Six faculty members receive Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. –- Six Penn State faculty members have received the 2012 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching. They are Karen Barr, senior instructor of business at Penn State Beaver; Aquila Kikora Franklin, assistant professor of theatre/dance in the College of Arts and Architecture; Christine Masters, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics in the College of Engineering; Katherine Masters, lecturer and lab director in chemistry in the Eberly College of Science; Heather McCoy, senior lecturer in French in the College of the Liberal Arts, and Laura Palmer, associate professor of biology at Penn State Altoona.

The award, named after Penn State's seventh president, honors excellence in teaching at the undergraduate level.

A member of the Penn State Beaver faculty since 2000, Barr receives consistently high Student Ratings of Teaching Effectiveness, particularly with respect to the clarity of her presentations, her interest in teaching the course and her willingness to help students make progress. “I try to make students see it is not only important to get good grades, but it is also important to think of the class as a place to learn about life,” she said. Although her advising load is officially around 65 to 70 students per year, more than 90 students seek her assistance on a routine basis, according to one nominator; in 2005, the Student Government Association named her Outstanding Academic Advisor. A student said, “She is not my school advisor, but has helped me more than anyone appointed to me.”

As an instructor of theatre/dance from 2003 to 2006, Franklin introduced new courses in hip-hop and mojah fusion dance, a technique that blends Horton, Dunham, West African and jazz movements. Now an assistant professor, she continues to develop new courses in mojah fusion, African American dance history and hip hop theatre performance. “Each of these forms requires the individual’s full commitment, one’s willingness to fail and continue trying and the openness to consider approaches to thinking and living that may be different from his/her own,” she said. A former student noted: “Professor Franklin’s hip-hop class is one of those classes people take and when they leave, they are better people for taking it. I think she has a true gift, an amazing power to reach students and have a positive impact on their lives.”

Christine Masters believes that class participation is “vital” to student success, especially in the large lecture classes she teaches. She recently facilitated the introduction of “concept questions,” with students using electronic clickers to indicate their answers so both students and faculty can see the distribution of answers and she can address problems before moving on. “This made it easy to ensure the class understood the material and also helped identify problems that were immediately reviewed and resolved,” a student said. As undergraduate program coordinator, Masters also advises 180 undergraduates in the engineering sciences honors program, helping students customize courses and theses around their individual interests.

Since becoming a Penn State lecturer in 2004, Katherine Masters has “overhauled” most of her courses’ curricula with the intention of making them as challenging and relevant as possible. Currently, she is developing new theme-based modules for Chem 213H, an honors section of organic chemistry lab, so that, for example, in the food science module, students will carry out the oxidation of green tea to black tea, while in the agricultural science module, students will investigate the volatile organics that come from ripening fruits. “I hope that learning lab techniques in context will show students the significance of organic chemistry better than traditional experiments do,” she said. Masters also was the first Penn State lecturer to use group questions in organic chemistry lecture courses. She has received the C.I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Priestley Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching in Chemistry.

As coordinator of the French Basic Language program, McCoy extends her influence beyond her own students to facilitate the introduction of new teaching methods and educational technologies, such as the use of the iPad to enhance instruction as well as e-portfolios and podcasts in the classroom. “My aim is for students to leave our class not only with an enhanced knowledge of our object of study but also a heightened sense of literacy and cultural competence,” she said. McCoy has consistently earned high student ratings, and one student praised her pop culture references and humor to facilitate learning: “We loved her exciting, integrative lessons. She successfully implemented humor into her teaching that actually helped us learn.” She has been involved in the development of textbooks and related materials, including a 2012 redesign of the French business textbook Parlons Affaires!

Palmer strives to take advantage of “teaching moments” created by events outside her biology classroom. “Whether it is talking about an article on science from a current newspaper,” she said, “or discussing a recent episode of ‘C.S.I.’ or ‘House,’ not only do these moments show students that the material they learn in class is applicable to the world around them, but they help students learn to think critically, make sound scientific judgments and sometimes even refute claims presented in the popular media.” She learns every student’s name, even in a course with 100 students; one of those students called her a “fantastic, adaptive and quality professor who generates interest in her students, connects with them in various ways and ultimately creates a positive atmosphere where a student can truly learn and realize their potential.” Palmer has received the Athleen Stere Teaching Award and the Grace D. Long Faculty Excellence Award.

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Last Updated April 17, 2012