Six faculty members receive Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching

March 17, 2011

University Park, Pa. – Six Penn State faculty members have received the 2011 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching. They are Richard Brazier, associate professor of mathematics and geology at Penn State DuBois; Robert E. Burkholder, associate professor of English in the College of the Liberal Arts; Sherry E. Corneal, associate professor of human development and family studies in the College of Health and Human Development; Maria Franco de Gomez, instructor of Spanish at Penn State New Kensington; G. Dirk Mateer, senior lecturer in economics in the College of the Liberal Arts, and Kamini Singha, assistant professor of geosciences in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

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

According to one nominator, Brazier is "an educator in the fullest sense of the word, taking advantage of opportunities to promote learning to students and faculty alike." A member of the Penn State DuBois faculty since 1999, he currently serves as head of the mathematics department and program leader of the Earth Science Program. In teaching a variety of mathematics and earth science courses, he applies his philosophy that "enjoyment and learning go hand in hand" by way of a range of delivery methods, including various classroom technologies, problem-oriented projects and field studies. One former student said Brazier's "teaching style and honest concern for the educational success of his students made his classes interesting and enjoyable."

Burkholder is recognized for the Adventure Literature Series, a program he began in 2000 that takes students beyond classroom work to areas such as the Grand Canyon or the swamps of South Carolina, emphasizing the idea of providing students with the experiences that give them first-hand encounters with the places, people or activities they read about, discuss and study in the classroom. The program began as one summer course and has expanded since to four different courses offered throughout the academic year. "While the adventure aspect of the Adventure Literature program clearly demonstrates Burkholder's commitment and excellence outside the classroom," a former student wrote, "it is within the classroom where he truly shines." Burkholder joined the University faculty at Penn State Wilkes-Barre in 1980 and currently serves as associate head of the Department of English. He received the University's Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1991.

Corneal regards teaching as her calling. She begins each semester with "a sense of excitement about sharing my passion for the material and the intention to create an experience for my students that will empower them to use their voice and understand they are in a relationship with me and a community of learners." She joined the Department of Human Development and Family Studies faculty in 1990 and teaches HDFS 129, the department's introductory course, which has an enrollment of 600 students. She also serves as a teaching mentor for each incoming class of first-year graduate students and as a mentor for fixed-term instructors. In 1997, she was named "Best Professor" and HDFS129 was named "Best Class" in a University-wide vote by students. "It is very rare to find a professor who is so passionate in her teaching," one nominator said.

Franco de Gomez, or "Senora" as she is known in the classroom, has taught Spanish language and Spanish culture classes at Penn State New Kensington since 1995. Recipient of the 2004 campus Excellence in Teaching Award, she consistently receives high student ratings and superlative student comments for her teaching performance. "Learning a second language is always difficult and intimidating," a former student wrote, "but Senora ensures that all of her students find her classes are casual and fun, while also being challenging and informative. She strives to give her students the confidence to learn through practice and conversation." Franco de Gomez also serves as international programs coordinator at Penn State New Kensington. For the past eight years, she and a colleague, William Hamilton, a 2003 Atherton Teaching Award recipient, have organized and led short-term trips abroad during spring break.

Mateer describes the classroom as "a magical place," where 300-plus people come to share a common understanding of the way things work. "Teaching large classes and being in a large class can be thrilling," he said. "It is important that students understand that you are their advocate; that you've been where they are, and that you are there to help them learn." One former student cited Mateer's ability to involve his class in economics without overwhelming anyone. "He would create real-life economic situations with the 730 students in the classroom to prove some point, and it worked. More importantly, each student left that class with a better understanding of the world." A member of the economics faculty since 2001, Mateer has won departmental teaching awards 20 times and received the 2005 College of the Liberal Arts Outstanding Teaching Award for Non-Tenure Line Faculty.

Singha's learning goals are, in a large sense, for students to improve their quantitative skills and their ability to communicate science with the public. "It is important to me," she said, "that students see the relevance and application of their course subject material to real life." Since joining the geosciences faculty in 2005, Singha has taught a range of classes, including the Hydrogeophysics Field Experience, first offered in summer 2009. The class includes Penn State undergraduates and students from three historically black universities. It combines numerical modeling with field data collection and analysis, and provides an integrated experience for students interested in solving complex, real world problems. A former student said the field experience "provided me with a thorough understanding of basic geophysics and lasting relationships with friends/colleagues at other universities."

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Last Updated March 16, 2011