Nineteen honored for excellence in teaching, advising
Ten faculty members, four academic professionals and five graduate teaching assistants at the UI were honored April 29 for excellence in teaching and advising. The honors were presented during a reception at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center on campus.
Comments about the award recipients are from the nominations.
Faculty members honored with the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching:
Carla Cáceres, a professor of animal biology, continually strives to enhance the effectiveness of her teaching by participating in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Teaching Academy, Annual Faculty Retreats, and the seminar series offered by the Center for Writing Studies. In addition to teaching and mentoring students at Illinois, Cáceres developed a K-12 outreach program in collaboration with local schools. It offers field and lab activities that enable students to learn more about aquatic ecology in local state parks.
Rosa Milagros Santos, a professor of special education, helps her students understand the theory supporting best practices in special education and how to apply these practices in their work with children and families. Santos is a truly gifted instructor whose dedication to her subject and her students is evident every day in the classroom. She engages in reflective practice, often pausing to evaluate her teaching effectiveness by considering student evaluations.
In her classes, Kim Graber, a professor of kinesiology and community health, offers exceptional opportunities for civic engagement consistent with goals for outreach described in the Campus Strategic Plan. Students in her classes regularly elect to continue their work with her by enrolling in independent study courses. Some students ask to serve as undergraduate teaching aides under her supervision and she gladly mentors them in this role.
Mark Leff, a professor of history, cultivates intense student interest in history by demonstrating how the responsibilities of the present demand clarity in understanding the past. He encourages students to take what they learn in the classroom and test it in the world around them. Professor Leff’s respect for students’ opinions and his desire to give each student individual attention are hallmarks of his exemplary commitment to undergraduate teaching.
For three decades, Bruce Reznick, a professor of mathematics, has dedicated himself to improving the intellectual lives of Illinois undergraduates. Through creative effort as a teacher and mentor, Reznick has shaped the careers of countless school teachers, graduate teaching assistants and new members of the professoriate. He has accomplished this by ensuring that his own teaching is consistently responsive both to the timelessness of his subject and the timeliness of future educators’ needs.
Instructional staff members who received the award:
John Griswold, a lecturer in English, helps students discover the power of writing and discover that with this power comes significant responsibility. Griswold understands that writing shapes culture, subtly but nonetheless consequentially. In illuminating the consequences of writing, Griswold challenges his students to imagine the quality of lived experience in the worlds they fashion on the page. Students appreciate this challenge; it fosters the commitment to craft that is foundational to successful authorship.
Marina Miletic, a lecturer in chemical and biomolecular engineering, invigorates the undergraduate experience for chemical and biomolecular engineering students by readying them to address problems that are highly relevant to the advancement of 21st-century chemical science. She prepares students to excel as members of problem-solving teams, instilling in these teams a deep appreciation for the value of conducting their work safely, ethically and with special regard for the environment.
Over the past 30 years, teaching associate Katherine Wahl, mathematics, has made outstanding contributions to the quality of pre-calculus instruction on campus. Students feel welcomed by her patient introduction of new concepts and by the confidence she expresses as their mathematical knowledge grows. Wahl understands that the problem-solving discipline learned in her classes will serve students well as they advance in their undergraduate careers at Illinois.
Graduate teaching assistants who received the award: Michelle Birkett, educational psychology; Julia Jamieson, music; Shabnam Javdani, psychology; Samantha Looker, English; and Mary Ramey, communication.
The awards recognize professors, instructional staff members and graduate teaching assistants who display consistently excellent performance in the classroom, take innovative approaches to teaching, positively affect the lives of their students, and make other contributions to improved instruction, including influencing the curriculum.
Faculty members selected for the awards receive $5,000; instructional staff members receive $4,000; graduate teaching assistants receive $3,500.
Other award winners honored:
Two faculty members received the Campus Award for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Teaching. Each receives $5,000. The recipients:
By combining scholarship and performance, Charlotte Mattax Moersch, a professor of music, has had a positive influence on graduate instruction in music at Illinois. Of signal importance: her outreach to disciplines beyond music so that she might cultivate performers whose efforts are always historically informed. She has made numerous and lasting contributions to the School of Music, not only through her advising of nearly 300 graduate students, but also by helping to design and implement curricular changes that maintain the school’s reputation as a premier venue for graduate instruction across musical disciplines.
The unusual breadth of Petros Sofronis’ knowledge enables him to apply his exceptional teaching skills across the entire spectrum of graduate courses in the solid mechanics program at Illinois. By teaching and improving virtually every solid mechanics course his department offers, Sofronis, a professor of mechanical science and engineering, has raised expectations for what a well-educated graduate student in his discipline must know. By this effort, he strengthens not only the reputation of his department, but that of the campus as well.
Michael Twidale, a professor of library and information science, received the Campus Award for Excellence in Off-Campus Teaching, which provides the recipient with $5,000. Twidale consistently achieves distinction in teaching information science courses that are well adapted to presentation in technologically online environments. In the realm of distance learning, he is a respected leader in instructional innovation and a key contributor to sustaining his school’s pre-eminence in online education. Encouraging student success in distance learning presents a host of challenges, all of which Twidale meets with alertness to possibilities for pedagogical innovation.
David Ruzic, a professor of nuclear, plasma and radiological engineering, received the Campus Award for Excellence in Guiding Undergraduate Research. The $2,000 award is designed to foster and reward excellence in involving and guiding undergraduate students in scholarly research. During his nearly 25 years on campus, Ruzic has again and again been the professor Illinois graduates remember years after commencement. This is in large part because of his dedication to the proposition that students learn best when empowered to research the answers to difficult scientific questions. Ruzic’s irrepressible enthusiasm for undergraduate research compels students to make inquiry a lifetime habit, to be sustained by continued studies at the graduate level or by pursuing research-oriented careers in industry.
Robert Skirvin, a professor of natural resources and environmental sciences, received the Campus Award for Excellence in Mentoring Graduate Students, which provides the recipient with $2,000. Skirvin is a superb mentor to the graduate students in his laboratory. Over the past 33 years, he has touched the lives of students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. He has drawn on this talent to produce a number of educational videos that are used at universities across the country. Skirvin’s mentorship does not end when his students take their degrees. It continues as he urges them to excel in whatever postgraduate positions they attain.
Robert Steltman, an academic adviser in English, received the Campus Award for Excellence in Advising Undergraduate Students, which provides the recipient with $2,000. Steltman brings long experience as a teacher and administrator to his advising of undergraduate English majors. The advice he gives is profoundly influenced by his comprehensive vision of the institution and an appreciation for his department’s critical location within it. Steltman’s aim, always, is to see students graduate with a deep investment in the idea that humanistic knowledge can be both a tonic when times are unsettled and unsettling, and a catalyst for revolutionary change when the times call for cultural renewal.
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