Faculty, staff, and graduate teaching assistants at the University of Illinois, including 11 instructors from the College of LAS, were honored recently for excellence in teaching, mentoring, and advising. These awards, sponsored by the Office of the Provost, are collectively known as the Campus Awards for Excellence in Instruction.
The Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching recognizes sustained excellence and innovative approaches in undergraduate teaching and contributions beyond classroom instruction that have an overall positive impact on undergraduate student learning. Honorees are represented in three employee categories – faculty, specialized faculty and teaching assistants – and each receives a monetary award. The LAS honorees, along with descriptions provided by their nominators, include:
Kristin Bail, political science. Bail includes not only academic goals in her learning objectives but also emotional learning such as building self-confidence, a sense of belonging, and overall empowerment. Her greatest strength lies in her approach to course design and execution with a focus on first-generation students. While she designs her courses for these students, the resulting design serves the needs of all introductory-level students. She has brought enthusiasm, rigor and empathy to all the courses she has taught as a teaching assistant and as an independent instructor.
Marissa Chesser, mathematics. Chesser has proven to be an exceptional teacher of undergraduate mathematics. While she does all she can to help her students succeed in class, she also cares about their overall well-being. Chesser participates in activities outside the classroom such as being a mentor for the Merit and Illinois Geometry Lab programs, assisting with undergraduate mathematics advising and volunteering to lead activities for Girls Engaged in Math and Science.
Janice Harrington, English. Harrington is an invaluable member of the creative writing program who has appeared on the list of Teachers Ranked as Excellent 12 times. Foregrounding her students’ needs in times of crisis comes easy to Harrington due to her student-centered approach to teaching. She adjusts her syllabus in response to the students’ interests and concerns and believes that writing poetry can change students’ lives.
Michael Hurley, English. Hurley teaches a range of courses with important and distinct functions that can really make a difference to students’ sense of satisfaction and self-worth. CW 243: The Craft Essay, for example, is notoriously hard to explain to students beforehand but Hurley renders it intelligible. There’s something in his teaching that engages students and transforms them because he has taught them how to write about significant things cleverly, passionately, and without embarrassment.
Robert Kanter, School of Earth, Society and Environment. Kanter has been leading seminars, lectures, discussions and field trips with the school for over a decade. In the last five years of senior surveys, his courses have always been at the top of the list of “most important courses taken at Illinois.” No other instructor is so adept at integrating field trips, alumni visits and expert members of the community into the service of course learning goals.
Eugene Lerman, mathematics. Lerman is exceptional in his ability to break down rigorous mathematical arguments into simple questions and statements, making the math accessible and insightful. His excellence is not only purely technical in the sense of getting students to become fluent in some very difficult material, but it extends to the expansion of his students’ intellectual abilities in a more general sense. He has an approachable nature, willingness to entertain and expand on questions and a sense of humor that pervades his lecturing.
Mina Nahvi, mathematics. During her five years of graduate school at Illinois, Nahvi has distinguished herself as an extraordinary educator. She has excelled in classroom teaching at all levels and has taken on a wide range of mentoring and educational activities involving both students and other teachers. She cares deeply about her students as human beings, and her efforts in and out of the classroom have had a tremendous impact on the lives of her students during the difficult pandemic years.
Valeria Sobol, Slavic languages and literature. Sobol creates an open and inclusive atmosphere for discussion, where students feel welcome to contribute their own perspectives and particular knowledge and are challenged to think creatively and critically through innovative courses like Russ 461: Russia and the Other. Her teaching philosophy is based on the simple premise that students learn best through active engagement.
The Campus Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring is presented to tenure-system or specialized faculty members who have taught on the Urbana-Champaign campus for at least five years. The 2023 honorees are:
Jeffery Mondak, political science. Mondak developed several programs that strengthened how students are professionalized and prepared for the academic job market. Mondak has always validated non-academic career paths as well and has helped students prepare for data-analytics careers in particular. His excellence as a mentor begins by putting graduate students first. He mentors them from the moment they arrive, and often before that. He continues giving advice to his academic placements not only through the job market but at least until they achieve tenure.
Caroline Tancredy, psychology. Tancredy is the director of the Master of Science in Psychological Science program and was instrumental in crafting the program and ensuring its success. She has created a superb structure to support the professional development of MSPS students with a wide range of interests and backgrounds and she forges strong and supportive mentoring relationships with each student.
The Campus Award for Excellence in Guiding Undergraduate Research is designed to foster and reward excellence in involving and guiding undergraduate students in scholarly research. Alison Bell, evolution, ecology and behavior, has provided undergraduate research opportunities through multiple venues, including her lab, her teaching, and a Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant. The grant provided stipends for nearly 200 undergraduates from community colleges to perform research in the summer at the U. of I. Bell has helped provide quality research opportunities to hundreds of undergraduates through the Bell Lab.