Teaching excellence recognized in College of Agricultural Sciences

March 05, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences has recognized nine faculty members for outstanding teaching in 2019.

Named recipients of the college's Community of Teaching Excellence Award were John Coupland, professor of food science, Robert Shannon, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, and Mark Brennan, professor and UNESCO Chair in Community, Leadership, and Youth Development. As a three-time recipient of this award, Brennan becomes a permanent member of the prestigious Academy of Teaching Excellence.

Five faculty members received the early-career North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Award of Merit: Terrence Bell, assistant professor of phytobiomes, Noel Habashy, assistant teaching professor of international agriculture, Margaret Hoffman, assistant professor of landscape contracting, Josephine Wee, assistant professor of food science, and Kathleen Sexsmith, assistant professor of rural sociology.

In addition, Nancy Dreschel, associate teaching professor of small animal science, received the Paul R. and Joan M. Shellenberger Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, which recognizes full-time instructors with teaching appointments (not on tenure track).

Below is a little more information about the award winners.

John Coupland joined the Penn State faculty in 1998. Among his primary teaching responsibilities are a general-education course titled Food Facts and Fads, the lab-intensive upper-level course Food Chemistry, and the theory-based graduate course Food Physical Chemistry. He noted that his teaching philosophy is aimed at helping students make connections between facts. "Isolated facts are like learning a poem in a language you don't speak," he said. "You may know a series of sounds but never poetry." Robert Roberts, head of the Department of Food Science, called Coupland "a highly sought-after adviser and mentor, a passionate teacher, a committed advocate for students, [and] a role model for his peers."

A Penn State faculty member since 1993, Robert Shannon coordinates the college's Environmental Resource Management major. He teaches a variety of courses in the program, including Wetland Conservation, Resource Systems Analysis, and Careers and Issues in ERM. He said his teaching philosophy is informed by the belief that "real-world, hands-on lab and field experiences best motivate students to learn." Paul Heinemann, head of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, said Shannon's "dedication to the ERM program is reflected in his teaching excellence" and cited his leadership in offering courses with embedded international trips that "have contributed greatly to the 25% of College of Ag Sciences students who have an international engagement."

Mark Brennan has taught various courses related to leadership development and practices since joining the Penn State faculty in 2009. He was named UNESCO Chair in 2013 and received the Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching, Penn State's highest teaching honor, in 2018. He said he aspires to seek new ways to engage, interact and learn alongside his students and to instill "a passion for the true wonder of the art and craft of rigorous scholarship and critical inquiry." Laszlo Kulcsar, head of the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, said Brennan "ranks among the elite of our teaching faculty [and] has been consistently exceptional in his teaching, student mentorship and service."

Terrence Bell, who arrived at Penn State in 2017, is credited with significant contributions to the curricula of the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology and the Penn State Microbiome Center. He developed and teaches Environmental Microbiomes: Concepts and Analysis Tools, which has become a foundation course in the University's microbiome curriculum. He also teaches a graduate course, Major Writing Projects, which is helping master's and doctoral students to produce high-quality proposals in support of program milestones. Carolee Bull, head of the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology, said Bell "has provided outstanding teaching and leadership in graduate education that is changing the outcomes of our graduate students."

Noel Habashy joined the college's Office of International Programs in 2017. He coordinates the International Agriculture (INTAG) minor and teaches an introductory course and a senior capstone class in international agriculture. He is the faculty adviser for the student International Agriculture Club and is co-creator and faculty co-lead for the Global Agriculture Faculty Learning Community. "During his time as INTAG minor coordinator, Noel has poured a high degree of energy and creativity into his classroom," said Deanna Behring, assistant dean and director of international programs. "I have witnessed firsthand the appreciation that our students have for his accessibility, concern and mentorship, not only on the INTAG minor but on how to navigate life as an undergraduate."

Since joining the Penn State faculty in 2018, Margaret Hoffman has coordinated the Landscape Contracting major and has taught courses such as Residential Landscape Design, Landscape Construction, Landscape Planting Design, and Landscape Estimating and Bidding. She also provides experiential learning opportunities for students and advises the Horticulture Club. "Dr. Hoffman is an excellent instructor who teaches a variety of courses at various levels, and her courses are extremely well-regarded by students," said Erin Connolly, head of the Department of Plant Science. "She also is regarded as one of our most dedicated and effective advisers. In sum, she is an outstanding educator who exhibits skill, dedication and passion for all aspects of our educational mission."

Josephine Wee has been part of the food science faculty since 2018. Since arriving, she has taught a freshman seminar and courses in science communication and food product design. She also developed and taught a new course on food laws and regulations. In addition, she is co-adviser of the Food Science Club and the competitive Product Development Team, and she mentors graduate and undergraduate students engaged in independent, funded research in her laboratory. "Dr. Wee has clearly demonstrated outstanding contribution to the scholarship of teaching, learning and mentoring," said Robert Roberts, head of Food Science. "This award is a recognition of her efforts in support of our departmental, college and university mission and vision."

Since arriving at Penn State in 2017, Kathleen Sexsmith has taught the undergraduate course Women in Developing Countries, and the rural sociology graduate seminar Gender, Agriculture and Environment. She also co-developed and co-teaches Service Learning with Pennsylvania Farmworkers, a course that takes students to a local dairy farm, where they teach English to Latino workers and learn about the social isolation affecting the immigrant labor force. Laszlo Kulcsar, head of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, called the course "a transformative learning experience," adding that "Dr. Sexsmith strives to create an interactive and inclusive discussion space in which students are active in shaping their own learning and that of their peers."

Nancy Dreschel, who joined the Penn State faculty in 1994, teaches a variety of animal science classes, including Pets in Society, Companion Animal Nutrition and Management, Health and Diseases of Small Animals, and Companion Animal Behavior. She also co-teaches Applied Animal Welfare. Dreschel is adviser to the Small and Exotic Animal Club, and she is a volunteer adviser, teacher and coordinator of the Roar for More Puppy Raising Group, which helps train puppies for Susquehanna Service Dogs. "Dr. Dreschel exemplifies the commitment, passion and excellence that are important to be a superb teacher," said Terry Etherton, head of the Department of Animal Science. "Her teaching is highly valued and respected by the students, as well as peers."

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Last Updated March 06, 2020