University honors 10 students with Martin Outstanding Teaching Awards

March 13, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ten Penn State graduate students have been recognized with the 2012 Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Awards. The award recipients are Serge Ballif, mathematics; Brandy Brown, French; Aaron Heresco, mass communications; Nicole Laliberté, geography; Gregory Lankenau, geography; Alexandra Nutter-Smith, mass communications; Sara Roser-Jones, kinesiology; Sarah Salter, English; Christopher Schulte, art education; and April Woolnough, crime, law and justice.

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.

Ballif said he believes that students in low-level math classes have the most success when they treat mathematics as a language, learning to communicate and operate within the rules of that language. He also has received the Mary Lister McCammon Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching and a Mathematics Department Teaching Award. “Serge’s classroom style can best be described as interactive,” a nominator said. “Students are part of the learning process, asking and answering questions, making conjectures, and actively considering math concepts.”

A graduate assistant in the Department of French and Francophone Studies since 2007, Brown has twice earned the department’s Graduate Student Excellence in Teaching Award. She has served as assistant coordinator for French, responsible for developing and implementing course materials, as well as French coordinator for the University’s Summer Intensive Language Institute. One nominator applauded her work with a class of more than 80 students: “She managed to elicit both questions and answers from her students — not always an easy thing to do in a huge class. And her own presentations were models of teaching, correct and authoritative, business-like but relaxed, and with an enviable rapport with the students.”

Heresco teaches both a large-enrollment online course and smaller advanced lecture courses in communications; his tools range from discussions to readings to YouTube videos. “Aaron’s teaching is outstanding because he combines highly detailed organizational structure with a personable, responsive teaching style,” a nominator said. “He pushes students to think deeply, yet he skillfully translates complex theories into everyday language.”

The wide array of courses Laliberté has taught encompass all four fields of geography: human geography, physical geography, nature-society interactions and geographic information science. For a study-abroad program in 2010, she lived in a South African nature reserve while teaching about the challenges associated with resource access and utilization. “Nicole’s ability to stimulate enthusiasm for learning while encouraging and counseling students throughout this dynamic learning environment was crucial in developing model academic and cultural ambassadors for Penn State,” one nominator said.

Geography teaching assistant Lankenau designed and implemented a parallel online version of one lecture course, supervising five undergraduate teaching interns who monitored small discussion groups. “As a teaching assistant,” he said, “I have to be more than a content filter that distills information into palatable pieces. I have to be more than a personal trainer who makes sure students do their required coursework repetitions. Instead, I have to facilitate an educational experience more valuable than any other use of their time and energy.”

In both online and traditional communications classes, Nutter-Smith earned high student ratings as well as praise for her ability to stimulate class discussion. “Alexandra employs a variety of innovative teaching and classroom management techniques that lend themselves to a powerful, engaged and safe learning environment,” a nominator said. “For instance, she effectively integrates key ideas from assigned readings into her multimedia presentations in ways that drive student discussion and reward students who come to class prepared.”

Teaching the course Physical Activity: Historical and Cultural, Roser-Jones worked both with kinesiology majors required to take the class and with students from other majors who chose the elective. In both respects, one nominator said, she “has an amazing capacity to connect with the students.” Another nominator commented, “I have yet to encounter another instructor so committed to providing guidance and support for so many different individuals.”

In her literature, rhetoric and composition classes, Salter mixes an array of teaching methods, including writing workshops, small-group activities and close readings. Students consistently have given her high ratings, noting her humor, passion and student-centered approach. “As evidenced in the evaluative comments,” one nominator said, “her students leave her course with a love for literature, a newfound interest in reading and writing, and an appreciation for the supportive and encouraging, but also rigorous and demanding, instruction they received from Ms. Salter.”

Lauded for his mentoring of art education students, Schulte said he believes that “teaching is about being present with students and attending respectfully to the qualities and potentials that they bring with them each day.” According to one nominator, he is “capable of articulating ideas and helping students to discover and pursue their own paths to teaching, to focus on relationships with students that grow from deep understanding and continuing inquiry, and to approach art education as a significant and sustaining activity.”

The course Woolnough teaches, Research Methods in Criminal Justice, is one that “many of our majors are primed to dislike,” one nominator said. “However, April has received noteworthy praise from both students and her supervising professor for the course for helping students learn substantive and challenging material that they find difficult, while maintaining strong standards of academic performance.” In addition, another nominator said, she helps other section instructors by providing them with her lectures, handouts and activities.

Last Updated February 06, 2013