Eight faculty members honored for excellence in teaching, advising

Eight members of the University of Delaware faculty have been recognized for outstanding work in teaching and advising, and three graduate teaching assistants have received awards for excellence in teaching.

The Excellence in Teaching and Excellence in Undergraduate Advising and Mentoring Awards were announced at the May 2 meeting of the Faculty Senate.

The Excellence in Teaching Awards are based primarily on nominations from current and past students. The student and faculty honors committee selected the winners from nearly 700 nominations for the awards in three different categories.

Awardees receive $5,000, have their portraits hung in Morris Library for five years and have bricks inscribed with their names installed in Mentors’ Circle between Hullihen Hall and the Morris Library.

This year’s Excellence in Teaching Awards were presented to:

  • Jennifer Buckley, assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering;
  • Christine Cucciarre, associate professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences;
  • Allen Jayne, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering; and
  • Sharon Walpole, professor of education in the College of Education and Human Development.

The University’s Excellence in Undergraduate Advising and Mentoring Award is based on student nominations. Awardees receive $2,500 and also are honored with inscribed bricks in Mentors’ Circle.

This year’s honorees are:

  • Karl Booksh, professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences;
  • Ken Haas, professor of sociology and political science and international relations in the College of Arts and Sciences;
  • Chrysanthi Leon, associate professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences; and
  • Carolee Polek, associate professor of nursing in the College of Health Sciences.

Three doctoral students were named recipients of the Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching Award. Each recipient of the award receives $1,500.

This year’s honorees are:

  • William Killian, a doctoral student in computer science in the College of Engineering;
  • Aida Odobasic, a doctoral student in economics in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics; and
  • Joseph P. Smith, a doctoral student in chemistry and biochemistry and analytical chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Award recipients shared their thoughts about teaching and advising with UDaily. Excerpts from their responses are printed below.

Excellence in Teaching

Jennifer Buckley: “I think that students learn best by doing. Now, that ‘doing’ needs to be guided, especially in the early years, both in terms of performance expectations and how the hands-on exercise meshes with the theory that they’re learning through lecture and reading. My goal as a teacher is to be relevant to the intellectual and career development of my students. I see my students as my future colleagues. I want them to have the knowledge base, the enthusiasm and the self-motivation for excellence that will allow them to be strong engineers.”

Christine Cucciarre: “I tell students that if we want the class to be one that we all want to attend, then we all need to engage. I have a relaxed, playful and energetic classroom atmosphere where there are still high expectations for the work and for the students. I want those who were confident coming into my class to realize that there was, and is, more to learn about writing, and those who lacked confidence to know that they have the ability to think and write. And I really try to get them to see writing differently, as a process for making sense of all the new things they are learning.”

Allen Jayne: “I teach a variety of courses, from freshman design to introductory mechanics to senior technical electives such as advanced structural analysis and structural steel design. I am somewhat unique because of my 25 years of experience as a structural engineer and designer. I use that experience at every available opportunity to relate coursework to engineering design and application. Also, I aim always to remember what it was like to be a student in a classroom, and I consider the student’s perspective as I develop my teaching approach. I see my students as individuals, each with unique abilities and sets of circumstances. I use my professional experience to mentor and guide students toward their individual goals, but my goal is that each student enters the engineering profession as an exceptional and confident engineer.”

Sharon Walpole: “My goal as a teacher is to provide strong underlying theory about literacy development and then an initial toolkit that new teachers can use in their first job. I spend a lot of time working with teachers in schools, so I try to give students as many versions of ‘real life’ as possible along the way. I see my students as novice teachers, full of promise. I want to inspire them to connect with students, to view excellent instruction as a child’s right, and to see teaching as a career that requires lifelong learning.”

Excellence in Academic Undergraduate Advising

Karl Booksh: “Most of the effective teaching and advising occurs when I can talk one-on-one with the students in the research environment. This way I get to know the students better and get to understand where each student is vis-a-vis their strengths, goals and external circumstances. I try to help each student position themselves for success and identify strengths and recognize limitations. The most rewarding part of teaching and mentoring, to me, is my work with students from underrepresented groups, including engineering for undergraduates in underrepresented minorities (Michael Vaughn was the lead), the Research Experience for Undergraduate program for students with disabilities (Sharon Rozovsky is co-lead) and the American Chemical Society Project SEED program for economically disadvantaged high school students. I’ve worked closely with students from all three programs who later matriculated to UD. What the three programs have in common is that many of these exceptional students just needed a faculty member to take a personal interest in their outcomes. They have the ability to excel but just needed someone to help them trust their selves, assure them that their goals were reasonable and advocate for them to get a chance.”

Ken Haas: “As my fifth UD teaching or advisement award –awards that recipients are eligible to win only every 10 years – this one means more than all the rest. My approach to undergraduate advising is much like my approach to teaching, an insistence on face-to-face-interaction with students. In recent years this has meant a refusal to allow electronic technology to become a goal in and of itself, interfering with one-on-one discussions about each advisee’s particular background, values, strengths, academic goals and career dreams. I do everything I can to convince students to come see me in my office – free books, free hard copies of law reviews and court reporters and plenty of chocolate. Our job as academic advisers is to make sure that they are given the full menu of learning opportunities from which they can choose. Otherwise, they could be in for 40 or more years of career misery and closed doors, all because of decisions they made when they were much too young to grasp the full range of opportunities the world has to offer them as they mature and make the most of the many and diverse educational experiences UD can give them. The best academic advising is face-to-face and it must focus on the relationship between students’ academic pursuits and their personal lives.”

Chrysanthi Leon: “As an adviser, I strive to understand my students in their broader context, including what kinds of experiences brought them to UD, what they are enjoying and where they are struggling. To be someone students can trust is the ultimate test of a good mentor. I really enjoy taking my children to poetry readings, political demonstrations, women’s basketball games and the wide variety of other events that take place on our campus, and being able to point out my students as the leaders and organizers. I am proud to be part of this community and to be part of a unique time of growth in the lives of young adults.”

Carolee Polek: “My overarching goal is help students grow to excellent professionals based on their own unique capacities, helping each one to celebrate their strengths and understand and overcome their limitations. Advising requires listening carefully, encouraging strongly and speaking honestly and openly to coach each student to success. I enjoy the contact, as I am proud for the successes the students achieve. At another level, I am humbled, fueled and fulfilled by advising, coaching and launching those who will care for others as nurses.”

Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching

William Killian: “The most critical skill I want my students to develop is the ability to identify their learning style and adapt their education to fit their needs. I incorporate tools used in the real world to better prepare them for industrial success. I want my students to become expert problem solvers in the domain of computer science. Students should develop a big picture view on their scholarly domain – I try to emphasize that everything they cover, both in my class and others, matters in some way, even if it’s not directly obvious. I make a strong effort to stay connected and show that I care about their individual successes.”

Aida Odobasic: “I teach ‘Introduction to Microeconomics,’ which, for most students, is their very first economics class. I see my role as helping students realize that economics is not all about the stock markets, inflation and unemployment, but so much more. I like to bring economic topics to life by using stories and examples from own experience, history and current news. I also try to create an environment in which students interact with each other and where they are not afraid to ask questions. I am there for my students, to facilitate their learning process and answer any questions they might have. I have a passion for teaching economics and I try to show it every day in hope of inspiring students to develop their passions and if that happens to be passion for economics, that’s even better.”

Joseph P. Smith: “I consider my role as a teaching assistant is not only help foster the understanding of analytical chemistry in an intellectually stimulating manner, but to truly inspire the next generation of scientists through teaching. With the guidance of Karl S. Booksh [professor of chemistry and biochemistry], I was able pinpoint the learning style of my students prior to teaching using various learning-style surveys. By gaining this insight, I innovatively adapt my teaching methodology to best accommodate my students. Another one of my primary goals is having students develop an aptitude for research. With a focus on research, students can apply their chemical knowledge to cutting-edge science as well as contemporary issues, and teachers can better mold students into independent scientists.”

Article by Jerry Rhodes

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Evan Krape