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Student success shows teaching success

The annual Salute to Faculty Excellence Week, which will honor dozens of UNT’s top faculty members for their teaching, research and service, continues Sept. 22-26 and culminates with an awards dinner Sept. 26 at Apogee Stadium.

The award winners have seen numerous successes in their careers, and they cite many different ways to measure success. InHouse asked the winners to describe their greatest teaching success. Some reflected on former students who have built their own reputations in their field, while others discussed programs they’ve implemented or research projects they led with students learning from them along the way. Some also described teaching strategies they have learned to be effective in their classrooms.

During Salute to Faculty Excellence Week, InHouse is featuring these responses:

 

Nicole SmithNicole D. Smith, associate professor of English

President's Council Teaching Award

SGA Honor Professor

Two of my greatest teaching successes come from undergraduates who took my upper-level English course on Geoffrey Chaucer and went on to highly competitive doctoral programs in medieval studies. The first, an Honors College student and double major in English and Philosophy, became my research assistant for a project on a fourteenth-century guide to sin and confession. I then directed her honors thesis, a portion of which she used as her writing sample for application to graduate school. She went on to secure full funding for at least five years (amounting to nearly half a million dollars) in a doctoral program in medieval English literature at Northwestern University. The second student was also an undergraduate who then earned his master’s degree in English here at UNT. I directed his master’s thesis, and he, too, earned a coveted place in the doctoral program at the highly competitive University of Tennessee at Knoxville with full funding for his degree. He recently informed me that he placed his first article in a medieval journal, and his essay stems from the work he did at UNT for his master’s degree.

 

Paul DworakPaul Dworak, professor of music history, theory and ethnomusicology

Distinguished Teaching Professor

My teaching at UNT has been heavily influenced by two professors who taught me during my undergraduate and graduate studies at Carnegie-Mellon University. History professor Richard Schoenwald stressed that “learning the art of asking the right question was more important than knowing the right answer.” Changing societal needs can only be addressed by seeing problems and needs from new and unconventional perspectives. Once a relevant question has been formulated, productive answers can be found. Otherwise, societies stagnate when their members are constrained by traditional strategies and solutions that might no longer be effective. I have had the privilege at UNT of having encountered several students who are unconventional thinkers, and who have embarked on their careers with excitement and enthusiasm. I probably learned more from them than they did from me.

Cognitive scientist and Nobel-prize winner Herbert Simon said, “The most dangerous person in the world is the person who wants to help others.” After my initial shock, he clarified that teachers who perform their duties competently will help the students whom they serve, but teachers whose goal is to help students might suppress a student’s ability to set goals that meet his or her own personal and cultural needs. The mentoring process should start by answering a student’s questions about how to meet the goals he or she has already set. If the student later finds that these goals are counterproductive, a teacher can then guide the student to redefine goals in a way that empowers the student to develop and use critical thinking skills.

 

nancy LillieNancy Boyd Lillie, professor of management

Outstanding Online Teacher and Course Award

Determining success in teaching is a challenge. Student grades only tell part of the story. I feel I am successful when I see evidence that my students really “get it.” My courses in human resource management and in business ethics and social responsibility have very practical applications for the careers of my students. I know I have made a lasting impact when students experience and appreciate the connection between what is studied and how it relates to the real world. Often feedback from students verifies that this was accomplished. For example, I may get calls or emails from former students thanking me for information they are now using in their jobs. Or I may get a “Thank a Teacher” note or written comments in my evaluations that indicate they understood and appreciated the importance of the knowledge they gained.  Sometimes, they share information and articles they find in the media that relate to our course content. These are the times when I feel that they “got it,” and that I did my job well. I am thankful for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students and appreciate the difference they make in my life.

 

Mohammad OmaryMohammad A. Omary, professor of chemistry

Distinguished Research Professor

I believe in enhancing the learning experience of students by introducing contemporary research into the teaching curriculum. I have committed to this  lifetime practice for my entire academic career via the educational component in my National Science Foundation-CAREER proposal. One high-impact activity is the “Research for the Classroom” program that I have been practicing in my advanced undergraduate and graduate classes. In lecture courses, the program entails assigning suitable experimental and/or computational research projects related to the class material to interested students who are willing to carry out these projects in lieu of a term paper from the literature. In laboratory courses, this entails carrying out research discovery experiments in parallel or in series to known procedures. The “Research for the Classroom” program has led to 12 publications and 22 conference presentations that were co-authored by the class or teaching laboratory students who started these projects.

Especially noteworthy examples include:

A project by former student Sammer Tekarli (Advisor: Thomas Cundari) led to a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society) with Sammer being the first author.

A class laboratory project by former student Iain Oswald led to a patent disclosure with Iain being co-inventor as well co-authoring another high-impact publication, Advanced Functional Materials, which has been recently featured on the journal cover. Iain designed the journal cover. He also, participated in the patent defense presentation before the university committee as well as the drafting of the legal patent document filed with the U. S. Patent and Trademarks Office.

Learn more: Read about other successes from:

—compiled by Matthew Zabel / URCM

Posted on: Wed 24 September 2014

Owning Excellence

Faculty and staff members have roles in transforming UNT into a nationally prominent university. Share your ideas on how you can help UNT to own excellence, keep students on track and improve graduation education.

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