University honors 10 students with Martin Outstanding Teaching Awards

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State has honored 10 students with the 2013 Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Awards.

The award recipients are Lindsey Aloia, communication arts and sciences; Sankha Basu, mathematics; Michelle Decker, comparative literature; Brenna Hill, physiology; Jarrod Jonsrud, kinesiology; Jared Rife, American studies; Sandra Rousseau, French; Sarah RudeWalker, English; Juliane Schicker, German, and Sarah Summers, English.

The Office of the Vice President and Dean of the Graduate School and the Office of the Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education co-sponsor the awards to recognize excellence in teaching by graduate students. Recipients must have served as a graduate assistant for at least two semesters within the last two years. The award is named for Harold F. Martin, who earned his doctoral degree in education in 1954 and retired as a director in the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Aloia’s teaching experiences include small class of 18 students, lecture-hall classes of 150 and online classes. “I believe that learning requires a deep understanding of the course material that results from students internalizing the material, actively applying that material in creative and meaningful ways and being critical of the material,” she said. According to one nominator, “She is incredibly hard-working and dedicated to the success of her students, spending many hours working with them on multiple drafts of case papers and finding creative ways to illustrate the information from the lectures.”

Basu believes that mathematics is a “weave of patterns, just like painting or poetry,” and that a math teacher’s responsibility is to help students learn to appreciate the patterns. One nominator said, “Sankha has truly taken ownership of the courses he teaches, offering suggestions regarding the curriculum and course resources.” A student who struggled with “even the simplest algebraic problems” wrote that Basu “never lost his patience with my confusion of mathematics and embraced my slow learning process.”

In addition to courses in African and world literatures, Decker also has taught Introduction to Kiswahili, a first-level language and culture course. As a teacher, she said she asks students to see learning “not just as a means to gaining a career (important as that is) but the beginning of a lifestyle of curiosity about ideas and generosity toward others.” One nominator called her a “beloved instructor” and said “students regularly praise her enthusiasm, dynamism and creativity” as well as her “preparation, expertise and intellectual engagement with the material.”

As a graduate teaching assistant in biology, one nominator said, Hill has “exceeded the standard TA duties” by revising student study aids, improving pre-lab lectures and revising a lab manual. As a senior teaching assistant, she leads a TA lab meeting every week, explaining the following week’s procedures to teaching assistants who will be teaching sections of the course. “Brenna has a genuine love for biology and physiology,” a nominator said, “and she combines this passion with a personal style that undergraduates find fun, non-threatening and respectful.”

Jonsrud has employed a team-learning, peer-responsibility model of teaching that emphasizes group work. A student said, “He demonstrated a natural talent to communicate with us students, clearly and honestly.” In addition, one nominator said, he “strives to maintain accessibility and relevance by constantly reevaluating the technology he uses,” from setting up a Facebook page for online discussions to offering in-class surveys where students use their cell phones to text responses.

American studies teaching assistant Rife “shows marvelous creativity in his teaching methods,” a nominator said. “His class has been a showcase of creative work, including websites, videos, artifact exhibitions and audio broadcasts.” He helped introduce a class on American Masculinities, and “with his outreach to students and his creative pedagogy, it has been wildly popular and has been fully subscribed every semester it has been taught.”

In the Department of French and Francophone Studies, native French speaker Rousseau has taught courses at all undergraduate levels, from the beginning language sequence to an upper-level capstone course on contemporary France. As assistant coordinator for beginning French, a nominator said, “her ability to mentor less-experienced teaching assistants was particularly notable.” She also designed a syllabus for her French Oral Comprehension and Reading course in which consecutive thirds of the semester were devoted to French art, film and literature as a means of engaging students.

In both literature and rhetoric and composition classes, RudeWalker said she strives to “deeply respect the experiences and knowledge my students bring with them” and hopes to “give them the tools to engage in critical discourse.” Students called her “passionate,” “diligent,” “knowlegeable” and “very open to giving help to everyone.” One student nominator said, “She not only wants us to learn but also to understand and develop healthy habits.”

Schicker has taught a wide variety of German language courses, from elementary to upper-level intermediate, including online instruction as well as intensive summer courses. She consistently uses German for classroom communication, even at the beginner level, and integrates cultural information into language instruction. “Juliane is clearly eager to communicate her native German language and culture to American students and has been highly effective in doing so,” one nominator said.

As a teacher of writing and rhetoric, Summers said she encourages her students to “constantly seek out authentic reasons to write.” Her goal is to build a classroom community “where students not only learn to write confidently about what they know, but also where they write to learn about new topics and ideas.” Student nominators lauded her “absolute dedication to student engagement and understanding” and said she “truly cared about helping us to improve our writing on a personal level.”

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Last Updated April 02, 2013