SU to honor junior faculty with Teaching Recognition Awards
SU to honor junior faculty withTeaching Recognition AwardsApril 12, 2005Cynthia J. Moritzcjmoritz@syr.edu
On April 29, six Syracuse University faculty members will be honored as the 2005 recipients of the Teaching Recognition Awards, sponsored by SU’s Meredith Professors. They will be feted by the University community at a reception at 2:30 p.m. in the Hillyer Room of E.S. Bird Library.
This year’s awardees are: Pamela Brandes, assistant professor of strategy and human resources in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management; Huei-Hsuan Lin, full-time instructor of cultural foundations of education in the School of Education; Vivian May, assistant professor of women’s studies in The College of Arts and Sciences; Thomas Perreault, assistant professor of geography in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and The College of Arts and Sciences; David Popp, assistant professor of public administration in the Maxwell School; and Charles Sprock Jr., adjunct professor in the College of Law.
The program was established in 2001 through an expansion of the Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professorship Program. The Meredith Professors themselves proposed that the Teaching Recognition Award program recognize excellence in teaching by non-tenured faculty and adjunct and part-time instructors. Recipients are selected for teaching innovation, effectiveness in communicating with students and the lasting value of courses. To be eligible, candidates must have completed two years of service to the University and not yet received tenure. Each honoree is given $3,000 to further their professional development. This year’s award committee is chaired by Sarah Ramsey, professor in the College of Law.
Pamela Brandes, assistant professor of strategy and human resources in the Whitman School, believes in creating an active learning environment. “True learning rarely occurs passively,” she maintains. “Allowing students to actively engage with course material through experimentation with class concepts is one of the best ways to encourage student retention of class concepts.”
To this end, Brandes regularly includes real-life examples in her lectures. When she covered the topic of training in her Strategic Human Resource Management course last fall, for example, she discussed with her students the choice that organizations have to train existing talent or hire from outside the organization. “At the time, the World Series [between the Yankees and the Red Sox] was going on, and several male and female students wore Yankees and Sox baseball caps to class,” she says. Brandes assigned the students to read an editorial that faulted the Yankees for “buying” superstar players, as compared to the Red Sox, which featured teammates who had come up together through the minor leagues.
“Heated discussions ensued,” Brandes says, “which concluded that both teams are successful … but that the Yankees’ strategy may be problematic in the long run.” Brandes believes this type of exercise will help her students to be better managers of human capital.
Brandes is continually trying to devise better ways to transmit material to her students. “Pamela’s commitment to excellence in teaching is evident from the fact that she takes advantage of the many workshops and conferences, both on and off campus, that are available to help her improve her teaching,” says Sandra Hurd, professor of law and public policy at the Whitman School. “She is never satisfied that she has done all she can or learned all she can.” Indeed, Brandes lists continuous improvement as one of the main features of her teaching philosophy.
Her students seem to agree. Tracy Halpin, a junior accounting major, says, “One of the best aspects of Professor Brandes’ style of teaching was the fact that she really cared about our opinions of the class structure. Many times when students fill out course and professor evaluations we do not see changes, but Professor Brandes revealed our concerns and made productive revisions!”
To Melissa Luke, full-time Cultural Foundations of Education instructor Huei-Hsuan Lin is more than a good teacher. “It is Dr. Lin I envision when I think of the scholar and professor that I would like to one day become,” says Luke, a doctoral student.
Lin calls forth such respect despite the difficult nature of some of the courses she teaches, such as The American School. “Student resistance in courses of this nature is notorious,” says Assistant Professor Barbara Applebaum. “Courses designed to raise learners’ critical consciousness … require that students critically question some of their most basic assumptions about education, society and their own identity both personally and as a teacher. This where Dr. Lin excels. Not only is she able to facilitate discussion that fosters higher levels of critical thinking, Dr. Lin inspires and enhances learning by encouraging students to understand that social and political forces always shape the construction and utilization of knowledge.”
Lin says her teaching techniques are intended “to de-center the focus from formal leadership roles, such as the principals and superintendents, to seek out sources such as the community leadership to better understand transformational leadership and educational reform projects for quality and equality.” One way she does that is to include presentations from the leaders of Community United to Rebuild Neighborhoods (CURN), a community group from Syracuse’s South Side, in her classes, and encourage her students to join the organization’s empowerment projects. “Many of my former students have provided consistent and long-term mentorship for CURN’s children,” she says. “They find CURN a vibrant and challenging site for constantly re-making what they are able to see, feel and imagine.”
Sophomore Kristi Lalor testifies to the effectiveness of Lin’s methods. “I have never attended a class, or had a professor, who pushed me to think deeper than Dr. Lin or stressed how essential it was to apply what I learned in a classroom to the outside community,” she says. Lalor was also impressed by Lin’s personal attention to her students. “I can attest to the fact that she was able to accomplish the task of knowing the 180 students in the class, which has rarely happened in other classes I have attended,” Lalor says. “Besides simply knowing the faces and names, Dr. Lin knew many of us for what was going on in our personal lives and was available to comfort or joke about many issues we all faced.”
Vivian May, assistant professor in the women’s studies program in The College of Arts and Sciences, was taught by her grandmother to question the world and challenge obstacles. May’s grandmother was raised in Berlin, and fought to take science and Latin in high school rather than girls’ finishing courses. Then she fought to attend medical school, becoming the only Jew, only female and only non-SS soldier in her class. After escaping from Germany to Canada, she had to earn her medical degrees again. “She inspired me to become a professor so that I could encourage others to imagine what’s possible beyond immediate reality,” May says.
May now inspires others to question the world. “As a graduate student, I found her courses to be most challenging,” says Glenda Gross, a doctoral student in sociology. “I was constantly pushed to rethink my assumptions and encouraged to explore alternate forms of thinking, writing and engaging with the course materials in a way that I had not done before.”
“I would characterize my approach as a pedagogy of discomfort that pushes us all, teacher and student alike, to ask difficult questions, for making the familiar ‘strange’ can help new ideas to emerge,” May says.
May is not just concerned with bringing out the best abilities of the students in her classes. She also serves as a mentor to the teaching associates who are assigned to support her Introduction to Women’s Studies course. “Dr. May’s effort and skill in teaching, supervision and mentoring are exemplified by her production of a reader of research articles dealing with teaching the intersections of racism, sexism, classism and the discomfort and emotions that these topics generate in the classroom as a resource guide for the TAs,” says Diane Lyden Murphy, associate professor in the social work program and former chair of the women’s studies department. “She also guides weekly meetings and formal and informal class observations and evaluations for their benefit.”
Students also laud May for her willingness to spend time and effort to help them get the most out of her courses. “Humanities courses have always been too challenging for me, due to my reading/writing learning disability,” says a senior psychology major. “However, thanks to Dr. May, I went from being a student who viewed writing as ‘brain torture’ and avoided it at all costs, to being someone who is now willing to take on the challenge.”
“I enjoy teaching, am deeply committed to it and have never seriously considered doing anything else with my life,” says Thomas Perreault, assistant professor of geography in the Maxwell School and The College of Arts and Sciences. “I have been teaching in one form or another, and have viewed myself as an educator, since I was a teenager.”
As someone who is dedicated to teaching, Perreault is constantly seeking to improve his skills. “Though talented, he is rarely satisfied with his own performance as a teacher,” says geography department Chair Don Mitchell. “I have been on Tom’s departmental mentoring committee since he arrived at SU and one of the main things he constantly seeks from us is ideas about how to improve his teaching and advising at all levels.” Perreault believes the basis of effective teaching is the relationship between teacher and student. “I am convinced that students learn best when they are comfortable in their learning environment and have a positive relationship with an actively engaged, approachable and enthusiastic teacher.”
To make himself more approachable, Perreault purchased a comfortable, living room-style chair for his office, and arranged his office furniture with the desk against the wall, creating an open space where he can talk to students. “These are relatively minor details, but I believe they help to make students feel welcomed and comfortable, which in turn contributes to a positive learning experience,” Perreault says.
Students talk about the amount of time and effort Perreault is willing to put in to help them. Aman Luthra remembers writing his thesis while Perreault, his advisor, was in Bolivia on sabbatical. “Although the physical distance made matters more complicated and difficult for both of us, he did an excellent job of advising from a distance,” Luthra says. “He was always extremely prompt with his comments and kept me on schedule by periodically checking in with me to make sure I was making satisfactory progress on my writing.”
Reecia Orzeck says she has wondered how Perreault can afford to give so much of himself to his students and colleagues when there are so many other demands on his time. “He does this, it seems to me, by being his own generous self, yes, but also by working exceptionally hard,” Orzeck says. “He pays for time he gives us, in other words, not by being miserly elsewhere but by taxing himself more heavily.”
David Popp, assistant professor of public administration in the Maxwell School, believes that “learning is a sensory experience, involving listening, seeing, thinking and doing. Individual students will vary as to the experiences that work best for them.”
In keeping with that philosophy, Popp likes to use memorable examples to illustrate his material. “I demonstrate the concept of elasticity [in price changes] by bringing two students to the front of the room,” he says. “One is given a small rubber ball, and the other a cloth ball. I ask the students to each drop their ball to the floor, and see who catches their ball first. Of course, only the student with the rubber ball is able to catch it. I explain that this is because that ball is elastic, and things that are elastic are more responsive.”
The demonstration seems to work. As one student wrote in a class evaluation: “I appreciated his creativity with explaining subjects such as elasticity (rubber ball-forever embedded in my memory).”
While Popp believes that students must take equal responsibility with the instructor for the success of their educational experience, he does everything he can to facilitate that experience. Besides using various teaching methods in class, he creates e-mail discussion lists and class home pages for each course. “Often, students who are uncomfortable participating in discussions in the classroom are active and willing participants on the e-mail list, as it allows students more time to organize their thoughts and construct more careful responses than in class,” he says.
Popp places his lecture notes on the class home page after each class. Naoki Fujii, a public administration master’s graduate from Japan, says it was easy to see that Popp put a lot of effort into preparing those notes. “The lecture notes were a great help for the international students like me who had some difficulty listening in English.”
Former student Michael Bezanson, now an environmental policy analyst for a consulting firm, keeps the notes and Web site printouts from Popp’s Environmental Economics class in his office and uses them frequently. “I use the knowledge gained [from those notes] in my reports and client briefings every time I write,” he says.
Charles Sprock Jr.
Charles “Casey” Sprock, an adjunct professor in the College of Law who also works full-time as a real estate lawyer, starts planning his courses with a basic question: Who are the students?
“My first step in designing an effective method for reaching my teaching goals is to accept who my students are as they come to me,” he says. “The second is to show respect for them, their goals and their ideas. The third step is to respond with a teaching method appropriate for meeting the needs of those particular students.”
For example, one of the courses Sprock teaches is in University College’s legal assistant program, and many of the students have full-time jobs and families. “I accept that my class is not their only commitment, and I respect that time is a scarcity in their lives,” Sprock says. For these students, he gives a non-graded quiz each week that covers the previous week’s material. This gives students “the opportunity to process the material and apply the concepts in a low-pressure setting before the mid-term and final exams.”
Another way in which Sprock has tailored the legal assistant course to the students is by adding a project to the syllabus-completing a New York State liquor license application. “This project allows my students to bring something of value to their job interviews-experience that employers can see in concrete form,” says Sprock.
Sprock also teaches Sexual Orientation and the Law, as well as Planning for Non-Traditional Families, in the College of Law. “Many of the students take these courses because they have some connection to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” he says. “I encourage students to share experiences from their lives when they apply the subject matter. I believe that application of personal experience to theory is a valuable learning tool and one that students enjoy.”
Sprock also tries to make his classroom a safe place to express unpopular viewpoints. “He regularly encourages students to be open and honest about their viewpoints, even when they are based on homophobia and ignorance,” says second-year law student Kelly Jeffries.
This openness has given some students the courage to start speaking out in other classes. “While I was in his class last semester and for the first time in law school, I actively and regularly participated in classroom activities,” says third-year student Jeremy Muklewicz. “I feel that my comments and ideas actually contributed, and have since begun actively participating in other classes as well.”