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Premier Teaching Awards for Five

Northwestern recognizes five faculty with McCormick awards for teaching excellence

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May 13, 2010 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

Mary M. Poole
Mary M. Poole

Michael F. Smutko
Michael F. Smutko

Hans Jørgen Jensen
Hans Jørgen Jensen

Indira M. Raman
Indira M. Raman

Angela G. Ray
Angela G. Ray

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Five Northwestern University faculty members each have been honored with a Charles Deering McCormick teaching award, the University's highest honor for teaching excellence.

Mary M. Poole and Michael F. Smutko each have been named Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturer; Hans Jørgen Jensen, Indira M. Raman and Angela G. Ray each have been named Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence.

The awards recognize faculty who have consistently demonstrated outstanding performance in classroom teaching or who have developed significant innovations that have influenced the teaching effectiveness of others.

Designated as fellows of Northwestern's Searle Center for Teaching Excellence, the McCormick honorees will be celebrated at a ceremony in Northwestern's Guild Lounge at 4 p.m. May 25.

CHARLES DEERING MCCORMICK UNIVERSITY DISTINGUISHED LECTURERS:

Mary M. Poole, a senior lecturer in the theatre department in the School of Communication, is known for challenging both the minds and hearts of students in her teaching. She has spent the last 20 years working with students through the performing arts curriculum developed by Alvina Krause, the legendary theatre and performance studies professor who taught at the University for more than three decades. A liberal arts foundation anchors the curriculum, and performance is used to explore questions of communication theory, human behavior and ideas raised by great texts and stories.

Poole, whose research focuses on acting theory, is one of the most sought after instructors in her department. The environment that she provides for students is noted as much for her nurturing as her constructive criticism. The cohort that coalesces in her sequenced courses is characteristically respectful, emboldening students to use their intuition and take risks in expressing themselves. Poole, according to a former student, provides "one of the most incredible environments to learn in. It's comfortable and nurturing, but when she needs to say something, she does. Her criticism is always constructive and always helpful. She knows what she's talking about, and she knows how to communicate it."

Poole also is the master of Jones Fine and Performing Arts Residential College. She is on leave from the Undergraduate Research Grants committee this year in order to act in "Arsenic and Old Lace" on campus and "Stage Door" in Chicago.

Michael F. Smutko, a senior lecturer who has taught courses in the physics and astronomy department in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (WCAS), is especially known for the way he inspires students in his large introductory course of up to 500 students. During some quarters, he teaches science to more undergraduates than any other instructor on campus. His CTEC (Course and Teacher Evaluation Council) scores are among the highest in his department, and students have elected him to the Faculty Honor Roll three times. One of the 485 students in a 2007 astronomy course said of Smutko: "He deserves far more in life than the standing ovation that we gave him on the last day of class." Smutko's gift for teaching science is summed up by another former student: "I came into this class as an English major with an extreme bias against science and came out wanting to be a physics and astronomy major. Seriously, Smutko is amazing."

Smutko also has served as a WCAS freshman adviser for his seminar students and as the associate master in the Shepard Residential College. Because of his superb teaching and advising skills, he was asked to participate in a pilot program in which students in his seminar live together and build a true learning community. Outside of the classroom, Smutko also shares his love of science with students at the Adler Planetarium, where he holds a joint appointment. And at Northwestern's Dearborn Observatory, he trains and mentors students to host weekly viewing sessions, using Dearborn's powerful Alvan Clark telescope.  

CHARLES DEERING MCCORMICK PROFESSORS OF TEACHING EXCELLENCE:

Hans Jørgen Jensen, professor of cello in the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, is an esteemed string player whose highly innovative teaching methods inspire students both in music and in life. One of the nation's top cello pedagogues, he has performed as a soloist with the Copenhagen Symphony, Danish Radio Orchestra, Irish Radio Orchestra and Basel Symphony Orchestra. He is passionate about helping students discover their own aspirations, whether in music or a different field. A former student now in finance, for example, cites Jensen's influence on his own confidence and success in his career. Reflective of his innovative methodology, Jensen combines his knowledge of cello playing, kinesiology, yoga and Zen to emphasize that skilled performance combines an economy of motion with technical mastery.

He has created a website for students to self-evaluate their performances; used computer software to visualize sound, intonation and techniques; and used knowledge about electromyography (EMG) activity in the muscles to illustrate how changing one's focus of attention affects the motor system. He is cited as a "mentor," an "ideal of selflessness" and "the most influential, inspiring, demanding and incredible teacher of my life." His students have gone on to teach and hold positions in many major orchestras and prestigious music schools, including The New York Philharmonic and The Graz Philharmonic in Austria. The Northwestern University Bienen School of Music Exemplar in Teaching Award is among his many awards.

Indira M. Raman, associate professor of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, emphasizes interdisciplinary learning that makes good use of students' previous learning. In her teaching, a former student noted:  "The discussions generated were extraordinarily engrossing, training one to use every bit of background possible to approach a single problem." Raman teaches both undergraduate- and graduate-level courses, including neurobiology for the Integrated Science Program (ISP), cellular neurophysiology and biophysics. She not only helps students learn in her courses but also makes them aware of their own learning processes. She relates her lectures to topics that are familiar and interesting to students, ranging from protein crystal structures for biology majors to Fourier analysis for math majors.

Building upon their knowledge bases, Raman then presents her students with challenges and provides the tools they need to meet them. Teaching from "first principles," she pushes students to achieve a deep understanding of science and its evidence-based methods, including how experimental results were obtained, when and by whom. Raman's research focuses on ion channels and synaptic transmission in the cerebellum. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Searle Scholar Award, a Klingenstein Fellowship Award in the Neurosciences, a Sloan Fellowship, the ISP Faculty Service Award, the Excellence in Instruction Award and the Clarence L. Ver Steeg Graduate Faculty Award. She has served on multiple editorial boards and grant review panels.

Angela G. Ray, associate professor of communication studies in the School of Communication, is known as a "challenging, rigorous, engaging and helpful" instructor. Many of her classes focus on persuasion in U.S. history, a specialized area of study, but the overreaching goal of her teaching is to develop students' critical-thinking skills and analytic abilities to best prepare them to meet life's challenges. That certainly is the case for one former student, who said, "My eye for detail and critical analysis is infinitely better as a result of her." Conceptual knowledge is combined with practical experience in all of her courses. Students are able to watch a campaign speech and understand the speaker's range of appeals, characterize major elements of historical controversies or teach others about the development of rhetorical criticism. Former students of hers are scattered in a wide range of fields: pursuing graduate degrees in communication or history, studying law, business or medicine, teaching in urban schools, serving in the U.S. Navy, working as a Hollywood literary agent and playing professional football. Ray received the highest praise from another former student, who called her "the kind of professor who should be rewarded -- a teacher."

Ray has received two student-nominated teaching awards at Northwestern, the Clarence Ver Steeg Graduate Faculty Award and the Galbut Outstanding Faculty Award. Her research focuses on rhetorical criticism and history, and in a book that she is writing, she is examining ways that 19th-century reformers used popular media of the day to influence public opinion.
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