UW-Madison to honor 10 faculty for teaching excellence
April 12, 2005
Each year, UW-Madison recognizes teaching excellence among its faculty in the form of Distinguished Teaching Awards. Each award carries a $5,000 stipend. Award winners will be honored at a free public ceremony and reception at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 26, at the Fluno Center. The ceremony is sponsored by the Wisconsin Alumni Association and organized by the UW-Madison Office of the Secretary of the Faculty.
The 2005 winners are:
John Curtin, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Emil H. Steiger Award
Curtin impressed his colleagues in the Department of Psychology with the organization and clarity of his first interview for the job he now holds.
That was in 2000. In the following five years he proceeded to make a national name for himself as an expert on the cognitive effects of alcohol, drug and nicotine use, often teaching classes in the same areas.
This semester he is teaching an upper-level undergraduate seminar on addictive behaviors. It combines a theoretical component on dependence and a hands-on practicum in which students assist in Curtin's laboratory.
"This part is quite unusual," he says. "The students are trained as research assistants to conduct experiments. The studies vary but can involve the acute effects of alcohol or other drugs on social users, drug withdrawal effects on drug-dependent users, and factors that affect the risk for alcohol or other drug problems."
Curtin is an advocate of learning by doing. In addition to conducting their own research, his students hone their critical-thinking skills by participating in discussions, often involving real-world issues from the morning's headlines.
"I have had student-led discussions on the issues surrounding the Harvard president's statements about sex differences in math ability, the teaching of evolution versus intelligent design and the historical controversy about alcoholics' ability to ever drink again," he says.
Curtin says that he was fortunate enough to receive formal teacher training as a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University.
"It was a two-semester course that provided us with both instruction on teaching methods and applied experience. In the second semester we developed and taught a large lecture course in collaboration with a faculty member," he says.
In addition to his doctorate, Curtin also holds a master's degree from Florida State and a bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins University.
Martine Debaisieux, Professor of French, Chancellor's Award
This spring marks a first for Debaisieux: teaching French culture in her native country.
She is directing UW-Madison's study abroad program in Paris and teaching a course on how contemporary cinema and literature represent Paris.
"For sure, studying a recent movie that takes place two blocks away from where we are viewing the film brings more excitement and more potential for discussion than studying the same movie in Van Hise Hall," she says. "I can already sense how much impact this semester abroad will have on the lives of the students."
There are 26 students in the Paris program — all undergraduates. In addition to her work with students at that level, Debaisieux's teaching load includes graduate seminars specializing in 17th century literature and, more recently, the department's new Professional French Master's Program. Indeed, many of her former students say they look upon her as a role model as they begin their own careers.
Debaisieux, a product of the French educational system (she earned a baccalaureate from the Académie de Lille and a licence es lettres from the Université de Lille III), came into contact with the American style of teaching as a graduate assistant at New York University, where she received her master's degree.
"What I needed to learn was not so much methodology but cultural differences," she says. "Over the years I've learned to combine the highly analytical approach characteristic of my French educational background with a new model of creativity and personal expression encouraged in American schools."
Debaisieux likes the interdisciplinary approach and is incorporating more of it into her undergraduate courses. She also is implementing new instructional technology in language classes.
"The pleasure that I get from being around students, from sharing my passion for French language and literature with them and from witnessing the development of their cultural awareness is a great source of inspiration for my research," she says.
Debaisieux also holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. She has been a member of the UW-Madison Department of French and Italian faculty since 1984.
Cecilia Ford, Professor of English, Chancellor's Award
On any given day, Ford hovers between the humanities and social science.
An expert on conversational analysis — how specific speech patterns can help people maintain or change their social relationships — Ford instigated a new curricular track for English majors interested in linguistics and joined colleagues in English linguistics to revise the content of the applied English linguistics master's degree.
However, by all accounts, Ford's work as an analyst and teacher springs directly from her family.
"The social world of my childhood was full of intense dialogue," she says. "I come from an extended Irish-American family, a very vocal group with strong opinions about everything. My style of teaching and learning nowadays is to engage in that same kind of intense dialogue."
Ford is quick to point out that not all students respond well to such rapid-fire exchanges. "It's a goal of mine to strengthen my ability to listen to and draw out students whose styles of interaction are different from my own. One way I do this is by inviting anonymous evaluations from the students in the middle of the semester," she says.
This spring she is teaching two mixed graduate/undergraduate courses, English in Use and Gender and Language. Students come from literature and language departments, linguistics, second language acquisition, women's studies, communications, education, sociology, rhetoric and more.
"In English in Use, students learn methods for combining analysis of social interaction with analysis of language structures. In Gender and Language, we explore the taken-for-granted ways we experience and talk about gender," she says.
Ford adds that she would like to make available to nonspecialists the work that she and other scholars have done in the areas of language use and human interaction.
Ford earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and has master's and bachelor's degrees from California State University-Northridge. She has been a member of the UW-Madison faculty since 1990.
Clark Landis, Professor of Chemistry, Chancellor's Award
Landis introduces the real world to the often-abstract world of basic chemistry in the form of a discussion about, say, the pros and cons of using blue lasers to increase CD storage density. Or a practical application might burrow into the abstract through an inquiry into whether diamonds really are forever.
Landis is renowned by colleagues and students for his ability to pose interesting, thought-provoking questions to his class and have them vote on the answer, which, of course is itself discussed thoroughly. This approach to interactive learning, termed ConcepTests, has won fans among all who try it.
Lest you think ConcepTests simply involves asking questions, Landis outlines the hard-won genesis of the technique: "About 10 years ago I resolved to create an interactive, Socratic dialogue in a class of 180 students. The fifth week of classes I began a Monday lecture with an open-ended question. The minute of silence that followed seemed like 15. Finally one student made a halting comment, motivated, I'm sure, by a desire to break the embarrassing silence," he says. "I tried this several more times, and found that I had been effective — effective at teaching the students that if they just waited without answering, I would give in and talk."
The ensuing years brought him a good amount of pedagogical insight and understanding. Other Landis innovations include problem sets to be solved in small groups; laboratory reports in which students integrated concepts from several experiments; and interdisciplinary "community experiments" linking disciplines such as chemistry, mathematics and materials science.
With colleague John Moore, Landis was a principal investigator in the National Science Foundation's New Traditions Project, which seeks to incorporate active learning techniques into the chemistry curriculum. Landis showed that such methods increase students' attendance in large lecture classes.
A member of UW-Madison's chemistry faculty since 1990, Landis holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Jay K. Martin, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Chancellor's Award
Kenyan students provided Martin's initial introduction to teaching. He was 21, a week fresh from college and a new Peace Corps volunteer.
"Kenya followed the Cambridge system, which meant that students had to do well on the state-administered exams in order to continue their education," Martin says. "I had no teaching experience but was immediately responsible for helping them learn calculus and physics. Talk about pressure and learning on the job!"
Martin taught in Kenya between 1975 and 1977. Afterward, he held positions at the universities of Tennessee and Michigan, Oak Ridge and Sandia Laboratories, General Motors and more. He joined the UW-Madison engineering faculty in 1985.
This semester he is teaching courses in thermodynamics and engineering design. His students say that a hallmark of Martin's teaching style is his emphasis on broad, long-view concepts, which lessens the pressure to learn too much too fast.
A pioneer of service learning, Martin works in rehabilitative engineering, involving both graduate and undergraduate students in the development of power systems for wheelchairs, devices that aid air travel for persons with disabilities, maintenance and repair of assistive technology and more. In 2002, he and colleagues Frank Fronczak, Nicola Ferrier and the late Terry Richard established the University of Wisconsin Center for Rehabilitative Engineering and Assistive Technology (UW-CREATE).
In addition, Martin is the principal investigator for the National Science Foundation's Foundation Coalition, which aims to improve the undergraduate curriculum in engineering schools. He also co-chairs UW-Madison's Teaching Academy.
"I am very interested in asking big questions about teaching and learning on campus — for example, how improvements in evaluating teaching affect the quality of learning," he says.
Martin earned his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, his master's degree from the University of Tennessee and his bachelor's degree from Indiana University.
Lisa Naughton, Associate Professor of Geography, Chancellor's Award
UW-Madison is a center for the study of human interaction with the environment, and Naughton plays into that strength. This semester she's teaching a course in environmental conservation with an emphasis on environmental issues in developing countries.
"It is important to me that students understand the complexity of these issues and that they avoid thinking in stereotypes," she says. "I make a special effort to help students understand the viewpoints and values of people in various parts of the world. For example, we engage in role-playing exercises to explain these different points of view."
Naughton says that in the process of explaining a complex, highly politicized environmental issue, she sometimes discovers gaps in her own knowledge or new research questions.
"For example, students have asked me to explain why some stakeholders, but not others, are invited to land use zoning exercises in the Amazon. Their questions push me to investigate more carefully the ground rules and power relations underlying supposedly participatory zoning plans," she says.
The theme in all her work is coming to terms with the political and ecological dimensions of competing claims to biological diversity. It's an idea she seeks to impart to her students as well as to fellow scientists.
"I know that in each class I teach there are students who will someday help find solutions to our environmental problems," she says.
Naughton joined the UW-Madison faculty in 1997, after receiving degrees from the University of Florida-Gainesville (Ph.D.) and UW-Madison (master's and bachelor's).
James Nienhuis, Professor of Horticulture, Van Hise Award
Nienhuis can't wait for the fall — it's when he'll next be teaching his favorite class, World Vegetable Crops.
"My colleague Irwin Goldman and I have so much fun in that class — the instructors have more fun than the students!" Nienhuis says.
However, from all reports, it sounds like Nienhuis' students enjoy themselves too, in addition to learning important concepts. He says that all the classes — this semester he's teaching plant breeding and genetics and a seminar on organic agriculture — are interactive and have a hands-on laboratory component. In the World Vegetable Crops course, for example, there is a special unit on chili peppers.
"We display classes and products of chili peppers to emphasize genetic diversity, but while the students go from station to station exploring that, I'm roasting different peppers and preparing rellenos and mixed salsas," he says. "Once the students taste the salsas made from the different chili species it's easy to appreciate how the taxonomic diversity is manifest. It is the essence of horticulture — how people domesticated plants to serve humanity. It is the 'culture' in horticulture."
Nienhuis has broadened his instructional efforts to K-12 institutions and to the general public. He speaks on the applications of molecular markers, and as a regular radio guest — "The Vegetable Guy" — on WGN in Chicago and Wisconsin Public Radio. He's also a featured presenter at Madison's annual Food for Thought Festival, where he is called upon to connect with people from many demographic groups.
The key to making that connection, he says, may well be in doing the unexpected. In his World Vegetable Crops class, for instance, he introduces the course by asking his students to write a haiku about their favorite vegetable.
"I am still quite nervous when a new semester begins," he says, "but I have learned to await the special moment, in which I sense as I lecture that the students are with me and trust me, and that I am with them and trust them to follow me as I lead them down some unexpected roads."
Nienhuis was a Peace Corps volunteer, serving in Costa Rica. His Ph.D. is from UW-Madison, his master's degree is from North Carolina State University, and his bachelor's degree is from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has been a member of the faculty since 1990.
Jon Pevehouse, Associate Professor of Political Science, Chancellor's Award
"Inauspicious" is Pevehouse's own description of his first attempt at teaching.
"My senior year of high school, our debate coach was absent the first week of class. He left a note that the seniors should teach the freshmen. After that first week, about half the students had dropped the class. Not a good sign," he says.
Pevehouse persevered. "Very early on I started keeping lists of styles, projects, subjects and so on that I enjoyed from my professors through both my undergraduate and graduate years," he says. "Today I do my best to adapt their methods and approaches to my own teaching."
This semester Pevehouse is teaching a graduate course in the domestic politics of international relations. In all his classes, Pevehouse tries to integrate his own research into the curricular fabric. Already a scholar in international relations, Pevehouse specializes in the "Kantian triangle" of democracy, trade and international organizations.
"One of my rules of thumb for my research is that if it won't make sense to my classes or my mother, I need to think really hard about what I'm doing," he says.
His students report that he challenges them to synthesize abstract concepts and real-world applications.
"I have it both very easy and very hard," he says of his subject matter. "My research touches on areas that most of us are familiar with just from reading the newspaper. People have a lot of opinions about politics, so I have to not only stay a bit ahead of the story lines, but I also have to make sure that I'm representing all sides and approaches — crucial for an open intellectual environment. It's a challenge, but a rewarding one."
Pevehouse also has appeared as an expert commentator on radio and television news and call-in programs. He received his doctorate from Ohio State University; his bachelor's degree is from the University of Kansas. He joined the UW-Madison political science faculty in 2000.
Rebecca Walkowitz, Assistant Professor of English, Class of 1955 Award
What are the differences between early 19th century British novelist Jane Austen and early 20th century British novelist Virginia Woolf? What are the signposts that characterize each writer's style? What does Woolf do that Austen does not, and vice versa?
Such was the framework that Walkowitz provided a large lecture course to emphasize the traits of the modernist novel.
"The need to produce for students a coherent story about modernism or about a concept in literary theory helps me clarify my own thinking, the questions I want to pursue in my research," she says.
And that would be contemporary and modernist English literature. In addition to hooking undergraduates into the subject and deepening graduate students' understanding of it, Walkowitz also has displayed a gift for organization.
Specifically, she has developed a new course, taught for the first time this semester, on Jewishness in works of English literature and popular culture. Two years ago she launched a faculty-graduate student colloquium for those studying post-1945 literature and culture. This year, she has received funding for a lecture and workshop series on immigrant fictions, which brings outside scholars to campus for public lectures, roundtables and small group discussions, which she has coordinated with several undergraduate courses.
These colloquia help to build a community of scholars among students, faculty and staff from different disciplines. Insiders say the conversation usually goes beyond the subject at hand: Participants experience another, less formal kind of teaching as they discuss such skills as writing an effective conference abstract, choosing the right journal for a paper or selecting the best time to start the job search.
"Teaching is a lot like learning to write," she says. "You watch, you try to imitate, you listen to the difference between what the students hear and what you think you're saying and then you revise."
A member of the UW-Madison Department of English faculty since 2000, Walkowitz's Ph.D. and master's degree are from Harvard. She earned a master of philosophy degree from the University of Sussex, and a bachelor's degree from Harvard-Radcliffe.
David Zimmerman, Assistant Professor of English, William H. Kiekhofer Award
In Zimmerman's eyes, teaching itself is a subject worthy of serious academic study.
He has devoted his career to it, and his findings on the subject have wriggled their way into his classes. This semester, he is teaching a large lecture survey on American and British literature before 1900, organized around the theme of "counterfeits, passers and posers," and an upper-level examination of the American novelists Edith Wharton, Sarah Orne Jewett and Frank Norris.
Zimmerman earned his teaching stripes as a high school teacher in the Washington, D.C., area. He also volunteered there as a reading tutor at the local jail.
"Teaching is as much a science as an art. Successful teachers must understand how students learn, and teachers also must be learners themselves," he says.
At UW-Madison, Zimmerman uses a series of writing exercises, escalating in difficulty and sophistication, to help his students perfect their proficiency at the analytical essay.
"I find that my most successful courses are those that explore ideas that I'm just beginning to wrestle with in my research. I teach best when I still have lots of questions myself about the material we're studying," he says. Not surprisingly, then, both the classes Zimmerman is teaching this semester are on his research agenda.
So is the possibility of reaching out to high school teachers. "I'd love to participate in programs that bring high school teachers and college professors together to exchange ideas about teaching and writing," he says.
Zimmerman joined the UW-Madison Department of English faculty in 2000. His Ph.D. is from the University of California, Berkeley, his master of education degree is from George Washington University, and his bachelor's degree is from Yale. n