Six faculty members receive Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Six Penn State faculty members have received the 2014 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching. They are Meredith Defelice, senior lecturer of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Eberly College of Science; Michael Evans, assistant chief academic officer and instructor of nursing at Penn State Worthington Scranton; Karen Kackley-Dutt, instructor of biology at Penn State Lehigh Valley; Dale Olver, instructor of dairy and animal science in the College of Agricultural Sciences; Ute Poerschke, associate professor of architecture in the College of Arts and Architecture, and Jessica Schocker, assistant professor of social studies education and women’s studies at Penn State Berks.

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

Called a “great communicator” by one nominator, Defelice said, “I truly love science and the nature of discovery, and I find it to be extremely rewarding when students find this same passion for their studies.” To incorporate more active learning opportunities, she added clicker questions and undergraduate learning assistants to her General Biochemistry I class, wrote a series of case studies for her Molecular Medicine class and incorporated new experiments and techniques in the lab manual for BMB 445, Laboratory for Molecular Genetics I. “The whole semester was modeled as a real-world application and thus helped us understand how lab techniques interrelate and a scientific project progresses,” one BMB 445 student wrote. As a Faculty Fellow in the Center for Excellence in Science Education, Defelice is focusing on enhancing the science pedagogy course offered to learning assistants as part of their preparation for classroom facilitation.

Evans incorporated asynchronous discussion forums into multiple nursing classes in an effort to increase student collaboration and reflective thinking, and developed elective courses in response to student concerns about math used in medication administration. After attending the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence in 2012, he redesigned the Nursing 200W course to include blogs, discussion forums, and poster presentations. Evans said, “I have the ultimate responsibility of collaborating with students to ensure they are prepared to care for complex individuals in a changing health care environment.” Outside of class, he has volunteered with students at a children’s health fair, helped them conduct blood-pressure screenings, and walked in support of diabetes research.

Kackley-Dutt incorporates varied educational technologies into her biology classes, including clickers, iPads, digital textbooks, concept mapping software and handheld digital microscopes. “I search for new pedagogical methods and use whatever tools are at my disposal to reach my students, whatever their level of preparedness, to challenge them to be the best they can be,” she said. One student noted that Kackley-Dutt is “willing to change how she teaches or what she teaches every year, all to help the students understand the material better.” The biology instructor also regularly incorporates field trips ranging from a walk around campus to a spring break trip to Costa Rica or Guanajuato, Mexico, to study conservation and ecology issues.

Olver structures his courses so that students advance from learning basic functional skills in first-year seminars to a subject-matter focus for sophomores and juniors to the integration of information and decision-making in junior- and senior-level courses. “As they progress through our courses, they learn to work in teams, evaluate data and defend their decisions and plans through both oral and written presentations,” he said. One student said, “It never ceases to amaze me how he can portray this complicated information to his students as easily as if he is having a normal conversation.” Olver is co-adviser for the Dairy Science Club and advisor for Coaly Society, a College of Agricultural Sciences leadership organization; he also coaches the dairy cattle judging team.

Believing that “mastership in architecture cannot be learned in a five-year degree,” Poerschke said she strives to teach “lifelong learning, persistent curiosity, methods of critical thinking and the understanding that the technical information learned in a course is only the foundation from which to find the most recent information at a given time.” One nominator said, “Dr. Poerschke is widely admired by faculty, students and staff as an outstanding scholar, an inspiring teacher, an accomplished architect and a very effective member of the college and university community.” Noted for her work in sustainability in architectural and environmental design, she mentors students outside of the classroom through Students for Environmentally Enlightened Design (SEED), a club she has mentored since its founding in 2009. She advised students who organized the first graduate student conference in the Architecture Department, bringing more than 200 students to campus.

While teaching western civilization in an urban high school, Schocker experienced a career-changing moment when a student asked, “When are we going to learn about black people here?” Schocker recalled, “I stayed up all night researching the Harlem Renaissance and rewrote my curriculum. Two weeks later, that same student was at the front of the classroom, rapping an eloquent poem he wrote … comparing the artistic experiences of Langston Hughes and Leonardo DaVinci.” Since then, Schocker has been committed to promoting social justice through education. In her social sciences education classes, she involves undergraduate students in service-learning projects with children in urban Reading elementary schools; last year, she and her students developed field trips for children to see and work with Toothpick World, an acclaimed touring exhibit. “Dr. Schocker offers multiple perspectives, new concepts and contagious positivity,” one student wrote.

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Last Updated March 26, 2014