College of LAS names teaching and advising award winners

Fourteen individuals honored for service to students

Teaching awards graphicThe College of LAS has selected winners of this year’s teaching and advising awards. Professors, graduate students, lecturers, and an advisor have been honored for their service.

"The College of LAS is enormously proud of the recipients of this year's teaching and advising awards," said Venetria K. Patton, Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of LAS. "Teaching and advising has always required devotion, and in today's environment the challenge has been even greater. We're fortunate to have these compassionate, adaptable, and creative individuals working to make futures brighter for our students."

Descriptions of the recipients follow:

LAS Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for Graduate Teaching Assistants

Thomas Day is a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of History. Day uses empathy as the foundation of his teaching. He is often referred to as “approachable,” “expert,” and “excellent” by his peers. During his time teaching, Day has also taught one of the most innovative courses that the department offers, HIST 203, Reacting to the Past, in which students learn about historical events through role-playing. Day is also dedicated to the educational mission of the History Department. He has served on numerous departmental committees devoted to improving the student learning experience, including the Diversity Committee, which hosted workshops and talks about race and diversity in the student body; the Website Redesign Committee, which created a more engaging website for students; and Source Lab, the department’s digital humanities and public history project, for which Day has served as a steering committee member and chair.

Cody Jones is a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, & Behavior. He has taught every semester since 2017 and he is known to be flexible and creative. One student wrote: “Cody has been my best TA yet… I wish I started asking questions earlier in the semester because I have done better ever since I started.” His nominator recounting how a student suffered a death in the family and needed to catch up on an entire unit's worth of material. The student turned to Jones for help. In a couple of one-on-one sessions, the student not only caught up, but did well on the exam, illustrating Jones’ ability to convey complex concepts in an easy to understand way and his willingness to go beyond the call of duty—as well as earn the trust of his students, who will turn to him first for help.

Gabe Malo is a graduate teaching assistant for the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies. He is noted for his grasp of the mechanics of teaching and deep compassion for his students. During his time as a teaching assistant for GWS 100, mastered the operations necessary for classes to proceed, from a mastery of Compass and Zoom to drawing out student discussions. During weekly 25-student sections for GWS 100, Malo made the social and educational atmosphere in his sections welcoming, lively, and intellectually stimulating. “He sees, and relates to (students) as people with vast potential, each of whom is like a puzzle with a key,” his nominator wrote. “Gabe teaches like someone’s life depends on it. And in this difficult, discouraging, disillusioned world, where the mental health and the very lives of students are so often at risk, he is right to do so.”

Ky Merkley is a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Classics. Ky is recognized for creating space in their classroom where students can broach difficult topics such as race. In “American Race and Ethnicity in the Classical Tradition,” for example, Ky, “created an environment where difficult conversations could transform how students think about race and ethnicity in their own lives,” their nominator wrote. A student praised Ky for unlocking “different perspectives…that we haven't thought about before.” Ky went to great lengths to continue learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, with one student recalling, “When we had to go online, Ky did not give up the sense of community we had gained as a class… They made our class different channels for asking questions, funny pictures relating to Latin, and voice channels for class and group work. Ky went above and beyond for us.”

Carmen Gallegos Perez is a teaching assistant in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese. Before coming to Illinois in 2014, she was an award-winning journalist in Peru. This rich experience allowed her to become a superb instructor, despite never teaching before. Perez has maintained high student ratings, including during the difficult switch to online classes in 2020, when many course ratings dropped. Her students appreciate her use of familiar terms, and she consistently leads her classroom with kindness and a high standard of achievement, encouraging students leave their comfort zones, learn from their mistakes, and to think creatively. One student wrote, “In Spring 2020, the University, and the entire world, faced an incredible shift in teaching. Even with the uncertainty of what may happen next, Carmen made students feel comfortable in their classes. She was accommodating while also keeping students engaged in a time where many wanted to hide.”

Julia Spielmann is a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Psychology. She is currently in her final year as a doctoral student in the university’s social-personality psychology program. According to her colleagues, Spielmann has consistently served as a critical contributor to undergraduate education both in the Department of Psychology and through the Education Justice Project, where she teaches incarcerated individuals at the Danville Correctional Center. Her pedagogical approach is grounded in using innovation to make knowledge accessible and to promote a more just and equitable world. She continues to enact this philosophy with thought-provoking class exercises such as asking students to design an alternative form of law enforcement. Her nominator said that Spielmann inspires her students to challenge each other, the course instructor, and the world.

LAS Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising

Kimberly Powers has been an academic advisor for the School of Chemical Sciences since 2018. Known for her personable, friendly, and accessible style, Powers is also responsible for implementing several innovative services and programs that directly impacted students. They include expanding express advising availability, a new student registration model to engage admitted students, a new student welcome event to foster more connections between students majoring in chemistry, and the creation, in conjunction with the Division of General Studies, of a peer-mentor based first-year experience course. Said one student, “From the outline of course material to the intensive trainings we received it was immediately apparent to me how much effort was put into the design of this course. It seemed that Kimberly was always trying to find new ways to deliver course material and more importantly, making it fun and relevant.”

LAS Dean’s Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

Will Barley joined the Department of Communication in 2014. Barley has cultivated classroom environments that adapt to student needs, and students have given him a great response. His nominator reports that Barley’s classes fill faster than any other in the department, with students responding well to the connections he makes between theory and real world experience. Outside of the classroom, Barley mentors undergraduate students through James Scholar and research team experiences and he offers unique solutions for students to make up absences. His energy and passion of the field makes each class an engaging experience. One alumna wrote, “Professor Barley’s passion for interdisciplinary thinking and its everyday applications” helped her realize she had a passion for studying workplace transformation. Today, thanks to his support and encouragement she holds one master’s degree, is pursuing a second master’s, and works as a technology consultant for PwC.

Toby Beauchamp is a professor the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies. Beauchamp is incredibly present and principled in all his interactions with colleagues, and students regularly find him to be a challenging and compassionate teacher. He has taught GWS 100, an introductory course, and his presence there has resulted in an enormous increase in students choosing to major or minor in gender and women’s studies—almost double what they were before. His courses on transgender studies and disability studies fill every semester they are offered, in part because of the wide-ranging foundation of knowledge that uses to approach the material. Beauchamp encourages students to pursue questions that are meaningful to their own lives, with students saying that he brings a sense of community, humility, and drive for continuous collaborative learning to his classrooms. His nominator wrote, “Students consistently find Professor Beauchamp to be a challenging, compassionate teacher.”

Daniel W. Leon has taught in the Department of Classics since 2014 when he started as a visiting lecturer. Specializing in Greek and Roman historical narrative, Leon possesses a unique ability to make classes engaging, and his students have attested to that skill in his student evaluations. Leon has also served the department by designing new courses and working to develop a study abroad program in Athens, Greece. Above all, his caring personality and commitment to personal decency have resonated with students. He is known for bringing his teaching subjects to life with hands-on activities, such as using reeds found on campus grounds to make papyrus material that ancient Greeks used for paper. He is known for combining scholarly brilliance with careful preparation and attentiveness, with his nominator writing, “He has a gift for helping students from different backgrounds tap into their own curiosity and thrive.”

Nicole Riemer has been a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences since 2008. She is being honored for many activities to foster student success, including her introduction of new courses and her mentoring of undergraduate research.  One student whom Riemer advised for his Capstone research project wrote, “This project fueled my passion for research and led to me getting a job as an environmental data analyst at Argonne National Laboratory after graduation. The skills I learned from Professor Riemer during undergraduate research were invaluable for getting the job as well as her allowing me to use her as a reference.” Riemer also works to eliminate race and gender disparities in the field, with her efforts including one-on-one counseling and mentoring sessions, giving talks to female high-school students in environmental sciences, and mentoring underrepresented students through the UIUC Summer Research Opportunities Program.

Alex Shakar is professor in the Department of English. He’s an invaluable member of the Creative Writing Program and has appeared on the List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent a total of 10 different semesters during his time at Illinois, with four of those appearances being for two different courses in a single semester. Shakar takes great care in structuring his lesson plans, as demonstrated through his ability to succeed in running a smooth class for his students during the pandemic and virtual classes. His nominator recounted how, during a blizzard, Shakar lost his Zoom connection Instead of canceling class, he ventured into the storm, found an Internet hotspot, and proceeded to teach the rest of the class via phone. Said one student, “the fact that the class was genuinely excited that we got to finish the class period says much about [Alex’s] teaching ability.”

LAS Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for Instructional Staff

Raquel Castro Goebel is an instructor in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese. She was a lawyer in her native Brazil, but in the United States she found her passion for teaching her language and her culture to others. Goebel seizes every opportunity for professional development, including the one-month intensive StarTalk Portuguese Teacher Training Program held in Boston, and obtaining program development funds for new course materials. Goebel is praised for her willingness to learn new things, making her an enthusiastic and caring instructor who fosters a dynamic class environment. Her nominator wrote, “Raquel’s contribution to excellence in teaching Portuguese have been recognized nationally and are manifested in several tangible ways: her dedication to students and the positive atmosphere she promotes in her classes, memorable impact on our students’ learning through curricular innovations, amount and quality of engaging extracurricular activities, productive extramural and campus partnerships.”

April Michelle Hoffmeister is a senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics. She earned her master’s in mathematics at U of I and a PhD in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in mathematics education, and has been teaching within the department since 2012. Hoffmeister has always gone above and beyond her job requirements, having worked with at-risk students at elementary schools, developed a master’s degree in the teaching of mathematics, organized a book club for Champaign elementary and middle school teachers, and serving as the founding director of the Mathematics and Statistics Student Support Center. Hoffmeister is praised for her energy for teaching and her dedication to her students by her colleagues and students. Wrote one former student, “From scheduling additional office hours during times most would consider being outside of the normal workday to consistently checking in with CAs and TAs to see how both students and the assistants are doing, it is clear to see how much Dr. Hoffmeister cares about her students.”

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Christian Jones, Allison Winans, and Dave Evensen