College of LAS announces teaching and advising awards

Faculty, staff, and teaching assistants are recognized

The College of LAS has announced the recipients of annual awards for teaching and advising excellence. (Photo of Gregory Hall by Katie Watson.)
The College of LAS has announced the recipients of annual awards for teaching and advising excellence. (Photo of Gregory Hall by Katie Watson.)

Professors, teaching assistants, and an advisor are being recognized by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences for excellence in educating and mentoring students at Illinois. A formal ceremony in honor of the winners will take place April 18.

The LAS Dean’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching is being awarded to Brendan Harley, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering; Robert Rushing, professor of French and Italian and comparative and world literature; Gisela Sin, professor of political science; and Renée Trilling, professor of English. Winners receive $1,000 for teaching and research and a one-time increment of $2,000 added to their salary.

The LAS Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for Instructional Staff is being awarded to Jeffrey Frame, teaching assistant professor in atmospheric sciences. Frame will receive $1,000 for teaching and research and a one-time increment of $1,000 added to his salary.

The LAS Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for Graduate Teaching Assistants is being awarded to Bryan Abendschein, Department of Communication; Kylee Britzman, Department of Political Science; Valerie O’Brien, Department of English; Michael Perino, Department of Psychology; Nima Rasekh, Department of Mathematics; and Daniel Storage, Department of Psychology. Winners will receive a $2,000 award.

The LAS and Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising is being awarded to Pamela Greer, associate director of the LAS Student Academic Affairs Office. She will receive a $2,000 award.

“We’re extremely proud to honor this outstanding group of educators and advisors,” said Feng Sheng Hu, Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of LAS. “There is no higher calling in the college than the enlightenment of our students, and this year’s awardees have carried out that principle in remarkable ways.”

Brief descriptions of the award winners follow:

Chemical and biomolecular professor Brendan A. Harley earned his award for his enthusiasm and clarity in the classroom, including his unique “journal club lectures,” a style of teaching that involves the use of current journal articles to build fundamental understanding of research techniques and current research in the field.

Nominators for French and Italian and comparative world literature professor Robert Rushing remarked on Rushing’s effectiveness and professionalism in his teaching, describing how his discoveries and research lead naturally into “teaching moments” for his students. He is known for encouraging students to truly grow in their new language, rather than simply memorize.

Since joining the faculty in 2006, political science professor Gisela Sin has taught six different undergraduate courses, most of which were new course developments, and has consistently received high scores on student evaluations. She is constantly innovating, having recently developed a short-term study abroad program in Argentina.

English professor Renée Trilling has been consistently praised by her students for effectively teaching about her area of expertise.  She is noted for her infectious enthusiasm for Old English literature and for making clear her subject matter in a manner that helps develop strong critical reading and writing skills.

Robert Rauber, head of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, said that much of the vibrant growth that the atmospheric sciences major has experienced since it launched in 2007 can be attributed to the teaching excellence and mentorship provided by teaching assistant professor Jeffrey Frame, who teaches eight undergraduate courses, including two of the largest general education courses on campus.

Communication teaching assistant Bryan Abendschein, who also received the Department of Communication’s 2017 Marie Hochmuth Nichols Award, is known for demonstrating passion for his course content and genuine concern for his students. His nominator said Abendschein is worthy of the "highest honors" for teaching.

Political science teaching assistant Kylee Britzman, who also teaches gender and women’s studies, is a supportive mentor in the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship and Illinois Promise programs. She is credited for creating a collaborative learning environment that encourages students to understand their own preconceptions and think critically about politics and gender.

English teaching assistant Valerie O’Brien has amassed strong support from her students through her teaching approach, which encourages reading, writing, collaborative and analytical skills, and what O’Brien terms ethical citizenship—asking questions, engaging in critical introspection, exchanging ideas in civil and constructive manners, and valuing diversity across its many dimensions.

Psychology teaching assistant Michael Perino, who was also awarded the 2017 Sandy Goss Lucas Award for Excellence in Teaching Introductory Psychology, as well as the Department of Psychology’s Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Student, is known for a particularly strong rapport with his students, using humor to help increase student understanding.

A former student of mathematics teaching assistant Nima Rasekh, who has generated an overwhelming amount of student praise for his teaching methods, said that the instructor has the ability to completely transform what most students would dread–a 9 a.m. advanced calculus discussion–into one of the most interesting, interactive and engaging learning experiences that they have ever had at Illinois.

Having been placed on the University’s List of Excellent Instructors four times, psychology teaching assistant Daniel Storage is described as a well-organized instructor who guides students through well-paced lectures interspersed with entertaining and illustrative examples.

Student Academic Affairs Associate Director Pamela Greer is described as someone who exemplifies academic advising through leadership. Whether in her office, on the Quad, in the grocery store or city restaurants, “Auntie Pam,” as she is called by students, is known for always holding students accountable for their choices while maintaining their rapport and respect.  

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Logan Weeter