By Sudha Kamath
From Innovation to Diversity, Entrepreneurship to Accessibility, the 17 George Mason University faculty members honored this year for their commitment to teaching embody the Mason IDEA.
The Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence (CTFE) has named its 2014 Teaching Excellence Award winners, recognizing significant work that George Mason faculty members devote to course planning and preparation, curriculum development, innovative teaching, advising, and undergraduate and graduate mentoring. An awards ceremony was held April 21 in the lobby of the Center for the Arts Concert Hall.
This year’s winners include Eric Anderson in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), Michael Summers in the College of Science (COS), Gregory Grimsby in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA), Huzefa Rangwala in the Volgeneau School of Engineering, and David Schleicher in the School of Law.
They also include Pallab Sanyal in the School of Management. The native of India has been on Mason’s faculty for five years. “I employ a variety of methods to engage students—both in the classroom and outside of it,” says the assistant professor when asked to describe his unique teaching style in information systems. “In my classes, students are frequently involved in activities and higher order thinking rather than passive listening. To the extent possible, I use a flipped classroom approach in most of my classes, transforming my role to a ‘guide by the side’ as opposed to a ‘sage on the stage.’”
Another award recipient is Rebecca E. Forkner, who has taught at Mason for six years. She’s an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy in COS. “What motivates me and keeps me passionate about teaching is a true commitment to public education,” she says. “I teach biology because it is both timeless in its relevance, and is relevant to everyone in the world, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or ability. I think that holding that belief comes with an obligation to make biology understandable to everyone.”
Forkner is impressed by Mason’s commitment to teaching excellence. “Most large research universities do not value teaching as highly as research, whereas Mason understands that the two go hand in hand,” she explains.
Jill Nelson also earned a University Teaching Excellence Award. The native of Oklahoma is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Volgeneau. She’s been on the faculty at Mason for nine years. “I love the diversity of backgrounds my students have. Some are seeing electrical engineering for the first time, others have engineering work experience that allows them to connect theory to practice and still others are entering engineering from another field as a second career,” says Nelson. “It enriches the classroom experience to have so many perspectives represented.”
Nelson also appreciates the opportunities at Mason for innovation in teaching and learning in engineering education. “I’ve been able to engage in collaborations with faculty in both engineering and education to study how students learn engineering concepts and what faculty can do to improve student learning.”
Mason’s Teachers of Distinction are faculty members who were finalists for the Teaching Excellence Award and created noteworthy teaching portfolios that showcased their commitment to teaching and learning.
This year’s Teachers of Distinction are Amy Best and Jeremy Hodgson in CHSS; Thomas Britt in CVPA; Robin Couch and Matthew Rice in COS; J. Robert Cressman in COS and the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study; Panagiota Kitsantas in CHHS; and Kristien Zenkov in the Graduate School of Education and Seungwon “Shawn” Lee in the School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism―both in the College of Education and Human Development.
Lee, originally from Seoul, South Korea, is an assistant professor of convention/event management and technology. He’s been with Mason since August 2008. He says his culturally diverse Mason students prefer receiving information quickly and they are adept at multi-tasking. They have a low tolerance for lectures and expect technology as part of their education.
“As an old Chinese proverb says, ‘Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.’ What makes me and my courses unique are my efforts to create a compelling and experiential learning environment to keep up with the fast changing hospitality and meeting industry,” explains Lee. “Understanding relevant industry theory and how these apply within a hospitality and tourism business context, I strive to facilitate and improve student learning in my courses through innovative ways that push learning beyond the four-walled boundary of the traditional classroom.”
Hodgson, an assistant director of forensics who is originally from Ohio, joined Mason four years ago. “One of the things I love about teaching the younger generation about communication is making connections between their topics, the history behind their topics and how their presentations can intersect with their professional lives,” he says. “I try to inspire students to make classroom projects relevant to their interests because the application of the communication discipline can truly be one of the most influential and essential aspects of their future beyond the classroom.”
The CTFE also honored the winners of the inaugural Adjunct Faculty Teaching Excellence Award. As Kim Eby, associate provost and CTFE director, notes, “Mason has so many incredible adjunct faculty members who contribute to educational excellence for our students that it was a real privilege to be able to create our new university teaching excellence award for outstanding adjunct faculty. We are so fortunate to have such a committed group of professionals among our faculty.”
This year’s Adjunct Faculty Teaching Excellence Award winners are Alan More in Individualized Studies (CHSS), Ina Mirthcheva in the School of Music (CVPA), Ron Resmini in Geography and Geoinformation Science (COS), and Derek Sweetman in the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.