future careers. Professor Syrett’s mentorship of students writing undergraduate honors theses account for about half of the theses done in the department, including some of the very best.
Professor Syrett is an unusually energetic Undergraduate Program Director, developing an uncommon sense of community among the department’s students and expanding the curriculum to include practical prerequisite classes for students who want to become professionals in audiology and speech pathology. Her support was particularly valuable this year during the pandemic. One student writes, “I feel endlessly grateful that the professor took time out of her schedule to send encouragement to us. Honestly, without her positivity, confidence, and kindness, finishing the semester during a crisis would not have been possible.”
Kristen Syrett responded to the increased call for social justice, equity, and inclusion. In addition to her work with the Linguistic Society of America on gender equity, she is part of the Rutgers Language and Social Justice Initiative, a part of the Language Engagement Project, co-facilitated SAS faculty working groups, and hosted a departmental discussion for undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty on vernacular speakers and social justice, as well as doing media consulting on inclusive language and the role of language and social justice.
SAS is delighted to present Professor Syrett with the Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education for her work in, as what one student said, “showing us all what being a powerful woman in research and education looks like” and “shaping the college careers of so many undergraduates.”
Steven Buyske, Statistics
Professor Steven Buyske is devoted, diligent, creative and beloved by his students. The Chair of the Department of Statistics writes, “he is simply the best instructor I have ever seen in my more than 30 years of teaching in universities, and according to one student, ‘An absolute king! A true legend’.”
Statistics is not an easy and attractive subject to teach at the undergraduate level, since the concept of uncertainty and quantification of uncertainty are not “natural" in human thinking, and the material is typically involved with a lot of mathematics, a skill many of our students lack. In 2019, Professor Buyske developed a new advanced undergraduate statistics course, “Bayesian Data Analysis" (01:960:365), that uniquely only requires Calculus I and Introduction to Statistics. The results were stunning. The first time the course was offered, the SIRS average was 4.33 on course quality and 4.44 on teaching effectiveness. The second time it was offered, in fall 2020 during the pandemic, enrollment jumped from 32 to 108 and SIRS scores rose to 4.59 for course quality and 4.68 on teaching effectiveness. This is truly remarkable for a large asynchronized class on an advanced statistics topic. One student wrote, “By far the best class I have taken and the best professor!" which is highly unusual for a statistics course. Two students remarked, “I cannot emphasize enough just how considerate and kind Professor Buyske was, how organized his material was, and how his attitude and care made me want to learn more and do better" and “Bayesian Data Analysis always seemed to be a scary term to me, something that I would never understand as an undergrad or get the opportunity to learn. This course has turned that belief on its head since day one." Many other students echoed this saying, “amazing professor by all standards," “truly remarkable professor,” “this was consistently my favorite class and certainly one that I always looked forward to,” and “truly so grateful to have been able to have him as my professor this semester and I hope to take more classes with him in the future."
As Co-Director of the undergraduate program since 2017, Professor Buyske is always conscientious, dedicated, patient, responsible and encouraging, with the department receiving much heart-warming praise from students and their parents, thanking him, the department, and the university for caring so much for the well-being of students. During the transition from in-person to online teaching in spring and summer 2020, Professor Buyske volunteered to serve as the Co-Chair of Department Remote Teaching Committee, and devoted countless hours in developing a “best practice" document on online teaching, investigating and evaluating various hardware and software platforms, building an instruction studio for recording lectures, ensuring all instructors had hand-writing capability for teaching, and helping individual instructors. His leadership and resourcefulness made the transition very smooth and made so many courses so much better.
Professor Buyske is currently developing and teaching a pilot session of a new undergraduate course “Data Wrangling and Management with R” (01:960:295). This addresses one of the essential skills needed by students taking the new Data Science certificate, minor, and major—the ability to search and collect data, merge and consolidate data sets from different sources, clean and “tidy” data, and visualize data in order to conduct deep and thorough statistical analysis. Praise from students is already flowing in, “I can’t wait for his class next week,” “the class is so fun,” perhaps most exciting, “I am changing my major to statistics.”
Through all of this, Professor Buyske has remained an excellent and active researcher in bioinformatics, in charge of several multi-million-dollar NIH grants as a principal investigator.
For his outstanding level of energy, enthusiasm, and success, we are proud to present Professor Buyske with the SAS Award for his Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.
Since joining the Rutgers faculty in 2007, Professor Gary Heiman has proactively designed and enacted multiple successful curricular and program innovations for undergraduate students in genetic counseling, several of which have been featured in Rutgers Today and SAS News and Events articles.
One of Professor Heiman’s most significant undergraduate program innovations was the creation of the Rutgers Genetic Counseling Certificate Program (GCCP). This program—the only one of its kind worldwide—aims to provide students with the necessary guidance, coursework, and relevant clinical experience to prepare them for master’s-level graduate programs in genetic counseling. Professor Heiman also developed and teaches the active learning-focused course, “Genetic Counseling Rotation” (01:447:488), in which students spend eight hours per week shadowing practicing genetic counselors and then reflect on the real-life cases they observe. The acceptance rate for GCCP students applying to (highly competitive) genetic counseling graduate programs is approximately 90%; students from outside of New Jersey have decided to attend Rutgers specifically because of the GCCP.
Many GCCP alumni are now practicing genetic counselors across the country, and consistently report that both the program and Professor Heiman have had a profound impact on their lives and career trajectories. One notes, “The Rutgers’ GCCP is truly one of a kind. Even in my clinical practice now, I have not heard of any formal, undergraduate training in genetic counseling like this. It provides in-depth exposure to the field of genetic counseling and ensures that students receive true hands-on experience. In many academic medical institutions, undergraduate students are usually the last priority in the healthcare system ... The Rutgers GCCP ensures that even those not yet on a professional path to medicine receive clinical experience.” Another writes, “Dr. Heiman not only introduced me to the career that I grew to love, but he also played a key role in ensuring my success. He remained a source of guidance throughout pursuing both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, and now I am fortunate enough to have him as a colleague. His dedication to guiding both the intellectual and psychosocial development of students is unmatched when compared to other professors on campus.”
Professor Heiman also developed and regularly teaches a course entitled “Effective Communication Skills in Genetics” (01:447:430) that has been described by the department as one of its most important courses. It provides students with practice in effectively communicating scientific findings in a variety of formats and it receives rave reviews from students, who frequently comment on how valuable the real-world skills they developed through the course will be for them in their future endeavors—both within science and more generally.
Since January 2020, Professor Heiman has also served as the Vice-Chair and Undergraduate Director for the Department of Genetics. In this role, he has actively worked to improve departmental procedures and systems and has been an enthusiastic and important contributor to the community of undergraduate directors within the School of Arts and Sciences.
In all of these areas, it is abundantly clear that Professor Heiman is exceedingly well-deserving of this recognition for his Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.
Professor David Barker joined the Rutgers faculty in fall 2019. From the start, his SIRS ratings were remarkably strong for a new Assistant Professor, scoring above the department averages. In spring, 2020, as the pandemic occasioned an abrupt shift to online instruction, the departmental averages remained about the same while Professor Barkers’ effectiveness rating climbed. This trend continued into the 2020-2021 academic year. Students particularly noted Professor Barker’s enthusiasm and empathy; the great mix of interesting lectures, student participation through multiple choice questions, quizzes that encouraged learning; the “weekly housekeeping checklist;” and how he created a stress-free learning environment.
On the same day as Rutgers announced its shutdown on March 11th at 4 PM via email, Professor Barker posted a video to Sakai giving students an update on how his course would change, discussing the transition to video lectures, online quizzes instead of testing, and the growing pains they should expect (both from his class and others). The video immediately gave students something to grasp onto, explaining the tangible changes they could expect during an uncertain transition.
Upon realizing that it took almost two hours of new learning to develop and release this video, Professor Barker recognized that learning how to quickly transition their courses would also be a problem for many of his colleagues. He quickly generated a YouTube video detailing the process for taking a regular PowerPoint lecture and turning it into a video for students that could be disseminated via Canvas or Sakai (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qH5zfkFX9NQ ) and held a Zoom session for Psychology instructors. The video was distributed in Psychology, but also reached other departments as well, with almost 700 people viewing it.
In the summer of 2020, the department recognized the need to put forth a better "virtual face" for undergraduates. Professor Barker immediately volunteered for an ad hoc committee tasked with completely re-organizing the flow of the undergraduate website to make it more student-friendly, updating all of the information, and developing a new advising format that included providing access to Zoom meetings with Psychology advising. Training himself in Joomla, he added a new faculty page to help students more easily put faces to their professors; a new staff page to help the new graduate students and others to know who to reach out to for their needs; a brand new Diversity page to provide information and resources for our underrepresented and international students; a brand new giving page, which has resulted in new donation flows to the department; and a re-imagined page for alumni and friends to help them stay in contact with the department. This took an enormous amount of work, but it has clearly served its purpose during these challenging times.
On top of these efforts and accomplishments, Professor Barker maintained an active research laboratory which continues to mentor about 10 undergraduate students each semester and took in additional students virtually during the summer from the Aresty and LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation) summer programs, when many other labs were not admitting students due to shutdowns. Moreover, the laboratory published its first paper in 2020, including two undergraduate co-authors, both of whom are now working in full-time research labs at the University of Washington and Harvard.
Both Professor Barker’s own classroom and laboratory teaching and his support of his colleagues and the undergraduate mission within the Psychology department are truly distinguished contributions to undergraduate education in SAS.
Since joining the Department of Genetics in 2016, Professor Premal Shah has been an important contributor to undergraduate education in the department. He designed and teaches the course, “Computational Genetics of Big Data” (01:447:303), which both serves as an elective and fulfills the requirements of the Computational Genetics certificate available to majors. Student interest in the course has grown to the point that its graduate-level cross-listing regularly includes students from multiple SAS programs.
One of the challenging aspects of teaching this course is that the students often do not have previous experience in computation, programming, and dealing with large datasets. As the professor humorously remarks, “The only pre-requisite for the class is being able to turn on/off a computer.” It requires excellent teaching instincts and practice to convey difficult material in a way that is accessible to trepidatious students while also maintaining sufficient rigor and substance. Yet Professor Shah helps his students manage the steep learning curve. His patient, clear, student-centered teaching approach helps students to overcome their fears and successfully encourages them to engage with and develop comfort with handling large genomic (and other) datasets. Many students remark on this in their course evaluations and the SIRS scores for the course are strong. One student said, for example, “Going into this course, I was daunted as I had no computational experience whatsoever. Dr. Shah not only helped me learn something way out of my comfort zone, encouraging questions and breaking down complex concepts expertly, he also helped me build life skills and understand the broader context of what we were doing. Definitely one of the best classes I have taken at Rutgers. Challenging, but so worth it.”
Professor Shah also rose to the challenge created by the pandemic-necessitated shift to remote instruction, using the disruption as an opportunity for innovation and creativity. He worked hard to ensure that students had access to the necessary computing and network resources, and meticulously pre-tested how the various tools the students would use performed when used in combination. Recognizing that students would likely feel isolated and drained by endless Zoom lectures, Professor Shah converted his in-class exercises to group problem-solving assignments. The students recognized and appreciated these efforts. As one student remarked, “Dr. Shah made the course very hands-on despite the challenges of online learning. Dr. Shah carefully balanced didactic instruction with collaborative problem-solving group work to reinforce the material discussed in lectures.”
This course both serves an important curricular purpose for the department and provides students with a valuable and positive experience. As one student summarized, “I gained practical skills that are currently utilized at the forefront of modern research in genetics. I am confident that I will apply what Dr. Shah taught me in my future career, and thus cannot stress enough the value of this course in an undergraduate curriculum. I am certain that my eagerness to learn the material and my passion for it was further cultivated by Dr. Shah’s dedicated efforts.”
Developing this course and redesigning pieces of it to be successful in the online environment during the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic make Professor Shah well-deserving of this award for his Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.
Professor Sang-Hyuk Lee joined Rutgers in 2015, as an assistant professor doing work in experimental biophysics. During this period, he has developed a track record of successful undergraduate and graduate teaching, particularly in the lab-based courses that are so critical to the Physics curriculum.
The pandemic-necessitated pivot to online learning was especially challenging for such lab-based courses, and it is in converting the Physics honors introductory lab, “Classical Physics Lab” (01:750:275), to a fully online experience in fall 2020 that Professor Lee has truly excelled. His efforts to provide students with the best possible virtual lab environment and learning experience were particularly good, probably the best of any of our lab courses.
“Classical Physics Lab” is a two-credit course for honors students who normally take it as first year students. Professor Lee turned it into a truly successful remote class during pandemic. He recorded videos of himself performing all the experiments as if he were a student in class. He also provided students with lab-like environment by having students work together in pairs during regular synchronous remote meetings. Despite the lack of in-person lab activity, the learning experience of students was quite phenomenal according to the course evaluation and student comments, with 10 of the 12 students enrolled responding—an exceptionally high response rate, even in a small course. The teaching effectiveness rating of 4.9 and course quality of 4.8 are remarkable under normal circumstances and track with Professor Lee’s scores in-person during fall 2019. Achieving these scores for a first-year online lab course in fall 2020 is truly remarkable.
One student remarked, “...a video lab of his was so interesting that it convinced a peer of mine—a high school senior—to attempt to become a first-generation college student. Professor Sang-Hyuk Lee was amazing and it was an honor to learn from him.” Another noted, “His teaching style helped me improve my grade and my understanding of the material. His evaluation of us was relatively fair and took into consideration the un-ideal circumstances of learning from our homes. He seemed to be in touch with his students and tried to put himself in our shoes which made it clear to me that he really cared about his students. This attitude helped me become more optimistic about learning in this class and helped me succeed. I thank Professor Lee for his instruction and guidance.”
Professor Lee is a dedicated and effective instructor. He cares about his students, and he took exceptional care in the difficult pandemic conditions to ensure the success and growth of students. His kind, positive, encouraging, passionate, and student-respecting attitude played important role in making his teaching effective, making him well-deserving of the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education during one of the most challenging periods of our history.
Professor Cori Anderson is described by her program’s leadership as, “an incredibly gifted, dedicated, and effective teacher of Russian.” She currently serves as the Language Coordinator in the Russian and East European Program and regularly teaches a range of elementary to advanced-level Russian language courses.
In her role as Language Coordinator, Professor Anderson has contributed to a number of curricular redesign efforts. She helped to restructure the language courses to meet the needs of both heritage and non-heritage speakers and added hybrid components to some courses to accommodate students’ schedules. She also observes, evaluates, and mentors other language instructors and trains all new instructors in the program. Through her involvement in the Mellon Collaborative Partnership for Less Commonly Taught Languages, Professor Anderson designed and implemented an end-of-sequence proficiency test for students in their second year and has incorporated several creative assignments—including internet scavenger hunts, news clips, and excerpts from sitcoms—into the revised curriculum. She also established the penpal project in which second-year students discover that they can communicate exclusively in Russian with students at other US colleges, which is hugely motivating to the students.
Not surprisingly, both her SIRs scores and comments make it clear that students appreciate Professor Anderson’s teaching strategies, her accessibility and concern for students, and her commitment to ensuring that students learn from and enjoy her courses. As one writes, “Professor Anderson has really encouraged me to learn Russian, in ways that I never thought possible. Her teaching methods, overall preparedness, lessons, quizzes, and exam preparation are the reasons I was able to get to the level I am at now. Seeing her dedication to students and enthusiasm for the Russian language encouraged me greatly, and I only wish I could continue under her instruction.” Another student remarks, “The instructor has definitely pushed us to more difficult and complex topics than we ever expected to be doing, which has really promoted our growth as students.” Students especially appreciated her flexibility and caring nature and her careful organization and transparency during the recent challenges of the pandemic. Professor Anderson’s 8-point rubric for participation grades (adapted from one of her mentors) is so clear and well-constructed that the SAS Curriculum Committee has shared it with other departments as a best practice example.
Professor Anderson effectively responded to the pivot to online instruction with several new strategies. For example, she asked students to regularly record themselves speaking spontaneously on an assigned topic or situation. By the end of the year, students at all levels were able to speak extemporaneously for over a minute, and exhibited strong circumlocution and self-correction, both signs of excellent language learning. She thoughtfully combined synchronous and asynchronous instruction, making videos on how to do an exercise and talking through why an answer is correct, turning lectures into quizzes by having the video pause automatically for students to work through a problem and then asking questions based on that activity, and making videos that go over common homework mistakes.
Extending her expertise beyond her own classroom, Professor Anderson has published and given a number of conference presentations about language instruction-related topics including TA training, student assessment and placement, writing development, digital pedagogies, and the effective use of Wiki projects.
Professor Anderson brings a real passion for teaching and a contagious enthusiasm to the classroom and is well-deserving of the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Professor Lyra Stein is described by her department as an effective and energetic instructor. She teaches a number of courses that are central to the Psychology department’s educational mission including “Social Psychology” (01:830:321), “Personality Psychology” (01:830:338), “Abnormal Psychology” (01:830:340), and “Research Methods” (01:830:355). She has also developed and taught new courses for the department including “Psychological Themes and Theories in Modern Film” (01:830:220) and “Psychosocial Foundations of Health and Medicine” (01:830:308). In all of her courses, Professor Stein uses a variety of teaching methods to engage students. These include in-class and online discussions, frequent quizzes, student debates, film discussions on Twitter, analysis of peer-reviewed journal articles, and the use of Learning Assistants to encourage student engagement and critical thinking.
Although pivoting to online instruction was difficult for all instructors, Professor Stein faced the particular challenge of doing so in very large courses. In March 2020, she had more than 1,000 students enrolled in her three courses. In fall 2020, she taught more than 1,600 students across five courses in the online environment. Rather than simply “getting through,” Professor Stein proactively sought out solutions that would enable her to maintain high levels of student engagement in her online courses despite their high enrollments. She tried to avoid deviations from her course syllabi to minimize stress and confusion for students during the transition to online instruction, and worked with the Learning Assistants to find new ways for students to participate during lectures and recitation sessions. She also worked out an arrangement with TopHat to allow students to use their online platform (free of charge) to engage during synchronous online lectures as they would have with clickers in the in-person setting. One of the especially creative strategies she adopted was holding weekly “movie nights,” during which Professor Stein watched films with her class and chatted in real time with students about the course concepts illustrated in the films. Arranging for these movie nights required considerable time and effort on Professor Stein’s part, but the benefits for students were clear. As one student says, “I just wanted to say thank you for making the transition to remote learning for the remainder of the semester as easy as possible for students. It was greatly appreciated that you helped make such a stressful time less stressful by making everything for Psych Theories in Film so clear to us.”
In addition to her efforts in her own courses, Professor Stein also assisted other faculty in the Psychology department during the transition to online teaching. Beyond Rutgers, she contributed to the field more generally through her involvement in the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP). Professor Stein chairs their membership committee and moderates all of the social media outlets for the organization, including the STP Facebook group, which was praised by the president of STP for the essential expertise and information provided to instructors across the country during the shift to online instruction in March 2020.
Professor Stein’s careful attention to student learning, connection, and engagement in all of her large courses allow her students to flourish. As one of her former students writes, “Dr. Stein is a dedicated professor who prioritizes student engagement and always seeks to make the course material more applicable and relevant to her students… She has always challenged her students, myself included, to think beyond the norm and consider the impact the media has on society… It is her active learning and critical thinking strategies that make her classes so enjoyable, offering a level of insight that goes far beyond what a textbook may offer.”
We are happy to present Professor Stein with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.Back to Top
Professor Mai Soliman has been one of the most valued instructors in the Rutgers Division of Life Sciences since joining the division in spring 2018. She teaches two large service courses— “Genetics” (01:447:380), and “General Microbiology” (01:447:390), both of which regularly enroll between 140 and 350 students and require effective coordination with other faculty members.
Students consistently praise Professor Soliman’s teaching style in their course evaluations. As one student writes, “The professor has a very strong, positive attitude about the subject that makes the student want to learn too. She always attacks problems with a confident manner that eases a student and assures them that it is something that can be solved with patience and time. She is always available to students and does not stop teaching or emphasizing a point until she is sure that everyone understands it completely.” When asked what they liked most about the course, one student in “Genetics” in spring 2021 responded, “I had no interest in the content of the course and now I find myself looking up studies in genetics just for fun. I don’t think that would be the case if Professor Soliman didn’t show a genuine passion for the subject that pulls you in.”
During the pandemic-necessitated shift to online instruction, Professor Soliman effectively adopted many best practice pedagogical techniques including: recording all lectures and incorporating lecture quizzes into the recordings; adopting an online textbook with chapter assessments; holding (and recording) two weekly office hour sessions; effectively using the Canvas Module feature and homepage to clearly organize the course content and assignments, along with posting a “how to” video for students in March 2020; continuing to meet individually with students; and appropriately modifying exams for the online environment. Such strategies ensured clear communication with students and helped them to successfully engage with the course material and the instructor.
Student feedback clearly indicates that such efforts were successful and appreciated. One particular student’s comments reflect and summarize the most prominent themes across the qualitative assessments of Professor Soliman’s teaching, “Genuinely one of the most enjoyable professors I have had. Organized class material perfectly for remote learning with pre-recorded lectures and synchronous lectures largely behaving as office hours. Excellent use of Canvas and online software. I always knew what I had to do and when it was due by examining the Canvas genetics home page which outlined a general agenda for each week. Professor Soliman was one of the most engaged professors I have had, always promptly responding to student emails and technical issues and very successfully tailoring lecture time to student questions and areas of inquiry. Professor Soliman also showed a great interest in class material, always providing anecdotes that made lectures and class time enjoyable and interesting.”
Given her considerable efforts to be accessible to students and to make her courses well-organized, clear, and engaging, it is not surprising that Professor Soliman is well-regarded among her colleagues for her excellence in teaching. She received the highest score possible in every category in a peer classroom observation, and the observer noted, “Really great teacher!! We need more like her.” This comment is reflective of the respect and appreciation that Professor Soliman has earned among students and faculty alike.
Professor Soliman is well-deserving of this recognition and we are happy to present her with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Ms. Endia Hayes is a fourth-year student in the Sociology graduate program whose work focused on two courses that are essential and popular offerings within the department, drawing hundreds of students each semester. “Introduction to Sociology” (01:920:101) is required for Sociology majors and minors, while “Criminology” (01:920:222) is a required course for Criminal Justice majors and Criminology minors, as well as being a popular elective within Sociology.
In spring and fall 2020, Ms. Hayes served as a “floating” Teaching Assistant in these courses, being readily available for help and by holding useful review sessions each week that carried students through the semester. Students greatly valued the opportunity to connect with Ms. Hayes in this capacity. She received superlative evaluations, demonstrating true commitment and enthusiasm for teaching, care and compassion for our students, and an overall high-quality educational experience.
Ms. Hayes was the primary instructor for “Introduction to Sociology” in summer 2020 and for “Criminology” in spring 2021. The SIRS scores were especially high in these classes that Ms. Hayes designed herself and for which she was the primary instructor. She earned scores of 4.9 and 4.81 for teaching effectiveness and course quality, respectively for “Criminology”; for “Introduction to Sociology” her scores were 4.83 for teaching effectiveness and 4.69 for course quality. Given the larger size of her classes and strong response rates, these scores are especially exceptional.
Students appreciated that she provided a manageable course workload on a well-organized course site with clear and easy to understand instructions for all assignments. They especially enjoyed the interesting content and the variety of methods they used to learn the material, including the lectures and videos, podcasts, discussion posts, and homework assignments. Ms. Hayes’ “Criminology” course, for example, was structured around a weekly schedule that included a Zoom synchronous lecture, an activity day involving discussion posts, podcasts or other media, and an occasional “Show Day,” in which student would watch a video or show related to the week’s topic together via Zoom. Students appreciated the ways in which Ms. Hayes provided engaging applications of a theory or topic though these discussions of current events and popular media; these techniques helped students to absorb and comprehend the concepts.
But, the comments about Ms. Hayes herself are most striking, describing her as their favorite part of the course. Students loved that Ms. Hayes showed up to each class with enthusiasm and a genuine interest in teaching the course. They found her to be professional and extremely understanding of students’ personal issues during the pandemic. They noted that she created a very safe and inclusive classroom environment. Among the many positive comments, two stand out: “Professor Hayes is the kindest teacher I’ve ever had. She’s smart, she’s funny, and her class was fun while also informative. I now look at the world through a different lens because of this course;” and “Professor Hayes made this class very interesting and made each and every student feel comfortable despite some “uncomfortable” topics we learned about! She cared about everyone and cared that we actually understood the material and made sure no one felt like an odd ball out if someone was unfamiliar with a topic. She was great.”
We are very lucky to have had Endia Hayes teaching for us during this trying pandemic year, and we are proud to present her with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Mr. Gyu Ik (Daniel) Jung has served as the teaching assistant for “Genetic Analysis I” and “Genetic Analysis II” for the past two years (from Fall 2019 – Spring 2021). This intensive, two-semester course sequence is required of all Genetics majors during their first year in the major. Mr. Jung was selected for the TA position based on his experience in teaching science as well as his “gentle but confident disposition,” and has been an invaluable asset to the course instructors and students.
During his first year as a TA, he went above-and-beyond to be accessible and helpful for students—his office hours were well-attended, he offered additional study review sessions, he pre-tested exams, and he created PowerPoint summaries of recitation sections that were instrumental in helping students who struggled with the homework assignments. The department reports that students often preferred him over the professor! Students’ comments in the course evaluations reflect their appreciation for Mr. Jung’s approach, “I really liked Daniel and his approach to leading recitations and his help during office hours. During recitations, he had very good explanations for each question and was very patient with students if we had trouble understanding a certain topic.”
In Spring 2020, Mr. Jung was instrumental in successfully converting the course to an online format. His noteworthy commitment to providing the best experience possible for the students in the online environment continued throughout the fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters. As the department writes, “By the time of Spring of 2021, Daniel knew more about Canvas than the professor. Daniel took over most tasks managing the online materials, such as homework, quizzes, exams, and recording lectures. That is, Daniel did so much more than run recitations. He was essential to every lecture and running the course.” Recognizing the importance of transparency in grading, particularly during such an uncertain and anxiety-provoking time for students, Mr. Jung also helped to create provisional grades throughout the semester to ensure that students clearly understood how they were performing in the course. Another statement by the department summarizes his essential contributions during this time, “Above all, Daniel’s most remarkable quality is his constant willingness to help while maintaining a calm demeanor even under pressure. Not only did he help with the transition and adjustments needed for keeping effective teaching remotely, but he was able to remain as the liaison with the students, to make them comfortable engaging with the instructors and the content, and enable the best educational experience possible.”
His excellence in connecting with and supporting students in the online environment is also clearly evident in the consistent praise students offered in their comments about Mr. Jung in the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 SIRS. As one student shared, “During both last semester and this one, Daniel has always been approachable and available, and I believe this helped us tremendously in learning and getting the most out of the virtual classes... For example, Daniel brought up questions or comments that were posted on the Zoom chat during lecture to make sure that the professor addressed it in context. He also clarified our confusions during lecture when we messaged him privately with questions because we did not feel comfortable ‘raising our hand’ or posting in the public chat…. Daniel’s willingness to help us beyond his office hours and the class time really helped with the difficulties of online classes and made the class easier to follow.”
Mr. Jung’s commitment to effective pedagogical strategies, his ability to connect and effectively communicate with students, and his clear commitment to assisting and problem-solving under trying circumstances have made a truly Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.
Mr. Salvador Ayala Camarillo has been an outstanding Teaching Assistant in the Writing Program since 2018.
In commenting on Mr. Camarillo, students regularly note the clarity of his instruction, his patience and empathy, and his ability to generate interest in the course material. These qualities are also evident in conversations he has had with Writing Program directors to such a degree that the coordinator of Expository Writing invited him to contribute several of his course documents to serve as models for new instructors. Especially useful, among these documents, have been the recorded lectures Mr. Camarillo produced when he was among the first instructors to teach a fully remote, asynchronous section of Expository Writing in summer 2020 as the university had suspended all in-person instruction. In all these videos, Mr. Camarillo manifests a calm, reassuring presence while deliberately thinking through the logic, pacing, and essential points of each lecture he shares with his students.
In fall 2020, Mr. Camarillo received the highest SIRS scores of any instructor teaching two sections of “Expository Writing.” To provide consistently incisive, intellectually generous feedback to students in two fully enrolled sections is no easy task, yet that is precisely what Mr. Camarillo did, receiving an average score of 4.87 for “teaching effectiveness of instructor” and 4.49 for “overall quality of course,” that are approximately 0.5 higher than the course and departmental means. Again and again, students describe Mr. Camarillo as “excellent,” as “empathetic,” as “leading me to read articles deeply,” as “encouraging me to learn and think and extend the ideas in my essay,” and as “challenging my thinking.” In that “Expository Writing” is a required course that students typically report low levels of prior interest, it is worth noting that one student reported that: “I think the only reason I was interested in this course was because of Mr. Ayala Camarillo; he made the class a lot more enjoyable.”
Even before the COVID emergency, Mr. Camarillo had already begun innovating with new multimedia pedagogical practices as a way of deepening his students’ engagement with the lengthy, challenging nonfiction texts used in the Writing Program’s pedagogy. For example, to guide students through philosopher Alva Noë’s discussion of the cultural significance of pop music, Mr. Camarillo developed an ancillary assignment that invited students to experience that text’s central conceit for themselves. The excellence of this assignment was one of the reasons the coordinator of Expository Writing invited Mr. Camarillo to be among the first faculty members to pilot a digital, multimodal version of the course’s final assignment as part of an initiative funded by the Provost’s office, “Extending the Conversation: Multimodal Innovations in Expository Writing.”
Mr. Camarillo’s Expository Writing classes provide a space for students to develop as college writers and also, crucially, to learn to be curious about sociocultural artifacts and phenomena of all kinds while becoming self-reflective critics of their own experience.
Salvador Ayala Camarillo’s remarkable efforts—and the remarkable success he has helped his students achieve as a Teaching Assistant in the Writing Program, led the Program to select him as this year’s nominee for this award. We agree. Mr. Camarillo has truly made a Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education both in SAS and across the entire campus served by the Writing Program.
Professor Anne-Catherine Aubert’s time in the French department has been marked by an active agenda of designing and implementing instructional and curricular innovations. She was key in the successful development of a number of advanced undergraduate (and master’s level) online courses and in reorganizing the required intermediate grammar and writing course sequence (01:420:213 and 214) around thematic modules. She engages in a number of important outreach activities, both with K-12 teachers-schools and within Rutgers. In fall 2020, for example, she co-taught the LEP mini-course “Linking Nature to Culture: Striking Places in the French Cultural Landscape” (01:991:111:K1) with a professor in the SEBS Department of Landscape Architecture.
Perhaps one of Professor Aubert’s most creative pedagogical innovations was creating the asynchronous online mini-course sub-titled “French Magazine for K-12: La P’tite Gazette” in spring 2021. In this course, students designed and launched an online magazine (the first of its kind in French) to inform, educate, and entertain K-12 students. As the department describes, “This is a pedagogical concept born and piloted during the pandemic which could only be carried out by someone of Professor Aubert’s caliber and imagination—someone who has a deep understanding of the possibilities of remote learning, a unique sensitivity for the diversity of students’ interests, and an audacious vision of programmatic and cross-institutional outreach projects.” Professor Aubert was awarded one of the SAS Interdisciplinary Research Team (IRT) Fellowships to work with a team of students on the second edition of the magazine during the 2021-2022 academic year.
Professor Aubert’s excellence in designing and delivering both in-person and online instruction is remarkable. Her skill in online teaching was particularly important and valuable in the pandemic-necessitated online learning environment, when she thoughtfully and effectively used breakout rooms and asynchronous small group work to facilitate student learning, engagement, and connection in her courses. She also took advantage of the online environment to create new opportunities for students, including arranging for students in “French for Commerce” (01:420:324) to interview Francophone business owners about their businesses and how they were impacted by COVID.
Students consistently describe Professor Aubert as highly organized and responsive, supportive and inspiring, and fun. One student said, for example, “On multiple occasions, Professor Aubert let us know that we could contact her whenever we needed… she constantly motivated and complimented me in my academic pursuits in French. These exchanges truly uplifted my spirits. In fact, they pushed me to increase my French courses for the spring semester.” Another student who entered Rutgers in fall 2020 remarked, “Professor Aubert’s course “Aspects of French Literature” (01:420:215) was the class that truly made me feel like a member of the Rutgers community, the class that enabled me to form close relationships with my peers and my professor in spite of the remote learning environment… Thank you very much, Professor Aubert, for all of the learning experiences throughout the fall 2020 semester and for helping me feel welcomed and included in the Rutgers community during a period of time in which I felt rather isolated and alone.”
Professor Aubert is a talented and dedicated instructor who is respected and appreciated by both her students and her colleagues. One student’s statement aptly summarizes the sentiments expressed by many of her students: “Aubert is a brilliant, organized, communicative professor who has impacted my path at Rutgers and makes me gravitate towards any class on WebReg which has her name on it.” It is clear that she is well-deserving of this SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Professor William Field has served as the Political Science department’s Undergraduate Chair for the past eight years and has excelled in that role along with being a dedicated and popular teacher in his own right. During the pandemic-necessitated pivot to online instruction, he has made extraordinary efforts to ensure that the department’s entire teaching faculty was able to successfully navigate the virtual modality.
In the four or five years prior to the pandemic, Professor Field had made extraordinary efforts to develop high-quality online courses in a department highly skeptical of online teaching. Professor Field himself sought out extensive training from the highly regarded Quality Matters association and he insisted that every person who was going to teach online had to first participate in over 20 hours of Quality Matters training. Under Professor Field’s leadership, the department quickly expanded its online offerings until it was offering more high-quality online courses than nearly any other SAS department. Within a few years, Professor Field went so far as to apply for, and eventually receive, official recognition and certification from Quality Matters for Professor Daniel Herman’s online course, “International Political Economy” (01:790:327). Political Science was the first department in SAS, and the third at Rutgers, to receive the Quality Matters certification which is based on 21 essential standards. Professor Field participated in the internal course review prior to it being submitted to the trained Quality Matters Peer Review Team and brings deep knowledge of the 21 standards to all of his reviews of the department’s online courses.
All of this laid the groundwork for the department’s successful transition to fully online instruction during the pandemic. With over 3500 students enrolled in courses taught by over 20 tenure or tenure track faculty, seven NTTs, approximately 20 PTLs, and 17 graduate student TAs each semester, this was no small feat. In March 2020, as the University pivoted to online instruction over spring break, Professor Field William offered a series of daily courses on how to use WebEx on Canvas and Sakai for the instructors in the department. During the summer of 2020, Professor Field arranged for a series of 10 “teaching online” seminars to be offered over a 5-week period during July and August of summer 2020. Professor Field taught one of these himself and recruited members of the SAS Teaching and Learning Team and some of the department’s most well-trained and experienced online instructors—largely graduate students who the department later formally recognized as “official department heroes”—to teach the others.
Department faculty reported that these virtual workshops were excellent and they typically drew 30 to 40 attendees. Many of the people who offered those workshops subsequently worked individually with some of the faculty who were still struggling with the technology. As a result, the department not only survived, but actually thrived during the all-online 2020-21 academic year. Notwithstanding a slight dip in overall enrollment in SAS during 2020-2021, the Political Science department’s enrollments in fall 2020 did not drop compared to fall 2019 and they saw a significant increase of almost 10% in spring 2021 enrollments compared to spring 2020. No doubt, there were many external factors at work here, but had the department not successfully met the challenge of online instruction, it is hard to imagine that the students would not have voted with their registrations.
Congratulations to Professor Field for his outstanding work now recognized with this School of Arts and Sciences Award for his Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.
Professor Charles (Chaz) Ruggieri received his PhD in Physics from Rutgers in 2016, joining the department as a post-doc doing Physics Education Research in 2016 and advancing to Assistant Professor of Professional Practice in 2018. Professor Ruggieri was absolutely essential to the Department’s ability to convert to online education in the Covid era, particularly in its large enrollment service courses.
After the switch to online in March 2020, Professor Ruggieri became the “go-to” person for many faculty trying to setup Canvas pages and quickly adapt labs to the online environment. Over the summer of 2020, Professor Ruggieri devoted an immense amount of time to completely redesigning the lab components of “Elements of Physics” (01:750:161) (which serves pharmacy students), and the “General Physics Laboratory” (01:750:205 and 206.) By far the most significant achievement was the complete transformation of “Analytical Physics” (01:750:123 and 124), challenging courses for first-year Physics and Engineering students. In that it had been structured around collaborative interactions and an integrated lab, moving to online posed particular challenges. Professor Ruggieri was tasked with the transformation, with the most urgent goal of rethinking the recitations, but he went beyond that. Professor Ruggieri had a vision for a complete transformation of the course to implement best practices which involved the creation of many new materials and the conversion of the lab component to online. For spring 2021, Professor Ruggieri was made the official course administrator, which gave him more control of exams and included TA training. The results in 01:750:124 were particularly outstanding. Most notably, final exam scores were exceptionally high. And, a strong testament to the quality of his teaching teachers, the SIRS teaching effectiveness ratings for the TA’s in 124 ranged from 4.06 to 5, with an average of 4.5. Among the extensive number of detailed positive comments, one comment was particularly gratifying: “The organization for this course is the best I've seen for any department in Rutgers. The Physics Department definitely held up their reputation and I look forward to taking the rest of my classes with them.”
Although beginning in fall 2021, recitations will return to in-person, following the maxim “never let a crises go to waste,” many of the transformations, that almost certainly never would have happened without the pandemic, will be retained and promise to permanently improve these large enrollment introductory STEM courses. Our students will surely benefit from Professor Ruggieri’s vision and willingness to put in the tremendous amount of work that this required.
We would be remiss not to also note that even pre-pandemic, Professor Ruggieri had become an invaluable member of the Physics Department and an exemplary teacher, with his main work being in course support and TA training. He brought notable improvements to the recitations for “General Physics” (01:750:203 and 204) in working with Professor Baki Brahmia to redesign them. These are courses taken by hundreds of students from across the campus each semester. He is an active member of the faculty group in the Office of STEM Education that engages in discipline-based education research and works to apply it across our STEM disciplines. Most recently, he has had an article accepted by Physical Review PER, the most prestigious journal in physics education research. The article investigates how students actually use resources, from textbooks to Khan academy to Chegg, and concludes with valuable suggestions on how to engage students in learning. This fall he, and colleagues, are extending this work to investigate resource use across multiple STEM disciplines.
Both behind the scenes and in front of the classroom, Professor Ruggieri was critical in the provision of high-quality physics education during the pandemic, and he continues to be so with the return to in-person instruction. We are delighted to present Professor Ruggieri with the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Professor Robert Scott is a noted teacher and has served as the Anthropology Department’s Undergraduate Program Director for nearly seven years. As an evolutionary anthropologist, Professor Scott understood the implications of SARS-CoV-2 long before most of us did. As early as February, he began circulating reputable information and preparing us for the worst while beginning to develop contingency plans for online teaching.
Professor Scott personally evaluated all the software platforms available, initially recommending Zoom and Big Blue Button, and then Zoom alone. While these decisions may seem straightforward in retrospect, Professor Scott had to grapple with vast unknowns in real time. He individually coached 18 faculty at every rank and across the whole spectrum of technological familiarity, cooperativeness, and confidence. A colleague recalls, “glancing at my inbox from March 2020 brings back the extreme chaos and stress of that time. Uncertainty and fear about what was happening in the world was, for most people, compounded by uncertainty about what was happening at work and what was expected of us. I was dismayed by reports of chaotic and conflicting messages from colleagues teaching at other schools (I recall asking a friend at UM, “doesn’t your department tell you anything?”) and I soon realized that my relatively smooth experience was the anomaly, and that it was owed to Rob Scott’s leadership.”
As spring 2020 wore on, Professor Scott laid out the options for summer and fall—and ultimately spring—online teaching. He urged each of us to develop contingency plans, imposing deadlines on everyone, including senior colleagues. Rob led training sessions on Zoom and Canvas. He test-drove VoiceThread and shared his experience across SAS in an episode of “Tea and Teaching.” He developed strategies for moving lab sections online and he produced two videos on pandemics for anyone in the department to use. Over the entire spectrum of pedagogy—Anthropology spans the gap between natural sciences and humanities—Professor Scott coached instructors on planning for the fully online teaching. A colleague writes, “Rob’s steady and responsive leadership is what enabled faculty, in turn, to provide steady and responsive guidance to our students. I am proud of the way that our department handled the transition to remote teaching, and I credit that success largely to Rob. Rob really coordinated our entire department’s response [to the pandemic] and deserves a medal for it.”
Of course, Professor Scott was meanwhile adapting his own pedagogy to the web. Professor Scott was scheduled to teach his long-running Signature Course, “Extinction” (01:070:111) in fall 2020. Not only was he now tasked with transitioning the entire course online, he joined forces with a self-described technologically-backward colleague to co-teach it. This required training both a colleague and three teaching assistants who had never taught online before the pandemic. Devoting an enormous amount of time to the project, he ensured that the course was accessible synchronously and asynchronously to meet the range of student needs. At the close of “Extinction”, students raved about the course, as they always do. This time, many commented specifically on the format. One student said, “I think everyone 'in charge' did a great job dealing with the adaptation to a virtual classroom.” Another added, “He has presented lots of information that was interesting as well as topics that he genuinely enjoyed. I liked it a lot more because of all the details he could provide that I otherwise would have missed. The synchronous format was really well done as well.” Finally, one student commented, “He is a delightful presence…. Every lecture was fun to listen to and dare I say I enjoyed taking the exam?”
Professor Scott routinely reminded the department that while we can’t change the challenges of the moment, “What we can do is offer our students the best online semester they can possibly get. Given everything they are going through now, we owe that to our students.” This was his modest goal—one that required immense patience and competence. And, he delivered. While we are not empowered to give out medals, Professor Scott truly deserves the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Professor Daniel Walsh joined the Writing Program three years ago and he has already made numerous important contributions to it. He successfully piloted the new “Basic Composition” curriculum and was asked by the coordinator of this curriculum to present at the 2019 summer orientation for teachers. More recently, he was invited to pilot new multi-media assignments in “Expository Writing” that will have a major impact on the instruction that thousands of students receive through this course. His imaginative approach to curricular design is also clear in the new multimedia online course he developed for his fall 2021 section of Research in the Disciplines (01:355:201) entitled “Magic and Mythos: Disney in Popular Imagination.” His multi-media teaching and courses and course modules have become legendary within the Writing Program.
During the period of pandemic-necessitated remote instruction, Professor Walsh took on the task of assisting other Writing Program instructors in learning how to use the necessary technological tools and clearly demonstrated that it is possible to design online courses in a way that increases, rather than decreases, student involvement and engagement.
In his own teaching, instead of thinking of the fully online format as something that distracts from learning, Professor Walsh realized that the virtual environment both required and allowed a more student-led, collaborative, and interactive approach that fully engages students in critical reading, synthetic thinking, and developing arguments more effectively than lecture-heavy PowerPoints. His own students recognized and appreciated this approach. One student in his fall 2020 “Basic Composition” course says, for example, “I like how this course was so interactive even though it was an asynchronous class. His activities allowed us, students, to engage with each other to the point where it didn’t truly feel like we were missing out much compared to a traditional lecture class.” In a recent teaching observation report, one of the Program’s associate directors praised Professor Walsh’s course as “the most impressive asynchronous-remote site” that the observer has seen and noted that it can and should be used as a template for other instructors developing asynchronous courses in the future.
Not surprisingly, given his creative and innovative approaches in-person and online, students offer high praise for Professor Walsh. His SIRS numeric scores are strong and the qualitative comments describe his effectiveness. One student in his “Basic Composition” course (01:355:100) notes, for example, “Professor Walsh’s choice of reading and structure of assignments was clear and interesting yet still academically challenging. With his considerate feedback, he has greatly helped me improve my writing skills.” Another student commented, “I appreciate the professor’s dry sense of humor and an excellent way of breaking down the best steps on how to write. His teaching style helped me to break past the mental barriers I had carried with me from high school. I have noticed a great improvement in how I’m able to come up with content for my essays versus the beginning of the semester.” And a third student remarked that Professor Walsh has “helped my writing more than I thought any course could have. I am now writing strong papers and I feel very prepared to take Expository Writing. I really enjoyed his class because I participated a lot more than I usually do and because I have always had anxiety when it comes to public speaking. He made the class a safe environment where I felt more than comfortable to share my ideas and thoughts. I wish Professor Walsh could be my professor next semester.”
Professor Walsh’s successful curricular and pedagogical innovations in the Writing Program and creative approach to addressing the challenges of remote instruction during the pandemic make him well-deserving of this SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Professor Alicia Williams and Professor Erin Kelly served a crucial role for the English department since the beginning of the move to remote teaching. When Rutgers was forced to shift abruptly to remote instruction in March 2020, hundreds of English instructors began delivering instruction in expository writing, literature, and film using online learning systems that many faculty members had never before used. The sheer scale of the project was enormous, involving thousands of students and instructors at all ranks, including PTLs, NTT faculty, tenure-track faculty, and longtime tenured faculty members. Professors Williams and Kelly were leaders in the effort to set up a "buddy system" in the Writing Program that paired faculty who felt fluent in online instruction with faculty who lacked those skills, creating a support network that could address the needs of hundreds of PTL and NTT faculty and was extended to include tenured and tenure-track faculty teaching literature courses. Professors Williams and Kelly taught themselves the technology and accepted the role of "technology coordinators" across the department, running online workshops and fielding multiple one-on-one phone sessions with individual faculty members who had never used Sakai or Canvas and had barely used email. For the rest of the semester, they helped confident faculty members improve their online teaching skills while also helping first-timers learn how to contact students, distribute and grade assignments, create breakout rooms, and engage students. Across the board, Professors Williams and Kelly were described as "lifesavers" at a time of enormous personal anxiety and professional stress, when faculty felt urgently the need to support students but were challenged to learn technologies and new teaching strategies.
Beyond the classroom, Professors Williams and Kelly moved a host of department-wide events online such as the Undergraduate Honors Symposium, various Visiting Writer and Writers at Rutgers Events, the African-American, Post-colonial, and Diasporic Interest Group Holiday gathering, RBSC’s “The Black Atlantic in the Age of Black Lives Matter” and welcome receptions and open houses, guarding against an array of possible technological glitches. They designed the LMS website for the department’s widely admired “Anti-Racist Pedagogy Workshop” during the summer of 2020, as well as for the Graduate Open House for 2021. The Interim Chair of English, Billy Galperin, writes, Professors Williams and Kelly “guided us, during the transition to remote teaching and throughout the year, with patience and imagination. Their cheerfulness in the face of the many challenges we were all confronting was among the most valuable ‘social service’ that the department provided for its members.” The Interim Director of Creative Writing, Stacy Klein, writes, “In conjunction with the university’s efforts to support the Black Lives Matter movement … [the department] sponsored a Zoom visit in fall 2020 from the renowned poet and activist Claudia Rankine. This event drew a massive audience, including a guest visit from our new President Jonathan Holloway. Erin and Alicia worked tirelessly behind the scenes to guard against technical glitches and to ensure that the event proceeded smoothly. Thanks to their excellent work, Rankine’s visit was a great success.”
We are indebted to Professors Williams and Kelly for helping the English department provide engaged, warm, creative instruction literally to thousands of Rutgers undergraduates. Accomplished instructors themselves, they showed remarkable compassion, patience, creativity, and determination in instructing instructors. Professors Williams and Kelly managed to impart department-wide competence and confidence in the use of what had initially seemed to be baffling and hopelessly complex technologies.
We are happy to present them with SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Special Award for Pandemic Pedagogy: SAS Teaching and Learning team
Eliza Blau, Instructional Designer and Technology Specialist
Pauline Carpenter, Instructional Designer and Technology Specialist
Jenevieve DeLosSantos, Assistant Teaching Professor, Art History and Director of Special Pedagogic Projects, SAS Office of Undergraduate Education
David Goldman, Ph.D., Director of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
Nicole Gangino, Administrative Assistant
Eliza Blau, Pauline Carpenter, Jenevieve DeLosSantos, and David Goldman, together known as the SAS Teaching and Learning team, demonstrated extraordinary initiative, resourcefulness, and dedication during the COVID-19-precipitated transition to remote instruction. The team’s work has been—and continues to be—essential to maintaining the mission-critical education of our undergraduate students. With resiliency, creativity in problem-solving, and boundless initiative, the team has been a key resource in maintaining a sense of community and connection among the faculty as they entered a new world of remote instruction from the isolation of their own homes. Developing multiple resources and programs, the Teaching and Learning team has demonstrated enormous responsiveness to needs of faculty, staff (especially those who also teach, and the SAS IT staff that stepped in to help with technical issues), and students through their guidance on how to design online learning well.
Already a busy and successful team, beginning in late February 2020, they rapidly developed and provided workshops, web resources, and one-on-one support to help faculty move to remote instruction, should it be necessary. As a result of their foresight, SAS was the first RU-NB unit to post a “Keep Teaching” web page, which other units have adopted as a resource for their faculty. The week of the President’s announcement, the team held multiple in-person and remote trainings for faculty before the March 13 shut-down, continuing that work remotely every week since. As new issues arose, they scrambled to put together resources and added to the FAQ section almost daily during the early days of the pivot. The team stayed in touch with the DoCS Teaching and Learning with Technology group and CTAAR’s teaching support staff, ensuring that all three groups were giving consistent advice to faculty and providing SAS leadership on campus.
In the summer of 2020, the team developed short intensive “Summer Seminar” training programs, summer-long cohort programs, the popular weekly “Tea & Teaching” program, and on-demand workshops to help faculty plan for an online fall, and ultimately spring, semester. In the fall and spring, they continue to provide “Tea & Teaching,” workshops, web resources, faculty learning communities, and other programs to continue supporting faculty’s teaching excellence—while also working with OIT to plan a multi-semester migration of all SAS courses from Sakai to Canvas, and implementing a DICE-funded student panel series, “Voices of Diversity,” bringing diverse student voices to a faculty audience. The latter was planned before the summer of 2020’s moral reckoning; it took on even more urgency in 2020-2021 and continues in 2021-2022. It routinely draws upwards of 100 attendees and the posting of Key Takeaways magnifies its impact. This work is supplemented by the incorporation of inclusive and equitable pedagogy best practices in all of the team’s programming and devoting specific sessions explicitly to DEI issues and trauma-informed pedagogy.
The reach of the team’s efforts is extraordinary. Its spring 2020 programming reached more than 200 faculty, while the “Keep Teaching” resources and FAQ pages received more than 12,000 unique pageviews in March and April 2020 alone. Their 2020 summer programs enrolled 220 faculty, while their departmental workshops and “Tea & Teaching” have served many more. And many of these faculty have taken the lessons back to their departments and shared them with colleagues, multiplying the impact of the Teaching and Learning team. The quality and importance of the team’s work has also been recognized outside of Rutgers: their resource on “Remote Exams and Assessments” circulated on a national listserv and was used as the basis for resources at eight other institutions.
In this work, the Teaching & Learning team has developed a reputation across SAS for combining deep knowledge of pedagogy; an empathetic understanding of the extraordinarily difficult circumstances facing faculty, staff, and students; a commitment to equity and justice in education; and almost superhuman reserves of “can-do” energy. They are widely consulted and even more widely admired.
SAS and the University are deeply indebted to this team’s unflagging commitment. Eliza Blau, Pauline Carpenter, Jenevieve DeLosSantos, and David Goldman, with extraordinary administrative assistance provided by Nicole Gangino, have clearly earned the SAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.