Four faculty receive 2007 Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching

March 26, 2007

University Park, Pa. -- Four Penn State faculty members have been honored with the 2007 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award recipients are Gregory Morris, professor of American literature, Penn State Erie; Carol Reardon, professor of military history, Penn State University Park; Nitin Samarth, professor of physics, Penn State University Park; and Doris Turkes, assistant professor of sociology and women's studies, Penn State Berks. The award, named after Penn State's seventh president, was established in 1989 as a continuation of the AMOCO Foundation Award. It honors excellence in teaching at the undergraduate level. Morris is honored for his ability to bring enthusiasm, critical thinking and an active learning process into his rigorous literature classes that range from first-year composition classes to more specialized lit classes such as ELISH 300 ("The Canon and Its Critics") and ELISH 488 (American Fiction Since 1945.) He is known for his dry wit and his ability to use pop culture references, not to "speak down" to students but as a way to communicate with them in their own language. "Good teaching is very hard work; it involves physical and intellectual exercise, taxing of body and mind," Morris says of his philosophy. "His class is about dialogue, not lecture," a student wrote. "A student in his class is treated like a scholar, and in this kind of atmosphere, the opportunity for deep understanding and insight is great." Morris earned a doctorate and a master of arts in English from University of Nebraska, and a bachelor of arts in English from Bowling Green State University. He is the author of three books. Reardon teaches a variety of military history courses, ranging from survey courses in the Civil War era and on Vietnam to upper-level and graduate courses on American military history and topical issues in military history. She is lauded for her passion for subjects as well as her ability to connect with her students through humor and examples that relate to their lives. History must "live and breathe," Reardon says, for it to have personal relevance to students' lives. To make that point, Reardon encourages students to seek history from unconventional sources. In Reardon's Civil War course, each student is assigned a real soldier in the Confederate Army to track through the course of the war. "I always felt like she was teaching the class like it was a story and we were living right in it," a student said. Reardon earned a doctoral degree in history from the University of Kentucky at Lexington, a master of arts in history from the University of South Carolina, Columbia; and a bachelor of science in biology from Allegheny College. She is the author of several books of military history. Samarth, who has been teaching introductory physics courses at University Park for the past 10 years, is honored for his longstanding commitment to undergraduate education, his classroom performance and his mentoring capabilities. Samarth developed the Dynamic Physics classroom as a pilot project for honors students. The idea was to incorporate an active/collaborative learning environment for introductory physics courses wherein the instructor acts as a physics "coach" with students working on a variety of group learning activities. These activities have since been successfully incorporated into the large freshman physics class at University Park. His students laud him for his patience and his dedication. "Not only did he help me, but he would sit in his office with me, helping me and teaching me until he was absolutely certain that I understood everything," one wrote. Another recalled Samarth's discussion of the Bohr model for hydrogen. "I remember Dr. Samarth saying that we should be so comfortable with the model that we would be able to derive it while sitting in traffic. I have had several other courses in areas such as quantum physics, solid state, semiconductor devices ... and with retrospect, gathered since then, I am in a position to say that this simple concept is indeed as valuable as he said it was ... and I could derive it in a traffic jam." Samarth received his doctorate in physics from Purdue University and his bachelor and master of science in physics from Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, India. He is the author of many scholarly publications with more than 4,000 citations to his published work and is a 2003 Fellow of the American Physical Society. Turkes, who has spent 35 years teaching at Penn State Berks, is not known for being an "easy A," one colleague wrote. Instead, Turkes, who believes "learning is not a spectator sport," treats her students with respect and expects them to work hard to master the material. She is being lauded for active and collaborative teaching strategies to engage her classes. "In 'Introduction to Sociology,' there are sometimes concepts that people find hard to understand," one student wrote. "Within seconds Dr. Turkes is prepared with an example, and everyone is Oh-ing‚ in unison. Before taking this class I did not know anything about sociology at all, and I am now considering a major in sociology because Dr. Turkes was kind enough to see me individually to talk about my options." Turkes earned her doctorate in psychoeducational processes at Temple University. She received her bachelor of arts in sociology and an M.A.T. in English from the University of Pittsburgh, and also completed a master of arts in social relations at Lehigh University. Turkes is the recipient of several outstanding teacher awards at Penn State Berks and has participated in several professional pedagogical presentations.

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Last Updated August 24, 2015