Campus Awards for Excellence in Instruction honor faculty members, staff and teaching assistants

Kathi Ritten, an academic advisor in speech and hearing science, is among 23 faculty and staff members and graduate teaching assistants honored for excellence in teaching, mentoring and advising. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

APR 11, 2019 8:45 AM

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Faculty and staff members and graduate teaching assistants at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will be honored for excellence in teaching, mentoring and advising at an April 11 reception at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center.

The Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching recognizes sustained excellence and innovative approaches in undergraduate teaching and contributions beyond classroom instruction that have an overall positive impact on undergraduate student learning. Honorees are represented in three employee categories – faculty, specialized faculty and teaching assistants – and each receives a monetary award.

Faculty members honored with the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, as described by their nominators:

Brian Allen
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Brian Allan, entomology, is among the most effective and popular instructors in the School of Integrative Biology. In addition to serving as a mentor for new faculty members and pioneering applications of new technology in the remodeled Natural History Building to promote participation, peer-to-peer learning, and hands-on learning, he is dedicated to ensuring that undergraduates have a successful and rewarding experience conducting original research, which many scientists regard as an essential component of learning a scientific discipline.

Manisha Basu
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Manisha Basu, English, routinely teaches “the dreaded survey of literary and critical theories,” a requirement for all English majors. Her selection of familiar literary texts for theoretical interpretation allows students to focus more effectively on unfamiliar theoretical readings. Students in her courses in postcolonial and modern African fiction noted her careful scaffolding of unfamiliar material. Basu’s students laud her attention to the improvement of their written work and extremely productive one-on-one time with her in the general classroom environment.

Gregory Elliott
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Gregory Elliottaerospace engineering, made “spectacular” contributions to the decade-old effort to improve the hands-on component of the department’s undergraduate curriculum. Elliott modernized the aerodynamics and propulsion laboratory curriculum and led the creation of two new courses.  First was an introductory course on aerospace engineering combining the basic concepts of aerodynamics, aircraft design and a hands-on building exercise.  The second design course focuses on the design, manufacturing and testing of unmanned aerial vehicles.  He also conducts research and teaches courses on high-speed aerodynamics and advanced laser diagnostic techniques.

Phillipp Hieronymi
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Philipp Hieronymimathematics, is “truly outstanding” in curriculum development. When enrollments surged in a linear algebra class and the department decided to transition to a format of a large lecture with many small discussion sections, Hieronymi led the transition. Together with others, he developed a trove of new course material and oversaw the creation of quizzes and worksheets highlighting state of the art applications of linear algebra. When designing material for the large lectures, he emphasizes active learning and creating a welcoming environment for all students. A reviewer described his lectures as “fantastic.”

Sandra Ruiz – professor of Latina/Latino Studies

Sandra Ruiz, Latina/Latino studies and English, “not only expects students to learn the course material, but she also encourages students to embrace their learning actively, collaboratively, creatively and critically. Toward this goal, Ruiz employs creative teaching methods and has an impressive ability to encourage students to take on the challenge of being responsible for their learning alongside her, the teacher and guide. Her classrooms are quite dynamic spaces that students have often said are full of energy and excitement.”

Specialized faculty members honored:

Isaac DiIanni – lecturer, dept. of economics

Isaac DiIanni, economics, holds the attention of up to 600 students in lectures by way of a “teaching as storytelling” technique, an approach that imparts a coherent structure to unfamiliar material and draws students willingly into the learning process. In his upper-level topics class on American economic history, DiIanni guides students through advanced material with more personal attention. Several students have decided to pursue graduate studies in economics after taking this class.

Susan Dramin-Weiss – instructor, speech & hearing science, College of Applied Health Sciences

Susan Dramin-Weiss, speech and hearing science, is an instructor of American Sign Language. She designed the ASL course sequence and has taught all levels.  In addition to the speech and hearing science majors, a diverse group of undergraduates take the sequence to fulfill their foreign language requirement. Dramin-Weiss provides transformative experiences for her students as they use ASL skills to communicate with members of the deaf community in Urbana-Champaign.

Karle Flanagan – instructor, dept. of statistics

Karle Flanagan, statistics, has an “amazing ease” when lecturing to large audiences, making her class feel “warm and comfortable.” Teaching statistics to nonmajors in large lecture halls can be very stressful, but she turns it into “a fun and pleasant experience.” Flanagan is wildly popular on campus and a tremendous role model for female students: After completing a course with her, many students have signed up for a minor in statistics or switched majors to statistics.

Kari H. Keating – teaching assistant professor, agricultural education program

Kari Keating, agricultural education, tries out new instructional techniques to help students transform into leaders and reach their potential as professionals in a range of careers. She connects her innate skills as an educator with her own professional experiences to help students prepare for their life after graduation. Keating is set apart by her dedication to student learning, strong desire to continuously improve her own teaching abilities and her course content, and passion and enthusiasm for teaching, advising and mentoring students.

Jean McDonald – instructor in journalism

Jean McDonald, journalism, teaches news editing and sports journalism courses. She takes students outside their comfort zones, such as immersing suburban Chicago students in Hoopeston, Illinois, for a week of reporting on rural life. McDonald’s seamless combining of rigorous training with real-world professional challenges contribute to many of her students landing prestigious internships and jobs at top news media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe.

Teaching assistants honored:

Zachary Berent. photo provided

Zachary Berent, mechanical science and engineering, has made significant improvements to the laboratory portion of the Experimental Tissue Mechanics course and strives to enrich the student experience.  In two of the lab sessions, students dissect tissue in order to prepare samples for mechanical testing.  Students have described this as their favorite lab component.  Berent gives them time to learn about the anatomy and tissue that were discussed in lectures, and he facilitates an interactive and hands-on experience for students.

Katherine Norcross
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Students of Katherine NorcrossEnglish, reflect clearly on the skills and strengths that underlie her pedagogy. “Not every student could be excited by the medieval literature that this course required us to read, but Kate was able to change that,” a student wrote. Whether teaching a required first course in the English major or a general education class for nonmajors, she is both extremely well-versed in the subject matter and highly skilled in building and maintaining student interest.

Matthew Pitchford – graduate teaching assistant, dept. of communication

Matthew Pitchford, communication, teaches a variety of courses, serves in valuable mentoring and administrative roles, and makes important contributions to the undergraduate curriculum. Employing what he calls “low-stakes writings and reflections,” Pitchford helps students find their own stake in the issues they are studying. Students overwhelmingly highlight these writing-based approaches to learning about public policy and argumentation as the most important things they learned, and also cite the energy and enthusiasm he brings to the classroom.

John Westbrook
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

John Westbrook, psychology, has had a meaningful role in shaping the curriculum. Westbrook and another graduate instructor initiated widespread changes to a popular course, starting with the course name and including a complete reformulation of content, reading material and evaluation. When the department decided to create an online version of this course, he co-created it, designing the online evaluation materials and contributing to setting and creating the online lecture content that would be the foundation of the new course.

Leah Wilks
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Leah Wilks, dance, employs the dynamic use of anatomy to help dancers understand how their bodies’ construction can support weight, torque and large movement. Then she looks at the ways these bodies move in relation to other systems – political, social, gendered – that alter how dancers relate to their bodies and the space around them. This deepens students’ understanding of themselves and of the multiple roles they play in all aspects of their lives, not just the roles they inhabit on stage.

Jeffrey Loewenstein, business administration, and Lisa Monda-Amaya,special education, received the Campus Award for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Teaching. Recipients of this award are honored for sustained excellence and innovation in graduate or professional teaching and their contributions to graduate or professional learning beyond classroom instruction.

Jeffrey Loewenstein
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Loewenstein possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of his field. His love of learning and communicating his knowledge with others spills out in every interaction. He mixes humor with deep insight, keeping students as engaged as they would be in the presence of a master storyteller. Loewenstein not only generates curiosity among his students, he also directs students to additional material based on their personal interests. He also has been at the forefront of developing high-quality online courses.

Lisa Monda-Amaya – professor of special education

Monda-Amaya encourages students to get involved in activities outside the typical requirements of the doctoral program, such as serving on campus committees and attending legislative summits held by national professional organizations. Monda-Amaya is a lifelong mentor to her doctoral students, helping them bring their dissertation research to publication; meeting with them at conferences to mentor them in their roles as new faculty; and connecting current and former students to prominent colleagues in the field.

Anna Maria Escobar, Spanish and Portuguese, received the Campus Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring. This award recognizes faculty members for their sustained excellence in graduate student mentoring, innovative approaches to graduate advising, and their impact on graduate student scholarship and professional development. The award is co-sponsored by the Graduate College.

Anna Maria Escobar
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Escobar is an internationally recognized expert in the field of contact linguistics, which focuses on multilingual speakers and communities. In addition to sharing her work and experience with graduate students over the years, Escobar has responded to advances in the field with innovative research and teaching materials related to Spanish in contact with Indigenous languages, and to Spanish in the U.S. These efforts enable students to build innovative expertise in these growing areas of interest in the profession.

Kiel Christianson, educational psychology, and Mei Shen, chemistry, received the Campus Award for Excellence in Guiding Undergraduate Research, which rewards faculty members for their excellence in involving and guiding undergraduate students in scholarly research, having a positive impact on student scholarship or intellectual development, and for their innovative approaches to guiding undergraduate research.

Kiel Christianson
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Christianson meets regularly with undergraduate students and involves them in research project meetings with doctoral students. As they gain experience and confidence in their own abilities and skills, the undergraduates often propose their own research projects. Christianson works with them to turn their ideas into theoretically interesting and testable predictions that are motivated by the research literature, often leading to empirical studies that frequently end up as peer-reviewed conference presentations and publications.

Mei Shen
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Shen fosters scholarly and intellectual growth by developing student skills specific to their goals. Along with her positive attitude, her approach produces “enormously motivated” individuals who often make significant gains in their academic achievement. Shen is a role model to her students. A student wrote: “You are an inspiring role model: intelligent, caring, patient and kind. I aspire to be like that someday.” She is one of the department’s most prolific undergraduate mentors. Her students have been highly successful in getting into professional and graduate schools.

Shachar Meron – lecturer in advertising, College of Media

Shachar Meronadvertising, received the Campus Award for Excellence in Online and Distance Teaching. This award honors excellence and innovation in online or distance teaching; contributions to student learning through innovative uses of technology; creativity in course development and instruction; and for having had a positive influence on the quality, extent and development of a department’s online/distance program.

Meron infuses creative thinking in curriculum design, course development and content delivery. His online courses balance the scalability of online lectures with the intimacy of individualized teaching. Meron creatively mixes original media, multi-tier discussion threads and supplemented readings to enrich and diversify the learning experience. As noted by a former student: “Shachar was able to handle both the prerecorded videos and live sessions brilliantly. It’s a unique talent to make students feel like he was personally invested from hundreds of miles away.”

Melissa (Missy) J. Biehl, mechanical science and engineering, and Kathi Ritten, speech and hearing science, received the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising. Recipients of this award are recognized for their excellence in and innovative approaches to undergraduate advising, and for having had a major impact on undergraduate students and their intellectual development through sustained academic advising relationships.

Missy Biehl
Photo provided

Biehl demonstrates sustained excellence in undergraduate advising, makes a major impact on the intellectual development of undergraduate students, exhibits innovative approaches to undergraduate advising, and supports group advising and other student activities. Biehl remains upbeat, conscientious and ready to support and motivate students. She does an excellent job of communicating details of the curriculum and its requirements and opportunities to parents, prospective students, undergraduate students and faculty members.

Kathi Ritten – undergraduate advisor, Department of Speech and Hearing Science
Campus Awards for Excellence in Instruction honor faculty members, staff and teaching assistants
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Campus Awards for Excellence in Instruction honor faculty members, staff and teaching assistants
Faculty and staff members and graduate teaching assistants at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will be honored for excellence in teaching, mentoring and advising at an April 11 reception at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center.