Mason Recognizes Faculty for Teaching Excellence
By Robin Herron
“Outstanding teaching is an integral part of Mason’s mission and is deserving of significant recognition.”
So reads the introduction to Mason’s annual Teaching Excellence Awards program, which honors outstanding professors for their innovative teaching, advising, and mentoring. Sponsored by Mason’s Center for Teaching Excellence, the awards represent the third prong of the center’s mission: to promote, sustain, and celebrate teaching excellence.
This year, seven Mason professors were selected for the honor based on extensive portfolios they prepared detailing their teaching philosophy and approaches. In addition, one professor was selected for the David J. King Teaching Award, which is given to a faculty member who has made significant, long-term contributions to the overall educational excellence of the university.
“Creating the opportunity for the Mason community to celebrate the careers of our Teaching Excellence Award winners is one of the most rewarding aspects of the center’s work,” says Kim Eby, associate provost for faculty development and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence. “The award winners represent Mason’s finest educators, those who consistently achieve excellence in enhancing student learning. What each of them brings to their work is a generosity of spirit, a willingness to educate without boundaries, and a capacity to transform lives.”
The award winners were recognized at a ceremony and reception on April 9. A snapshot of the honorees follows.
David J. King Faculty Teaching Award
In the 23 years Bob Sachs, professor of mathematics, has been at Mason, he has left a significant mark in many areas of the university besides his own. He worked with the MAIS program to create a math focus in the community college teaching concentration and helped the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) create new options in math for students teaching at the secondary level. He also worked with the Volgenau School of Engineering to create the highly successful undergraduate Information Technology program. He led the group that redesigned Mason’s general education program and served on a committee to modify undergraduate engineering programs.
In the Department of Mathematical Sciences, which he chaired for eight years, Sachs led the effort to establish a PhD in mathematics, which helped instigate an active student chapter of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics at Mason. He also worked on developing or revising elements of the math curriculum and was involved in a successful National Science Foundation grant proposal to foster undergraduate research in computational math. He has taught math for the Honors College and for CEHD’s Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning program.
Sachs has a PhD in mathematics from the Courant Institute (now New York University).
Yoosun Chung’s research and teaching are rooted in her own experiences with cerebral palsy, which affects her speech and mobility. Research assistant professor in Mason’s Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities, Chung studied computer science but got her PhD in assistive technology (AT) from Mason in 2004 and began teaching thereafter. Her teaching excellence award carries a commendation for teaching with technology.
AT devices help people with disabilities increase, maintain, or improve their functioning, and Chung relies on them herself to teach school teachers who will be teaching students with disabilities. Chung’s courses include EDSE 517 Computer Application for Special Populations, EDSE/EDIT 525 Software for Individuals with Special Needs, EDSE/EDIT 529 Internet as an Assistive Technology Tool, and EDSE 622 Augmentative Communication.
Chung estimates that it takes her two days to prepare for each two-hour-and-40-minute class: She types her lectures using technology that transfers the text into a synthesized computer-generated voice. She also develops PowerPoint slides to supplement the lectures. During class, she answers questions using the voice technology.
One of Chung’s students commented, “Each class with Dr. Chung was a thought-provoking and interactive experience in which she challenged me to explore assistive technologies as if I had a disability myself…. Learning in this way, as a user of technology rather than as the teacher who implements it enabled me to understand the immense benefit of assistive technology and see it as the path to success for many students who could not access the curriculum without it.”
Paul Cooper, who teaches physical chemistry, took it to heart when student evaluations of his class came back with words like “boring” and “repetitive.” He’s turned that around by using demonstrations and props to facilitate discussion. To lead into the topic of thermodynamics, he might use a drinking bird toy (a simple heat engine that operates on the heat released from water evaporating on the bird’s head). Or he might place a tennis ball on a desk, telling students to watch it jump. When it doesn’t jump, they discuss why.
Now, his students are more likely to say, “Something in the way Dr. Cooper lectures just makes the course material seem so much easier. I think the casualness of approaching the material, as well as the openness of the classroom to ask lots of questions, makes it feel like we were learning the material together and had more ownership of the learning process.”
Cooper, who has a PhD from the University of Western Australia, has taught at Mason for five years.
Maggie Daniels is probably the only Mason professor ever to have been named a Trendsetter by Modern Bride magazine, largely because of the textbook she wrote with Mason alumna and adjunct faculty member Carrie Loveless, Wedding Planning and Management: Consultancy for Diverse Clients.
Associate professor and academic program coordinator of tourism and events management, Daniels has taught at Mason since 2002.
Daniels has her students work on projects that can have a real impact, such as a tourism analysis of the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center or the National Cherry Blossom Festival—or even planning a wedding for a real-live couple. Visits to the Kennedy Center teach students how to evaluate venues.
A student from her TOUR 414 Tourism and Events Finance class says, “Dr. Daniels is fantastic at making this course interesting to students (like myself) who dislike math and finance. She was excellent at relating the material to real-life situations.”
Daniels has a PhD from Clemson University.
Lisa Lister, term assistant professor of English, has an MFA in creative writing from American University. She joined Mason in 2005. Her teaching excellence award carries a commendation for teaching excellence in general education. She has taught ENGH 101 Freshman Composition and ENGH 399 Introduction to Creative Non-Fiction, as well as ENGH 302 Advanced Composition.
Lister believes in a student-centered classroom, where “students think and question and learn to learn.” She talks about her own research interests and writes along with the students in class and shares her writing. She not only adapts classes from semester to semester, but even during a class—if her lesson plan isn’t working—she takes another tack right then and there.
A student comments, “Hardest professor I have ever had. But also the nicest and most willing to work with you…. I actually learned how to write, and something useful for once. I’ll be OK even if I end up with the first ‘C’ of my life. Thanks for everything.”
Three is a charm for Tamara Maddox, associate professor of computer science, who has had careers as a software engineer, a lawyer, and now a teacher. She blends all that experience when she teaches CS 105 Computer Ethics and Society and CS 306 Synthesis of Ethics and Law for the Computing Professional, a course she designed herself.
She weaves her courtroom experiences, personal anecdotes, and current events into class lectures to show how the course is relevant to her students’ daily lives.
Maddox says her favorite teaching tools are real-world examples, student interaction, and an interesting concept, combined with an opportunity for public speaking. She covers all those teaching elements by having her students conduct a mock trial.
Apparently, it works. Says one student, “The lectures and discussions were excellent! I felt that Prof. Maddox valued our questions and allowed time in the schedule to have discussions about the material, as well as real-life related topics. I felt that the discussions were intellectually stimulating and definitely helped me learn the material.”
Maddox joined Mason in 1999 and has a JD from the College of William and Mary.
Julie Owen is a big believer in active learning. An assistant professor of leadership and integrative studies in New Century College, Owen has her NCLC 395 Leadership and Group Dynamics students collaboratively write a wiki for group projects, and she takes her NCLC 375 Ethics and Leadership classes to the Newseum in Washington, D.C., to explore media ethics.
A representative comment from one of her students conveys her dynamic style: “She was wonderful—one of the best teachers I have ever had. She broke the readings down and really influenced me. She made learning fun!”
At Mason since 2008, Owen has a PhD from the University of Maryland.
Danielle Rudes is an assistant professor of criminology, law and society and deputy director of the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence. Since she arrived at Mason in 2008, Rudes has mentored or is mentoring nine graduate students, co-written 13 papers with students, and helped students polish their work to get it published in the George Mason Review (a process that can take up to four months).
She has students analyze papers and readings by color-highlighting significant elements. A blue highlighter indicates a point that supports the main thesis statement; green indicates a supporting point that uses empirical or theoretical evidence or support, and so on. No student wants to see pink on their papers, which indicates a tangential, irrelevant, or incorrect point.
Typical student feedback she receives goes like this: “I appreciated the respect she gave to students and the amount of excitement and enthusiasm she brought to the class every day she taught. She was extremely knowledgeable.”
Rudes has a PhD from the University of California, Irvine.
This article originally appeared on the university’s News site.
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