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Ten From the College Earn University Teaching Awards

May 04, 2017 |

"Transformative” is one of the descriptions repeated again and again in the enthusiastic letters University of Virginia students, faculty members and deans submitted for this year’s teaching award winners.

These professors – some who have been on Grounds for more than 10 or 20 years, and some who have joined the UVA community more recently – act as intellectual travel guides, as one student put it, enabling others to take important steps on their individual journeys of self-discovery and academic success. Their guidance, however, goes beyond the classroom to significantly influence the trajectories of students’ lives.

The Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost issues a call for nominations each fall and administers the teaching awards, with the exception of the National Endowment for the Humanities professorships, a program of UVA’s Center for Teaching Excellence. The teaching award winners were honored at a Thursday evening banquet.

In addition, the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs annually administers All-University Graduate Teaching Assistant Awards. Departments are invited to nominate one or more candidates for graduate teaching awards.

Graduate teaching assistant awards went to: Nathan Brunelle, computer science; Caitlin Fitzpatrick, English and creative writing; Molly Kelly-Goss, biomedical engineering; Paromita Sen, politics; Brittany Sutherland, biology; and Christopher Maternowski, history. Dr. Carina Brown of the Family Medicine Residency Program received the School of Medicine’s Resident Teaching Award.

The 2017 faculty honorees:

Psychology Professor Robert E. Emery, Cavaliers’ Distinguished Teaching Professorship

Chemistry Professor Cassandra Fraser, Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award

Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Gary Koenig, Alumni Board of Trustees Teaching Award

Associate Professor of Religious Studies Greg Schmidt Goering, NEH Daniels Family Distinguished Teaching Professorship

Associate Professor of Chinese Hsin-hsin Liang, Excellence in Education Abroad

Professor of Education James Wyckoff, Excellence in Faculty Mentoring Award


All-University Teaching Awards

Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering Timothy Allen

Associate Professor Dorothe Bach, Center for Teaching Excellence

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Eileen Chou

Associate Professor of Management Amanda Cowen

Assistant Professor of Biology Robert Cox

Associate Professor of Architecture and Director of the Environments + Sustainability concentration in Global Studies Program, Phoebe Crisman

Associate Professor of Education Nancy Deutsch

Professor of Law Leslie Kendrick

Professor of Business Administration Frank Warnock

(College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences faculty are in bold type).

Robert E. Emery

Cavaliers’ Distinguished Teaching Professorship

Professor of Psychology, Director of the Center for Children, Families and the Law

Years at UVA: 36

Bob Emery has become so well-known as an expert on children and divorce – with his own website devoted to the topic and based on several books – it’s no surprise his legendary teaching and mentorship would join the spotlight. Over the years, about 15,000 undergraduates have taken his “Abnormal Psychology” class, as the lecture course draws 300 to 350 students each year, many of whom have called it “life-changing.” And those numbers don’t include graduate students.

Emery unabashedly loves teaching and challenging students to think for themselves, he wrote in his teaching statement. At the same time that he teaches them the skills to be skeptical and objective, he seeks to “humanize psychological problems,” using case studies, forming small-group discussions and having students lead some of the class sessions.

“Despite teaching very large classes, he seems never to turn away a student who needs his assistance, and he even volunteers to do more than his share of student advising,” wrote Professor Alev Erisier, chair of the Department of Psychology, in his nomination. “He is wise in clinical matters and a master at teaching often intangible lessons that make such a difference in the lives of individuals seeking help.”

One student athlete who hadn’t done well on the first two exams went to see Emery for advice on improving his study habits. Emery got him talking about how his life was going and told him he understood firsthand that being a student-athlete was similar to having a full-time job in addition to college. Emery made him “feel like a part of the University’s student body for the first time” the student-athlete wrote. The player went on to excel in the class and wrote that he considers it one of the most important he has taken at UVA.

Teaching beyond the classroom, Emery is sought after as a clinical supervisor to graduate students in UVA’s highly ranked clinical program. A longtime colleague of Emery’s called him “the linchpin of a highly successful graduate training program in clinical psychology at UVA for 35 years.”

The Cavaliers’ Distinguished Teaching Professorship, a two-year professorship established in 1991 and endowed by UVA football bowl game proceeds, recognizes an eminent scholar for outstanding and enduring excellence in the teaching of undergraduates.

Cassandra Fraser

Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award

Professor of Chemistry

Years at UVA: 22

Cassandra Fraser is revered in the classroom and on Grounds as a dedicated role model who gets to know her students as she takes them on a journey of self-discovery.

Fraser has transformed the notoriously difficult and competitive “Organic Chemistry” into, as one former student put it, “one of the most interactive, collaborative and friendly classes I have ever taken.” She inspires students to want to help each other and see each other succeed. She uses real-life examples and applications of chemistry to show students how the science bears upon current issues involving drugs or pollution, for example.

Her colleague W. Dean Harman, who chairs the Department of Chemistry, said she works in “the vanguard of science education and interdisciplinary thought at the University.” Fraser also created the innovative courses, “Designing Matter” and “Transduction” in recent years. These interdisciplinary courses brought together faculty and students from a variety of disciplines along with chemistry, including architecture, the arts, biology, environmental sciences, history and social sciences.

One former student said, “Professor Fraser used to tell us that the problems in this world are too vast and complicated to be solved by one [academic] silo. Time and time again, I agree with her statement even years after college. In medicine, I collaborate with an interdisciplinary team every day. I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to expand my approach to problem solving and communication. These are the two priceless intangibles that prepared me the most for the ‘real world’ post-graduation.”

The Jefferson Scholars Foundation also recently gave Fraser, along with two other professors, its 2017 Award for Excellence in Teaching for endeavoring selflessly to instill in students the virtues of scholarship and love of learning.

Greg Schmidt Goering

NEH Daniels Family Distinguished Teaching Professorship

Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Years at UVA: 10

As a teacher, Greg Goering considers himself an intellectual travel guide, even though the territory he takes his students to is ancient and the language from Biblical times. He teaches and directs the Classical Hebrew Program in the Department of Religious Studies. This three-year NEH Teaching Professorship will provide him the time and resources to redesign the two-year program and renew its academic life.

“Through the study of antiquity, I lead students on a journey to bygone eras, where, confronted with cultures very different from their own, they can examine the unexamined within themselves and within their communities,” Goering wrote in his teaching proposal.

Goering has determined – and research on second language acquisition supports this idea – that memorizing lists of vocabulary and verb forms is not the best way to learn ancient languages. He will design a communicative model that has proved successful in teaching modern languages. This teaching method emphasizes activities such as dialogue, composition, skits, music and other learner-centered practices to help students develop meaningful connections to this language and culture from two millennia ago. He has already seen positive results from changes he has made in his courses so far.

His colleagues and nominators think the program overhaul will be transformative for their students, undergraduate and graduate. Goering would also like to share this new approach with colleagues who teach other classical languages.

“The teaching of classical languages is one of the most important humanistic endeavors that we can offer to our students and to our society,” religious studies chair Kurtis R. Schaeffer said. “To know our past through direct engagement with the highest ideals of an age expressed in exquisitely crafted language enables us to appreciate alternative visions for the present. Greg knows this, and lives it through his teaching.”

Robert Cox

All-University Teaching Award

Assistant Professor of Biology

Years at UVA: six

Robert Cox ignites his students’ curiosity to pursue thought-provoking questions. “If students understand the mechanisms that give rise to patterns, the logic that underlies theories and the methods by which one might test such mechanisms and theories, they understand science as a way of learning,” he wrote in his teaching statement.

One student, among the many who deem him one of their top professors at UVA, wrote in supporting his nomination, “He brings his love for life into his work and makes his students want to learn.”

Cox promotes cross-disciplinary perspectives and laboratory research that have enabled some of his undergraduate students to co-write papers and present at conferences, also preparing them for graduate programs. They come away from his courses with a view of “big picture” themes. He has revamped courses and revived the department’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduate program; it now attracts some of the best students in the nation, his colleagues wrote.

He also builds collaborations between UVA undergraduate and graduate students and high school teachers on science education, a project funded by the Mead Endowment and a National Science Foundation early career award.

Phoebe Crisman

All-University Teaching Award

Associate Professor of Architecture and Director of the Environments + Sustainability concentration in the College Global Studies Program

Years at UVA: 17

Phoebe Crisman’s students describe their experiences in her classes as transformative – “not just because she makes possible academic achievement but inner growth ethically and even spiritually,” one of her colleagues wrote. She considers teaching “a learning adventure” and seeks to “inspire a love of both theoretical and practical exploration,” she wrote in her teaching statement.

Crisman created a Global Sustainability program that attracts students across the University, helping expose them to architecture concepts as well as how it relates to contemporary issues. She directs the Environments + Sustainability concentration of the interdisciplinary major in Global Studies in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

Among several of her projects that link academic education with professional practice, Crisman created a Diplomacy Lab with research institutions and the U.S. State Department that brings together architects who have worked on embassy buildings and students working on their own design projects.

Her Learning Barge on the Elizabeth River, a floating environmental classroom launched in 2009, still draws hundreds of school children to learn about pollution and how to repair the damage.

Hsin-hsin Liang 

Excellence in Education Abroad

Associate Professor of Chinese, Department of East Asian Languages, Literatures and Cultures

Years at UVA: 15

A leader in Chinese language study abroad, Hsin-hsin Liang has directed the UVA-in-Shanghai Summer Program since 2006, making it a nationally and internationally recognized program. In addition to learning Chinese in class, the students learn firsthand through activities in Shanghai.

“I consider that simply ‘throwing students into the total immersion situation’ won’t make them learn. Rather, skillfully and tactfully pushing them out of their comfort zone and guiding them in meaningful interactions in authentic surroundings is essential,” Liang wrote in her teaching statement. The program also serves as teacher training for graduate students who participate as instructors.

A former student who then worked for her in the UVA-in-Shanghai Summer Program for two years wrote that she had inspired countless students to excel in Chinese studies. Another student who found her passion for teaching “awe-inspiring” now uses the Mandarin Chinese she learned, especially through the summer program, in her job with Booz Allen Hamilton.

Teaching at several universities before coming to UVA, Liang has taught Chinese as a foreign language for 40 years. She has not only influenced generations of students and teachers, but also the profession of Chinese language teaching in the U.S. and in China, and even “the Sino-American relationship,” one student wrote.