University honors 10 graduate assistants with Martin Outstanding Teaching Award

April 28, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. —Ten graduate students were presented the 2016 Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Award during the inaugural Graduate Student Awards Luncheon held on April 27 at the Nittany Lion Inn.

The award is jointly sponsored by the Graduate School, through the Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Award endowment, and the Office of the Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education. 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.

Each of the award winners demonstrates a commitment to excellence, going above and beyond classroom instruction to shape the lives of their students, who regard these recognized graduate students as some of their most inspiring instructors. Their passion and dedication exemplify the significant impact Penn State’s graduate students have on the quality of instruction in undergraduate classrooms throughout the University.

The award recipients are Stephanie Berberick, doctoral student in mass communications; Eliana Christou, doctoral candidate in statistics; Nathan M. Garvin, doctoral candidate in physiology; Veronica Hicks, doctoral student in art education with a dual title in women’s studies; Mitchell C. Hunter, doctoral student in agronomy; Carrie R. Lewis, doctoral candidate in molecular, cellular and integrative biosciences; Emma G. Mullaney, doctoral candidate in geography with a dual title in women’s studies; Anna E. Navrotskaya, doctoral candidate in French; Charlene B. Van Buiten, doctoral candidate in food science; and Kathleen M. Zadzora, doctoral student in human development and family studies.

Berberick has received praise for facilitating excellent discussions in her classroom and employing a student-centered approach. In a description of her teaching philosophy, she wrote, “Largely evoking the Socratic method, I urge students to foster deeper consideration of the questions at hand while encouraging the learning community to build and expand one another’s arguments in a discussion-like style.”

Christou has been lauded for a teaching style that engaged all students in the classroom. “She took complicated subjects and broke them down into simple explanations that kept our interest,” a student nominator wrote. Christou’s teaching philosophy is based on student engagement, creation of a positive learning environment, familiarity with each student’s prior knowledge of the subject, and effective study habits.

Garvin expressed a belief that “a teacher’s role is primarily to be a facilitator of learning, rather than a direct supplier of knowledge.” A former student in Garvin’s class who is now enrolled in a physician assistant graduate program wrote, “Nathan not only taught me important biological concepts that I need today, but how to think critically and be comprehensive in my work. Nathan made an impact on me and the other students in the class far beyond our education at Penn State.”

Hicks wrote that her mission as an artist and educator is to empower learners “to aspire for greatness.” As an instructor for Integrative Arts 062, she re-imagined the course and revised various conceptual, content and art production elements. In the words of one nominator, Hicks possesses “a heightened consciousness about injustice and active leadership in developing art education experiences to build self-confidence and work toward an equitable, safe, and empowering world for girls and women.”

Hunter was credited with helping to reshape the Horticulture 445 Plant Ecology course through changes to the course structure and the assessment strategy from unit exams to a semester-long small-group research project. A student nominator wrote, “even after completely redesigning the course, Mitch continued to make noticeable adaptations throughout the semester to both his teaching and the course structure to ensure that he continually met the needs of all students.”

Lewis explained that the labs she has taught have been pre-designed to follow the steps of the scientific method. She wrote, “ask a question, do some background research, form a hypothesis, test that hypothesis, analyze the data to draw conclusions, and communicate those results to others. As a teaching assistant for biology and animal science laboratory courses, my main goal has been to get students to start thinking like scientists by following these six steps.”

Mullaney noted that, “regardless of the topic, structure, or size of a given course, I bring the same commitment to critical analysis and political debate to every classroom, and I work to help all my students develop tools for a meaningful engagement with questions of power and justice in their everyday lives.” One nominator wrote, “I have never seen anyone conduct a class with such intelligence and with a unique ability to elicit participation and engagement from the students.”

Navrotskaya has taught a broad range of language, literature and culture courses at all levels in the French and Francophone Studies and the Comparative Literature departments. A student nominator noted Anna’s enduring impact by writing, “… after taking Anna’s class, I now have a passion for French culture and language that I hope to pursue all of my life. … Anna ignited a passion for French and learning that has made me a stronger student in general, but also a more cultured and well-rounded individual.”

Van Buiten has been described as “a devoted researcher and enthusiastic teacher” by one faculty nominator, and as a “hard-working” instructor who is willing “to provide extra help and support” by student nominators. In addition to course instruction, Van Buiten also led a group of students participating in the College of Agricultural Sciences Summer Experience, a partner of the federally funded Upward Bound Math and Science program. The six-week-long research project introduced students to food processing, food chemistry, data collection and presentation skills.

Zadzora stated that her goal as a social science instructor is “to help students improve their ability to apply what they learn to their everyday lives, engage in critical thinking, and consider new perspectives.” A nominator wrote, “by observing students and monitoring their progress, Kathleen has tremendous insight into what makes for effective and engaging instruction. Instructors have made permanent modifications to their courses based on her real-time input about ways to improve course content delivery and assessment.”

Last Updated May 12, 2016