2022 Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education
Each year, awards for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education are given to professors, teaching assistants, and staff 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 staff and instructors “genuinely want us to learn.”
This year Interim Executive Deans Susan Lawrence and Jim Masschaele presented awards in person on October 29, 2022 to honor and show appreciation to these award winners.
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.
Scroll down or click on a name to read the citation
Associate Professor: Kyla Schuller
Alex Guerrero, Philosophy
Professor Alex Guerrero is a leading figure in Philosophy at Rutgers, as a scholar, instructor, and staunch proponent for diversity in the curriculum and field. He has expanded the department’s course offerings by teaching courses in non-Western Philosophy and creating a safe space for engagement and growth in his classroom. One student described him as “a phenomenal instructor who encourages students to interact with him at all stages of their philosophical thinking (i.e., when they have budding ideas when they’re struggling to form an idea, when things have hit a snag, when things need polished, etc.).” His generosity with his time supporting students is also evidenced by the number of honors theses he has supervised, his often-crowded office hours, and his online writings, which offer insight for aspiring graduate students into the graduate school application process.
What makes Professor Guerrero truly stand out, though, is his commitment to ensuring that efforts to diversify the philosophy curriculum are broad-ranging and sustainable. He recognizes that asking instructors to diversify the curriculum is not reasonable if they do not have adequate preparation, and therefore engages in a number of “teaching the teachers” efforts. He has also helped to ensure a broad pool of promising applicants for graduate studies in Philosophy by leading the acclaimed Rutgers Summer Institute for Diversity for two years, acting as a bridge between directorships. The Summer Institute is renowned for bringing in promising undergraduate students from various cultural, ethnic, and social-economic backgrounds to inform and encourage them to consider a career in academic philosophy.
Professor Guerrero is not just an advocate for diversity in a field that is staunchly Anglo-American in its traditions. He is an agent for change; his individual commitment and institutional service are leaving a lasting effect on the Rutgers University–New Brunswick Department of Philosophy and the discipline of Philosophy more broadly. He is well-deserving of this Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Lawrence Williams, Chemistry & Biology
Over 15 years ago, Professor Lawrence Williams received an award for distinguished contributions to Undergraduate Education at Rutgers as an Assistant Professor. Over the years, his commitment to undergraduate education has never waned. Student after student has come into his lab as research assistants. learned from his careful teaching in chemistry courses that are notoriously challenging, and benefitted from his mentoring in teaching internships in Organic Chemistry and Honors Organic Chemistry. The list is long and impressive.
Professor Williams repeatedly shows his commitment to welcoming new students who may be traditionally underrepresented or marginalized in STEM into the field of Chemistry through his participation in many university research and mentoring programs.
In courses that are known to pose a significant learning challenge to students following a path in the life sciences and health professions, Professor Williams designs his syllabi with purpose and clarity. Students know what to expect, where to go for support, and how the learning goals guide the instruction and course structure. Professor Williams has made an especially important contribution as a course developer and instructor for the Honors Organic Chemistry sequence and as a course coordinator for the Organic Chemistry sequence. These courses enroll more than 1,300 students every year, and have the reputation of ‘weeding students out.’
Students and colleagues describe Professor Williams as dedicated, wise, passionate, and engaging. Even more than that, he makes science fun and removes obstacles to learning, inviting more students into chemistry and helping them achieve success. As one student said, “Prof. W. is truly a one-of-a-kind professor. He is wise.... He is engaging... He cares... The workload and expectations are high. But I’ve never had so much fun and learned so much from an educator before.” As he did when he received this award in 2005, today Professor Williams embodies what it means to make Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education in the School of Arts and Sciences.
Kyla Schuller, Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Associate Professor Kyla Schuller is a superb instructor in the Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, teaching more than ten distinct courses that contribute to multiple degree programs across the curriculum and the WGSS major and minor. This breadth is perhaps why one student labeled her as “ridiculously knowledgeable.”
Recognizing that students benefit from hearing from multiple voices and experiences, Professor Schuller regularly invites guest speakers to her courses and organized the Transgender Studies Speaker Series.
Students’ comments consistently praise both Professor Schuller’s excellent teaching and her genuine kindness and compassion. As one student noted, “Dr. Schuller has shown me that in the face of adversity, especially personal adversity, we shouldn't seek sympathy or empathy, but instead, we should go and give sympathy and empathy because it is in times of struggle that we seem the strongest to those who are also experiencing adversity. She has taught me what it means to truly be a beacon of hope.” Another student ranked her class as among the top three classes they ever took at Rutgers, and still another praised her as a “gem to the department.” Such comments are present throughout her evaluations every semester.
Outside of the classroom, Professor Schuller is committed to enhancing the undergraduate learning experience, serving as the Faculty Advisor of the Women’s Global Health Leadership Program, supervising a number of honors theses, and making important contributions as the department’s undergraduate director.
From her kind, respectful, generous engagement with students to her consistently excellent instruction and curricular development, Professor Kyla Schuller truly embodies what it means to make a Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education.
With unrelenting, quiet positivity and enthusiasm, Assistant Professor Preetha Mani instills in her students a newfound appreciation for South Asian literature, translation, politics, social movements, and issues connected to gender. As one student puts it, “Preetha Mani has made me a better student in many ways. She has encouraged my intellectual growth and progress by allowing me to explore my own mind.”
Not content to simply re-teach courses handed down to her or remain stagnant in her own teaching, Professor Mani has taken the initiative to develop new courses and redesign several introductory courses. Students who take Professor Mani’s courses end up wanting to learn more about diverse cultures, and Indian culture in particular. Outside of the classroom, she has given guest lectures at a number of other universities and has spent time individually advising honors theses, mentoring Aresty research students, and supervising independent studies.
As an Assistant Professor, Preetha Mani has demonstrated an impressive commitment to undergraduate curricular development. Having stepped into the role of Undergraduate Director only months after the pandemic swept the University, she found herself helping her department make the move to online instruction. She devoted herself to working with instructors to adapt their teaching, revising messaging to the students on the department website, and facilitating discussions about online instruction policy.
Professor Mani’s careful administrative work paired with her attention to excellent teaching and research have made her invaluable not only to the Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures but to the School of Arts and Sciences as a whole. We agree with the student who wrote, “Professor Mani is the scholar par excellence,” and we are pleased to recognize all of her contributions to undergraduate education with this award.
Genetics Professor Tetsuya Nakamura has taught his Evolutionary Developmental Biology course in multiple formats since joining Rutgers. When in-person, his class took a field trip to the American Museum of Natural History. This trip added a depth to the learning experience that a classroom could not offer, and the educational value of the trip and Professor Nakamura’s interactive mentoring in the lab were recently highlighted in an SAS News and Events article.
It’s hard to imagine maintaining such rich engagement and excitement about evolutional biology in an online environment, but when the pandemic hit, that’s exactly what Professor Nakamura did. Much like his research subject, Professor Nakamura had to evolve. As he ventured into new territory, he brought with him his positive energy, his meticulous preparation, his genuine interest in student success and intellectual growth, and his keen desire to foster a connection between students and course content.
As one student noted, “He was always excited about the course material and made sure that we all understood everything before moving on to the next topic. Furthermore, the class itself was extremely fun in general and really organized in a way that allowed a lot of intellectual growth.”
Another noted,“10/10 would take the class again if I had to.” While we certainly hope that the student would not have to take the course again (since that probably means it didn’t go well for them the first time!!!), the spirit of this student’s comment is also captured by another’s who simply said that Professor Nakamura is a “Really, really, really excellent professor!!”
Assistant Teaching Professor Matthew Charnley’s passion for pedagogy has been evident since his time as a Mathematics doctoral student here at Rutgers when he earned a Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education Award at the teaching assistant level. His contributions have only grown since then.
In courses such as Differential Equations for Engineering and Physics, Calc II, and Introduction to Mathematic Reasoning, his students comment on the welcoming environment he creates and how much he cares about them. They also praise his ability to offer clear explanations, make connections across topics, and make math fun. As one student said, his “amicability and willingness to address even the most stupid-seeming questions was awesome.” Another student noted, “Professor Charnley, unlike most math professors I've had in college, is great at instilling a conceptual foundation for all of the topics covered in this course within his students. This inherently makes math more fun as we are taught to actually think critically.”
Beyond his own courses, Professor Charnley’s contributions at the departmental level encourage other math instructors to approach their courses in a careful, equity-minded, pedagogically sound way. Among other things, he has revised and restructured the TA training program for first-year graduate students, played an important role in the department’s shift to online teaching during the pandemic, created an opensource textbook, and served as a panelist in a recent Rutgers-wide workshop on alternative grading schemes. In all of this work, his focus has always been on ensuring sustainable, high-quality mathematics at Rutgers. Congratulations and thank you, Professor Charnley!
Associate Professor of Professional Practice Ava Majlesi Kamvosoulis has made many contributions to the Political Science department, but the contribution that most stands out in its impact on undergraduate education at Rutgers is her role in the creation and growth of the undergraduate minor in Critical Intelligence Studies. The minor was developed via support from a federal grant secured in 2015, naming Rutgers as one of nine national Intelligence Community Centers for Academic Excellence. Professor Kamvosoulis subsequently secured three additional federal grants to expand the Center for Critical Intelligence Studies and the minor into new research and teaching areas. The minor, which was rolled out in 2017, currently has over 200 participating students from SAS departments such as Computer Science, Political Science, and Criminal Justice, as well as other schools at Rutgers.
In Political Science undergraduate director William Field’s words, “She is a tireless advocate for the students and an excellent collaborator on offering our students the best possible education for career development while remaining grounded in the liberal arts.”
Students in her courses applaud the high level of engagement and discussion, her honesty in answering students, the open environment, the debates, the guest speakers, and the invitation to think critically and analytically. When asked what they would do differently, some students simply reply, “n/a” or “Nothing!” One student said that “When she talks to the class, she speaks to us as equals. The class doesn’t feel like a class, it feels like I’m having a conversation with a knowledgeable peer.” It is engaged, critical thinkers like these that Professor Kamvosoulis is training to become future leaders in the field of Critical Intelligence, demonstrating the value of an undergraduate education from Rutgers.
We are very pleased to recognize her efforts with this Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
The English Writing Program’s Executive Director Lynda Dexheimer refers to Assistant Teaching Professor Simon Wickhamsmith as “one of the most intellectually engaged and empathetic instructors I have worked with.” In foundational courses such as English for Academic Purposes and Research in the Disciplines, observers and students alike recognize his ability to “cultivate students’ intellectual independence,” “his responsiveness and caring attitude,” his “personalized comments and suggestions,” and his willingness to “motivate and encourage” his students. One student wrote to him to call his class an “absolutely fantastic, enriching experience.”
As a testament to these qualities, Professor Wickhamsmith’s SIRS scores are among the strongest in the Writing Program, and student comments support these high scores. One student in Professor Wickhamsmith’s Research in the Disciplines course wrote, for example, “While I do not always enjoy writing essays, I very much enjoyed being a part of this class and I believe having topics like these really helps students expand their thinking and become more open-minded.” A student in his English for Academic Purposes II course wrote, “He is a very good professor. No matter what problems I encounter in writing, he will help me carefully and patiently.”
Professor Wickhamsmith’s fluency reading in French, German, Mongolian, and Russian, among other languages, enables him to understand the intricacies of communicating a message in multiple languages, and the kind of preparation, flexibility, and patience needed in teaching multilingual and non-native English learners.
His thoughtful, positive approach to teaching writing makes Professor Wickhamsmith deserving of the School of Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
An introductory class in Philosophy is designed to raise expansive questions about ethics, morality, and truth, and to invite students to think deeply about these questions and participate in lively debates about the possible answers. Stepping into her role as a lead instructor of Introduction to Philosophy and Introduction to Logic, Denise Dykstra was committed to maintaining this lively engagement in an online format. Based on the comments from her students and Philosophy faculty, she did just that. In fact, according to Assistant Undergraduate Director and Professor Alexander Skiles, “Denise’s asynchronous courses are a model of how they should be conducted.” As we all know from our experiences during the pandemic, this is no easy feat.
Student evaluations consistently praise Dykstra’s pedagogical approach. As one student wrote, “This was the most effectively structured asynchronous course I have taken at this university in five years. The format of the assignments/papers were extremely fair and did a great job tying real life to philosophical debates centuries old. I am not being disingenuous when I say I would tell my friends about what I learned in a given week for this course and just discuss the topic with them to hear their thoughts leading to debate, which is what this class is meant to do.”
For first-time students of Philosophy, working through logic can be daunting. But students write that Dykstra explains assignments with clarity, grades fairly, and “encouraged opinionated thinking and writing” in a way that lessened the pressure.
We are very pleased to recognize her efforts with this Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
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Learning a language can be an exciting, and sometimes frustrating, process. It takes an instructor who loves languages, who is patient and creative, and who understands the challenges of language learning to do it well. Ariela Parisi in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese clearly has all of these skills and talents. Former department chair Marcy Schwartz notes, “She is an expert at awakening students’ intellectual and linguistic curiosity and inspires them to make meaningful connections to the material.”
Students’ comments about her teaching consistently echo this high praise from her department. One student wrote, for example, “She cares deeply about our learning the entire language rather than memorization of some vocabulary. She is always eager to answer any questions we may ever have in the class.” Another student said, “Prof. Parisi and her class motivated me to read more Spanish literature and other pieces of writing...because of her class, I have learned how to better articulate complicated thoughts in Spanish, both in writing and speaking.”
Students who have taken courses with Parisi often decide to continue their exploration of Spanish by taking more courses, declaring a minor, or completing one of the department’s certificate programs. In this Year of Languages in the Humanities and beyond at Rutgers, we are pleased to recognize this budding instructor who has the potential to spark a love of world languages in our students for many years to come. Ariela Parisi is well deserving of this award for her distinguished contributions to undergraduate education.
From more than 60 Teaching Assistants in the English Writing Program, David Tate emerged as the clear candidate for this award. His track record indicates why. In class after class, Tate consistently scores among the top 10% of all TAs, and among the top 20% of all instructors in the Writing Program. He regularly teaches Expository Writing (Expos), which is a challenging course to teach both because it is required for most students, meaning that not all of the students will be eager to take it, and because of the program-wide pedagogical approach that requires “intense, focused engagement with student writing.”
Tate appears to embrace the challenges associated with teaching Expos, providing “consistently incisive, intellectually generous feedback” in a way that creates a safe space for learning how to become a skilled writer, and generates respect for students as writers who take ownership of the course. In the words of one student, “I didn’t like doing the work, but I liked the payoff of doing it.” And another, “At first I was really scared about this class, but I think having it with David Tate...made things much...easier, and I actually felt I could learn something and do well.” Executive director Lynda Dexheimer notes that not only has Tate been a model instructor in many ways, but he also “has been a vital contributor to the administration and evolution of the course,” contributing to pedagogical discussions about Expos, archiving materials, and helping train new instructors.
Instead of fleeing from Expository Writing after they are done with the semester, many students who take a writing course with Tate return to lead a workshop for current students and share their positive experiences related to writing and studying at Rutgers. Several have gone on to become peer tutors in the Writing Centers, helping new generations of students. So, while some students may report that what they like best about the course is that, “It is only one semester,” others are reflective, saying it “challenged me to form ideas...The class also made me better at critical thinking and gave me an outlet to speak publicly...about my ideas.” These comments are complemented by solid SIRS scores.
Expository Writing is an entrée to writing, upon which other, more advanced classes build and on which many depend for prerequisite knowledge. We are therefore proud to have TAs such as David Tate who embrace the role of writing instructor in the way he does.
He is definitely deserving of the recognition that comes with this Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Christine Altinis-Kiraz, Associate Teaching Professor, Marc Muñiz, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice, and Mary Emenike, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice, Chemistry & STEM Education
Extended General Chemistry is a course normally taken by first-year students who have placed into pre-calculus or otherwise lack some of the preparation needed to succeed in General Chemistry. Recognizing that these students have often struggled and felt discouraged, Associate Teaching Professor Christine Altinis-Kiraz, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice Mary Emenike, and Assistant Professor of Professional Practice Marc Muñiz have worked closely together to redesign this course in a way that eschews didactic instruction, avoids frustration and discouragement, and instead promotes excitement and a growth mindset.
The team reformed the course on several fronts: they developed and introduced active learning techniques; they set up a highly structured format with many formative assessments; they introduced self-reflective activities to help develop meta-cognition skills; and they developed exercises to be supportive of minoritized and other students who may feel they don’t belong in chemistry. Students praise their “teaching methods,” which included a variety of approaches to promote student engagement like study groups, breakout room activities, and the use of Learning Assistants and Teaching Interns. 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.
These efforts have paid off, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Students’ average scores on the American Chemical Society standard exam increased from just over the 50thpercentile in Fall 2019 to about the 60thpercentile in 2021. This improvement is especially impressive since it happened during the incredible challenges of the pandemic.
The students also recognize the value of this very different learning environment, with one student referring to it as the “ideal environment to learn a lot especially if you are interested in chemistry.” In addition to their positive feedback about the course as a whole, as the following comments illustrate, students also praise each of these instructors and the important individual role they play on this team. “Dr. Muñiz is probably the best thing to ever happen to the Rutgers Chemistry department.” “Dr. Altinis-Kiraz always encouraged us and made sure that we understood that we are smart and we just have to keep working and she believed in us.” “Mary Emenike made recitation very comfortable and I felt excited to learn. She made the format of class very helpful, and I always learn in recitation.”
We are proud to see this kind of active learning environment in STEM showcased at Rutgers andare delighted to recognize this team with a well-deserved School of Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished Contributionsto Undergraduate Education.
When earlier this fall SAS Associate Dean of Advising and Academic Services Lenore Neigeborn announced that she would be retiring, a collective gasp could be heard across campus. With a legacy of over three decades of tireless work on behalf of our students, it is impossible to think of anyone who has had a larger impact on advising and support for our undergraduate students than Dean Neigeborn.
Beginning her career at Rutgers as a Geneticist, she moved into advising first as Director of Advising for Life Sciences and then as Director of Advising for Rutgers College where she soon emerged as a campus leader. Over the years, she has schooled multiple SAS Undergraduate Education Deans and department leaders in SAS academic policies and procedures, student data, registration processes, effective advising support, and the mysterious ways of Rutgers systems.
Over the years, Dean Neigeborn has built the SAS Office of Advising and Academic Services (OAAS) into an institutional powerhouse, with more than 45 full-time advisors and staff. She is a passionate champion for advising programs to support student success and retention, including the nationally recognized best practice First-Year Retention Program and Students in Transition Seminar (STS) for transfer students.
Dean Neigeborn’s counsel about how to improve the student experience and her guidance on advising policies and processes, and their implications, are widely sought within SAS and across the campus. She engages in discussions about academic advising at every level, from those in the BIG 10 Academic Alliance Advising Committee to those with individual students, and everything in-between. And she does it all with unparalleled dedication, passion, and expertise.
In all these ways and so many more, Dean Neigeborn has truly made innumerable distinguished contributions to undergraduate education writ large and to the individual experiences of the tens of thousands of students she has welcome, supported, and congratulated as they graduated. We are deeply indebted to Dean Lenore Neigeborn for her transformative impact on undergraduate success. She could not be more deserving of this award.
Since joining the Rutgers English Writing Program in 2019, Assistant Teaching Professor RAsheda Young has stood out for her approach to teaching Basic Composition and Expository Writing that embraces radical love, diversity, and authenticity.
Writing can be intimidating and can call up differences in access, demographics, and culture. Professor Young is fully aware of this and cultivates a safe, welcoming space to learn how to write in her classroom. Her students comment not only on the organization of her Canvas course site and the high-quality feedback she provides but also on her ability to see their potential as writers and to bring them out of their shells. The Executive Director of the Writing Program observed Professor Young teach a Basic Composition class, and described it as “dynamic and exciting,” noting that “the classroom climate was warm and engaging while being intellectually rigorous, and students worked hard to contribute meaningful answers while being unafraid to express confusion or doubt.”
She has also helped to design pedagogical initiatives centered around linguistic justice, cultural responsiveness, and inclusive teaching—topics that are perennially important, but of particular importance during a time of heightened unrest, unease, and uncertainty.
And she has done all of this even while serving as an adjunct instructor elsewhere and working on completing her Ph.D. at IUP in English Composition and Applied Linguistics!
It is exciting and inspiring to see an instructor so dedicated to their craft, their students, and pedagogy, and we are fortunate to have such an instructor at Rutgers in RAsheda Young, who is well deserving of this Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.