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Faculty honored for teaching skills

The fourth annual College of Liberal Arts awards for outstanding faculty got off to a festive start when Larry Kominz leaped up in full kabuki costume to claim his prize.

Kominz, professor of Japanese, executed a few dramatic kabuki-style gestures as he received his $500 award.

Scott Burns, a professor of geology who organizes the annual awards, said the importance of the awards is two-fold.

“First of all, the faculty see that teaching is important,” he said. “Secondly, the students see that the faculty are receiving these awards. They delight in it too because the students’ main aim is to learn something from the faculty.

More than 300 persons, including faculty, staff and students, attended the ceremonies in the Vanport room of Smith Memorial Center. Twenty teachers received the Outstanding Teacher Awards, one from each department or program in the college. Each received $500, an increase of $100 from the awards last year, plus a commemorative plaque.

The awards are unique in that candidates are selected by students considered excellent by their teachers. The award selections got nominations from 230 high-achieving students.

“We wanted excellent students because an excellent student can say this person was hard as nails but I still think that person is the top faculty member,” Burns said. “Whereas the C student might say my favorite teacher is the one who gave everybody ‘A’s.” This system, he said, avoids the charge that awards may be a popularity contest.

Each department had 10 to 14 student participants. If the department had a graduate program, half the students were graduate students. All undergraduates were seniors with G.P.A.s from 3.3 and higher.

A total of 184 faculty members received student votes. Forty-one others were ineligible because they were prior winners and the rules require them to sit out the competition for two years. So the number of potential and prior winners represents about half the teaching faculty of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Burns pointed out.

Once the students made their nominations, they met with Burns to collectively determine the winner in each department.

The program has been strongly supported by Marvin Kaiser, dean of the CLAS, who sees the program extending indefinitely into the future. Burns said he has presented the idea to the council of academic deans and a similar program has been adopted by engineering.

Of this year’s 20 CLAS winners, 10 are professors, one is an associate professor, six are assistant professors and three are instructors. Since an award-winning teacher becomes ineligible for the following two years, this became the first year that teachers were eligible for a second award.

Four winners received awards for a second time. They were Marjorie Terdal, applied linguistics, Richard Forbes, biology; Veronica Dujon, sociology and Kimberley Brown, who was named in two categories, international studies and applied linguistics.

The money comes from a fund of $10,000 set up for the program. This is collected entirely from outside sources. It includes donations from alumni, faculty, administrators and staff. Burns said some recipients donate their cash prizes back to the fund for future awards.

One of the consistent donors has been Peggy Allen, widow of John Eliot Allen. The awards are named for the late Allen, who founded the PSU geology program and contributed more than 40 years of work to the university. At age 93, Peggy Allen did not attend this year’s ceremony as she now lives in California.

Burns compiled a summary of student comments about the 20 winners. Among comments were:

Terdal: Does more to prepare us for the classroom than the other instructors, understands international students, tough but fair.

Forbes: Constant example of a professor who is there for the students, he is the type of teacher that everyone talks about wanting to teach every subject.

Brown: Got me excited about international studies, helped older students.

Dujon: Dynamic and engaging speaker, genuine personal interest in all her subjects.

Other student comments:

Kominz: Incredible influence on me as far as learning about not only the language, but also so much about the culture and arts. Ken Ames, anthropology: Makes you work harder than any other teacher, walking encyclopedia. Shelley Reece, English: Creates a great atmosphere that fosters where the best writing can be done. Joe Maser, environmental science: Brings in knowledge of real world, cares how you are doing. Keith Hadley, geography: One of the few profs who has challenged me. Martin Streek, geology: Learning from him is enjoyable, able to teach at all levels.

Tim Garrison, history: Consistently succeeds in motivating the students and promoting education. Marj Enneking, math: Good preparation for graduate school, very involved with students. Don Moor, philosophy: Life raft for me – whenever I think that I am drowning, he is there to pull me out. Jon Abramson, physics: High degree of concern for students in his teaching.

Jan Haaken, psychology: Difficult class work level but pleasantly challenging, great advisor. Andrea Ruotolo, speech and hearing sciences: Took clinic that was falling apart and built it up and added five practicum sites. Dick Forbes, biology: What I learned from him I have carried for years. Dean Atkinson, chemistry: Excellent research advisor, like to mix it up and get dirty in the lab.

Lola Lawson, child and family studies: Has the gift that makes all of her students feel like what they have to say is the most important thing in the world. Gisele Tierney, speech communication studies: Great “thinking” assignments, practices what she preaches. Mary King, economics: We are fortunate to have her share her extensive knowledge with us.