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In Praise of Great Teachers

Northwestern recognizes five faculty members with University Teaching Awards

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April 30, 2013 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University has recognized five faculty members for teaching excellence, three with 2013 Charles Deering McCormick Professors of Teaching Excellence Awards and two with 2013 Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturer Awards.

Jack C. Doppelt, Benjamin Frommer and Nitasha Tamar Sharma have been named Charles Deering McCormick Professors of Teaching Excellence. John M. Alongi and Laura Schellhardt have been named Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturers.

Collectively, the awards are known as the University Teaching Awards. They recognize individual faculty members who have consistently demonstrated outstanding performance in classroom teaching or who have developed significant innovations that have also influenced the methods and teaching effectiveness of other faculty.

Recipients are selected by the University Teaching Awards Committee and are designated fellows of the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching. The awards ceremony will take place Wednesday, May 22, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Guild Lounge of Scott Hall, 601 University Place.   

Charles Deering Professors of Teaching Excellence:

Jack C. Doppelt, professor of journalism in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, has been a pioneer in interdisciplinary, international and civically engaged education throughout his long career at Northwestern. A colleague observes that Doppelt’s classes achieve one of the main objectives of higher learning by “giving students the knowledge and learning experiences that help them develop an intellectual, professional, social and moral framework for approaching life.” Years before global programs were a priority, Doppelt developed Medill’s graduate global journalism program, and he has a long history of forging interdisciplinary collaborations for himself and his students. An innovative instructor, he employs the latest digital storytelling tools in his classes, helping his students to develop the dynamic media literacy that journalists need to thrive in today’s ever-changing industry. Students repeatedly attest to his inspirational voice for social justice, his joy in mentoring them beyond the classroom and his unwavering commitment to “propelling students forward amidst a world of social change.” Doppelt promotes civic and global engagement by encouraging his students to become involved with communities ranging from immigrants in Chicago’s Lakeview High School to Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan. He also taught the first media law and ethics course at Northwestern’s Qatar campus to a group of young Middle Eastern women during the height of the Arab Spring. In 2012, he was one of five faculty members named to the inaugural group of the Center for Civic Engagement Faculty Fellows. On the Northwestern faculty since 1986, Doppelt has also been a faculty associate of the Institute for Policy Research since 1988 and has served as Medill’s associate dean, acting dean and interim associate dean. A distinguished scholar and professional journalist, Doppelt holds a J.D. from the University of Chicago and a B.A. from Grinnell College.

Benjamin Frommer, associate professor of history in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, has distinguished himself through his continuous desire to improve as a teacher, meticulous preparation and strong commitment to understanding his students’ perspectives. He is known for teaching “well-crafted and demanding courses that students look forward to taking and remember for a long time afterwards.” A master explicator, Frommer, in the words of one colleague, “excites his students’ curiosity and equips them with tools to satisfy it” as he “adeptly narrows the knowledge gap between him and them.” A historian of 20th century central Europe, he possesses a distinctive ability to teach “deeply tragic topics with a balance of empathy and analytical distance.” He himself attributes his success as an instructor partly to the fact that he has never stopped trying to see his classes from his students’ perspective. He constantly works to engage his students in the learning process and to create an environment in which they can successfully “process knowledge and build upon it.” One student recalls how Frommer pushed her to “think about WWII and its consequences in eastern Europe on a much deeper level,” allowing her to understand “the true horrors of the era” and forcing her “to think of that period of history in a whole new way.” Another student appreciates his unique ability to “raise inspiring questions and guide our discussion while giving us enough space to think independently.” Frommer’s participation in the Kaplan Humanities Scholars Program has allowed him to expand his teaching through a team-taught, interdisciplinary freshman seminar. He received the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Teaching Award in 2007. An accomplished scholar as well as a gifted teacher, Frommer completed an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) postdoctoral fellowship and has been a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar in the Czech Republic, among numerous other awards and fellowships. Frommer holds Ph.D. and M.A. degrees from Harvard University and a B.A. from Columbia University.

Nitasha Tamar Sharma, an associate professor with joint appointments in the African American studies department and the program in Asian American studies, has proven herself to be an exemplary teacher and mentor since joining Northwestern’s faculty in 2006. Rather than accept the curriculum in place upon her arrival, Sharma now teaches courses entirely of her own design. Her colleagues appreciate the “breadth and depth in the areas of comparative racial/ethnic studies and popular culture” that she has added to the curriculum. Her teaching empowers students “to make difficult but ethical choices, to see how they impact others in the world and to develop empathy across difference.” Her courses are remarkable for their diversity and popularity among students, and for the vitality they bring to the African American and Asian American studies curricula. One student testifies that Sharma’s Introduction to Asian American Studies course left her stricken “with knowledge too powerful to ignore” and “itch[ing] with the beginnings of a race consciousness.” As one colleague observes, Sharma’s classes challenge students to ask themselves “what part of their privilege they are willing to give up for the common good.” She has also distinguished herself in developing the curriculum of the seven-year old doctoral program in African American studies and in advising graduate students. Sharma regularly involves students in her own research, even taking one undergraduate with her to Hawaii to do ethnographic fieldwork over a summer. Sharma received the African American studies department’s Outstanding Teaching Award in each of her first three years on campus and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences’ Distinguished Teaching Award. She has twice been named to the Associated Student Government’s Faculty Honor Roll. Sharma holds Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in anthropology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a B.A. from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturers 

John M. Alongi, distinguished senior lecturer in mathematics, earned his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics from Northwestern. His excellence in the classroom has been recognized frequently since his return to the University in 2006, as evidenced by his receipt of a Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (WCAS) Alumni Teaching Award and his repeated selection to the Associated Student Government Faculty Honor Roll. In the past three years, he has taught 27 sections of 12 different courses. Both colleagues and students emphasize his skills and dedication as a teacher, colleague and administrator. Students laud his meticulous preparation and effective teaching style. One student feels that Alongi’s blackboard notes “read better than most textbooks” and that his drawings illustrating three-dimensional perspectives are “like artwork.” Another recalls the “seamless” curriculum of Alongi’s classes; his courses “work out like a tree, branching naturally from a set of core ideas.” His colleagues praise the “new level of supervision and organization” that Alongi brought to the mathematics honors program, Mathematical Experiences for Northwestern Undergraduates (MENU), when he became its director in 2009. In this role, he teaches one of MENU’s three-quarter core courses and serves as advisor to all first-year MENU students. In 2011, Alongi became the department’s first teaching assistant (TA) supervisor, designing a new TA training curriculum and serving as the key pedagogical mentor to undergraduate and graduate student teaching assistants. He has contributed to a test preparation guide and a widely used linear algebra textbook. Co-author of the graduate studies textbook “Recurrence and Topology,” Alongi has an impressive record of service to Weinberg and the wider University. He served as the department’s first representative to the Faculty Senate, member of the Faculty Handbook Committee, member of the WCAS Continuing Lecturer Advisory Committee and a fellow of two residential colleges.

Northwestern alumna Laura Schellhardt earned her M.F.A. at Brown University before returning to Northwestern in 2008 as a full-time playwriting lecturer in the theatre department. She has enhanced and organized the playwriting curriculum offered as part of the School of Communication’s module-based education initiative. Her courses range from introductory and genre courses to the Advanced Playwriting Sequence. She co-teaches the New Play Collaboration class, which culminates in staged readings of student plays at Northwestern’s own Agnes Nixon Playwriting Festival, and she recently devised an opportunity for advanced students to script a play based on a request from a local professional theatre. Schellhardt skillfully designs and continuously improves her classes to facilitate what she calls the “alchemy” of student playwriting -- the “balance between discussion and action, between time alone and time in workshop, between public display and private experimentation.” Her efforts have led to increased demand for the Advanced Playwriting Sequence and to the professional successes of her students after graduation. Her students themselves testify to the powerful effects of her dedicated teaching and curricular innovation, for example, by reporting that her classes “push us to grow and hold ourselves accountable.” She has also achieved professional distinction for her own work. Her plays have been produced at TheatreWorks Palo Alto, the Boston Court Theatre (Los Angeles), the Seattle Repertory Theatre, the Exchange Theatre (New York) and at numerous other theaters and festivals. Among her awards are the American Association for Theatre and Education’s Distinguished Play Award (2011), a Best Playwriting Award from the New York City Fringe (2010), the New Play Award from ACT in Seattle, a Jeff Award nomination in Chicago for “The Outfit” (2004) and residencies or fellowships from the Theatre Communications Group, SoHo Rep, The Playwright’s Center and the Dramatist’s Guild. 

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