2009 Recipients of the McCormick and Alumnæ Teaching Professorships

Karl A. Scheidt
Alumnae of Northwestern Teaching Professor 

In 2002 Karl Scheidt joined the faculty in the Department of Chemistry, quickly becoming known as a remarkable teacher. In 2005 he became one of the youngest faculty members ever to receive a WCAS Distinguished Teaching Award.  He teaches the first-quarter organic chemistry course, a notoriously challenging class. Although the class can enroll as many as 100 students, Scheidt knows the students by name and thus can engage each student during the lecture.  One colleague writes, “He essentially turns a large and famously difficult class into a discussion and rapid fire interchange of ideas.” His exceptional performance is reflected in CTEC scores well in excess of five on a six point scale, and with verbal comments that describe him as “amazing” and “ the best prof at NU.” Professor Scheidt also teaches a challenging graduate course, Advanced Organic Chemistry. His success in the classroom reflects his ability to motivate students by making them feel as though they are part of a team as they explore new material.  Students often comment that he is approachable and accessible.  It is clear that he makes very complex concepts comprehensible through innovative strategies and individual attention to each student.

Karl Scheidt serves as a mentor for both graduate and undergraduate students, currently leading a laboratory with twenty coworkers.  An expert in the areas of catalysis and chemical synthesis, his research is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and numerous foundations.  He was selected as the Irving M. Klotz Professor of Chemistry in 2008.

Wendy Nelson Espeland
Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence 

A member of the Department of Sociology since 1991, Wendy Espeland is highly regarded for her devotion to her students’ learning and her understanding of the central role a teacher can play in a student’s academic experience and development. A colleague emphasizes the enthusiasm she generates in the classroom: “Wendy’s courses are strategically placed within our undergraduate and graduate curricula to get students excited about the discipline.”  Her thoughtful one-on-one work with students sets her apart, whether she entices first year students into sociology with her Freshman Seminar on Chicago Landscapes, or challenges advanced students in one of her many independent studies or lecture courses. As one student in her upper level class on Sociological Theory wrote, “I loved this class and I was sad when it was over – no I won’t miss the nights I stayed up reading endless amounts of theory, but I will miss being thoroughly engaged in lecture and loving my major.” In 2001-2003, using a Northwestern Cross-School Initiative Grant, Espeland and two colleagues developed and co-taught a year-long course that incorporated community service components.  After taking the class, one student commented, “This class is rewarding, inspirational, educational, and incredibly interesting on so many levels.”

An innovative, perceptive, and caring educator, Professor Espeland won the WCAS Distinguished Leader in Undergraduate Community Award in 2003 and the WCAS Distinguished Teaching Award in 1998.

David M. Meyer
Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Meyer has been a faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy since 1987.  A colleague describes his exceptional contributions as a teacher: "Since his arrival at Northwestern, it has been clear that Professor Meyer is a gifted lecturer with the unusual ability to make difficult scientific concepts clear to students of all backgrounds in courses ranging from small seminars to large introductory courses."  He has taught 4,000 students in the past 22 years. Meyer's innovative approach to teaching is exemplified in his introductory "Highlights of Astronomy" course. By exploring the latest Hubble Space Telescope images in the classroom, he utilizes technology to widen students' understanding of astronomy as a constantly evolving field that provides a framework for critical thinking and testing ideas about the universe. Meyer also encourages his students to directly observe the night sky themselves with the Dearborn telescope. Through such efforts, he has stimulated generations of students to pursue further the field of astronomy. As exemplified in one student's comments, "He took a subject I was mildly interested in and inspired a passion for it."

Professor Meyer has also contributed greatly to the undergraduate educational experience by serving as a freshman adviser in Weinberg for 18 years. He received the Koldyke Outstanding Teaching Professorship in 2002, the Weinberg Distinguished Teaching Award in 1999, and the NU Alumni Excellence in Teaching Award in 1998.

Laurie Zoloth
Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Zoloth is an outstanding educator with a whole-hearted dedication to teaching and to the classical mission of the university.  Primarily an ethicist, her interests range across philosophy, religion, Jewish studies, law, justice theory, bioethics, and medical ethics. Her versatility as a scholar and passion as a teacher are evidenced by her appointments as Professor of Medical Humanities in the Feinberg School of Medicine, Professor of Religion in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and Professor by courtesy in the School of Law. She has introduced new courses in all three schools. In the medical school she focuses on bioethics, research ethics, and medical humanities. She attracts students from both the medical and law schools with her course on Bioethics and Law. In Weinberg, her courses address the tension between research in bioethics and medicine, on the one hand, and between religious theory and moral philosophy on the other. Of her versatility one colleague writes, “She teaches in these various and related areas because she has a broad and deep competence in them, and she perceives the interconnections between them in interesting and innovative ways.” One student echoes the praise of his peers when he describes her as, “brilliant” and “engaging,” and observes that she “asks questions, and LISTENS to her students.”

Professor Zoloth serves as the Director of the Center for Bioethics, Science and Society and as Director of the Brady Program in Ethics and Civic Life.

Susan M. Piagentini
Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturer

In 2000 Piagentini joined the faculty as a Senior Lecturer in the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music.  She oversees the music theory and aural skills program for all freshman music students, and serves as a mentor for teaching assistants and lecturers in that program. She also offers a very successful graduate course on the subject of music theory pedagogy. Piagentini addresses the challenge of teaching undergraduate students who enter her courses at very different levels, employing various techniques, including listening, composition, singing, and peer teaching. She has attracted national attention for her innovative uses of technology, including the development of a set of interactive computer-based programs that enrich the teaching of music theory. The attention she devotes to the individual success of every student routinely leads to extraordinary student evaluations.  One student observation typifies many comments about her dedication: "To say that Dr. Piagentini goes above and beyond with her time and energy is an incredible understatement." Going beyond simply labeling the structures of classical music, she utilizes music literature in novel ways to help students understand how these structures function in music. One colleague writes, "Hallmarks of Dr. Piagentini's teaching are the encouragement of independent thinking, individualized instruction, and self-reflection." The application of theory to practice, coupled with her passion for music, makes her an exceptional educator.

Elected to the ASG Faculty Honor Roll in 2006, Piagentini serves on the Academic Review and Doctor of Music Oversight committees, assists with new student advising, and serves as the theory coordinator for the National High School Music Institute.

Charles Samuel Yarnoff
Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturer

A member of the Writing Program since 1979, Yarnoff has taught writing to approximately 3,000 students.  He teaches at all levels of the undergraduate curriculum, and he offers courses in American Literature in the School of Continuing Studies for which he has won the school-wide teaching award.  One colleague writes, “It would be difficult to find a more dedicated, versatile, or capable contributor to undergraduate education in any department or program at Northwestern than Charles Yarnoff.” Yarnoff encourages critical thinking, engages students in a peer review process, and meets frequently with students on an individual basis.  His lasting effect on his students is evidenced by the nomination letter of a student who recently reread and reflected on Yarnoff’s comments on a paper written by the student years ago. “Looking back on one’s freshman writing at a remove of 30 years is not an unmixed pleasure, but I was delighted to see the pages again because they were covered with generous and encouraging comments from Professor Yarnoff, offering gentle but firm direction in a manner that was at pains not to crush the spirit of an inexperienced but eager nineteen-year old student.”

Yarnoff is a freshman adviser and has been the chair of the Weinberg Freshman Seminar Writing Awards competition committee since its inception in 1997.  He also serves on the Engineering Design and Communications core planning committee and the Board of Directors of the Students Publishing Company.