Four faculty members receive Atherton Award for teaching excellence

March 19, 2009

Four Penn State faculty members have been honored with the 2009 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching.

They are Marie Hardin, associate professor of journalism in the College of Communications; Themis Matsoukas, professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering; Robert A Novack, associate professor of supply chain and information systems in the Smeal College of Business; and Evelyn B. Pluhar-Adams, professor of philosophy at Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus.

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

Hardin, who joined the College of Communications in 2003, teaches a variety of courses, including News Editing; News Writing and Reporting; Sports, Media and Society; and a graduate seminar in Feminism and Media Studies. She developed an online, one-credit course on the basics of grammar, punctuation, usage and spelling that now enrolls some 850 students annually.

On her teaching philosophy, she says effective teachers “must be willing to cede a certain amount of control over the learning experience, allowing students to explore in ways that are meaningful to them and to contribute new perspectives.”

According to one nominator, Professor Hardin “connects with students while challenging them to discover a dynamic connection to language and the practice of journalism.”

Matsoukas believes a good teacher “is an enabler who removes all obstacles to learning, so that students are limited only by their own efforts. Only then can the teacher demand and expect the highest standards and challenge students to push their own limits.”

A member of the Chemical Engineering faculty since 1991, he teaches graduate and undergraduate thermodynamics and courses on material balances and air pollution engineering. He also serves as the department’s undergraduate program coordinator and faculty mentor to first-year students from underrepresented groups, and research adviser to first-year women engineering students.

“Throughout my Penn State career, I have not encountered another instructor who can match the gift for teaching of Professor Matsoukas,” a former student wrote.

Novack, who has received a number of Smeal College teaching and advising awards, is recognized for his ongoing commitment to innovation in teaching and learning. He also is cited for his leadership role in developing Supply Chain Management 576, the capstone course for second-year supply chain MBA students, into a live consulting project for business partners. “Within the College,” one nominator said, “he is not only highly respected by the students for his passion and influence, but his peers hold him in high regard as well.”

A former student calls him “the most influential professor of my college career. He has brought wonderful teaching quality into the classroom by applying his industry knowledge as examples to the theory in our text. In addition, he has time and time again sat with students to discuss previous experiences, internships, life decisions and career paths.”

Pluhar-Adams, an internationally known expert in her field of moral philosophy, has been a member of the Penn State Fayette faculty since 1978. Thousands of students have been introduced to logic, ethics, reasoning and philosophical issues through her courses. A two-time recipient of the Fayette Campus Award for Teaching Excellence, she is founder and academic adviser of the campus honors society, Pi Sigma Phi.

She uses active learning techniques “to try to get students to identify and reflect on basic assumptions that guide their lives. They know that I respect them regardless of what conclusions they draw. We are partners in philosophizing.”

According to a colleague, “Her combination of ability, expertise, intellect, compassion and humility has made her a teacher whom students from all disciplines, all age groups and all walks of life recall with a fondness bordering on reverence.”

Last Updated March 23, 2009