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Northwestern University

2017 Recipients

Jeremy Birnholtz

Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Jeremy Birnholtz’s commitment to improving the undergraduate experience is demonstrated through the vast number of ways he engages student learning. He volunteered to serve as associate chair of his department, which credits him with “almost singlehandedly reshap[ing] an important part of the curriculum” by developing several popular new courses into a new Digital Media module, and “help[ing] faculty develop modules in other subfields.” His teaching philosophy focuses on interactive and applied learning, which he describes as “constantly experimenting with novel ways to get students actively involved in the learning process.” He created “undiscussion sections” as part of what he calls a “menu-based assignment structure” in which students self-direct their assessment, and incorporates student “tweet” reading responses into lectures slides and a “wordle” visualization. A student explained, “He selects compelling readings, asks engaging questions, and integrates social media and technology into assignments, rendering an exciting academic environment.” Another student describes that Birnholtz “is an effective teacher because he gives his students the tools they need to build their own interpretations about the evolving digital media field,” including creating a non-credit supplemental curriculum to prepare students to study computer programming. As director of the NU Social Media Lab he has mentored twenty-nine Northwestern students in research supported by over $100,000 in National Science Foundation Research funding for undergraduate stipends. Students describe Birnholtz as a teacher with a “clear commitment to student learning above everything else,” who “has gone above and beyond his commitment to improving the undergraduate experience.” Birnholtz is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies in the School of Communication, and by courtesy, in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He received his Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of Michigan, and his B.S. from Northwestern.

Vasili Byros

Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Vasili Byros chose to teach the sophomore honors sequence to engage undergraduates in a “new curriculum built fundamentally around the principle of learning by doing.” His reimagining of the year-long course resulted in an innovative, hands-on sequence that combines creative and analytical perspectives. Students critically examine the musical language of 18th-century composers and then imitate and recreate their styles through original compositions. For students this resulted, as one noted, in “writ(ing) things…I did not know I was capable of”; another wrote, “Professor Byros intentionally pushes the musical and philosophical implications…to the absolute limits in the most intellectually challenging way.” Byros describes teaching as continually “creating and sharing knowledge” and links this to “the Humboldtian idea of higher-level education…which highlights the fluidity and ever-evolving nature of knowledge.”  Student comments reflect this perspective, writing, “he preached ‘autodidacticism’ – the art of teaching oneself,” and Byros “emphasized that learning is not something that stops…To teach oneself to identify gaps in knowledge and then seek to fill these gaps is a skill that was central to his course.” While students highly value his “ingenuity as a musician, scholar and teacher,” and his “encyclopedic knowledge of the course content,” it is his “approachability [that] makes him an inspiring mentor outside of the classroom.” He gives “attention to each of us, as scholars and as individuals” a student wrote. Another student expressed that everyone in his class had “personal and inspirational” individual meetings with Byros. Students’ high regard is reflected in twice naming him to the Faculty Honor Roll. Byros is an Associate Professor in Music Theory and Cognition, Department Chair of Music Studies, and coordinator of the advanced undergraduate music theory curriculum in the Bienen School of Music. He received his Ph.D. in Music Theory from Yale University, and an M.A. in Music Theory and Music History and a B.A. in Music both from Queens’s College, CUNY.

Nick Davis

The Alumnae of Northwestern Teaching Professor

Nick Davis’s undergraduate teaching ranges across the entire spectrum, from first-year seminars to large introductory lectures to research-intensive upper-division courses to one-on-one advising, most recently on a senior thesis that took top honors. The English Department considers Davis’ interdisciplinary, introductory course on film and literature, which requires students delve deeply into multiple approaches to content, analysis, and writing styles, to be “one of the most rigorous courses” in the curriculum, even as it draws record enrollment. He conceives of teaching as “an active laboratory where successful experiments stoke desires to ask new questions,” an approach reflected in his role as a Junior Fellow at the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching. He has received numerous teaching awards, including the Distinguished Teaching Award from WCAS, the Distinguished Teaching Excellence Award from the School of Professional Studies, and three appointments to the Faculty Honor Roll. Even as students cite Davis’ “seriously high expectations” they equally note he “cares about each student’s progress” and describe his teaching as “life-changing.”  One student writes, “I learned a lot about the history of film and the way film connects to culture in the world” and another states that Davis displays a “profound investment in their personal growth and education.” His talent for blending teaching and mentorship prompted his invitation to be a Posse Scholar Mentor for ten first-year students.  His colleagues describe Davis “as both a teacher and a mentor [who] provides a personalized, rigorous, capacious, and joyful educational experience that enables Northwestern’s undergraduates from all backgrounds, with all levels of preparation, to thrive.” Davis is an Associate Professor who holds dual appointments in English and in Gender and Sexuality Studies in Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature with a concentration in Film and Video Studies from Cornell University, where he also earned his M.A., and received his A.B. from Harvard University.

Michael Jewett

Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Michael Jewett has dedicated himself “to high quality education in the chemical and biological engineering sciences.” His passion for advancing his discipline through excellent teaching led him to participate in the Junior Teaching Fellow Program at the Searle Center for Advanced Learning and Teaching, develop two new courses, one which is groundbreaking as one of the first-ever synthetic biology courses for undergraduates in the country, co-found and team-lead the NU team in the international Genetically Engineered Machine competition, and mentor over thirty undergraduates in his lab, many of whom have gone on to graduate school. Students experience his “enthusiasm and talent for teaching undergraduates [as] unmatched at the University,” “evidenced by his consistently high CTEC scores,” with one student declaring, ”A 6 is not a high enough rating to describe his energy level.” Described by students as “a fantastic teacher,” “very knowledgeable,” and “always willing to answer questions,” Jewett is characterized as “Not only engaging each student … [but] truly wanting the whole class to succeed.” Student comments consistently highlight that “he actively sought out feedback on comprehension of material and new topics” pointing to Jewett’s teaching innovation, “Muddiest Points” in which he collects questions from students on concepts that require further explanation, described by a student as “one of the coolest teaching techniques I've ever seen.” In recognition of his teaching, Jewett received the Cole-Higgins Award for Excellence in Teaching and has twice been named to the Faculty Honor Roll. Jewett’s advocacy of the sciences extends to programs he has initiated with Chicago Public School high school teachers with the Office of STEM Education Partnerships in preparing the next generation of undergraduates. Jewett is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering in the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and co-director of the Center for Synthetic Biology. He received his Ph.D. and M.S. from Stanford University and his B.S. from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Francesca Tataranni

Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Professor of Instruction

Francesca Tataranni aims to bring passion for teaching Classics, a commitment to rigor, and creativity to her classroom. From her introductory level to advanced seminar courses, she takes care in the development and execution of every course component. She has designed the Latin curriculum currently used by the Department, has won numerous grants to develop new methods and new courses, is a recipient of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Teaching Award, and has been elected to the ASG Faculty Honor Roll eight times. In the classroom, Tataranni utilizes emerging technology to aid in students’ learning, including her seminar “Ancient Rome in Chicago,” in which students research points of interest around the city of Chicago, and ultimately create a shared digital map with a virtual walking tour of the sites, complete with added student commentary in the form of video essays. She aims to prepare her students for lives characterized by intellectual curiosity, a commitment to social justice and equity, and a love of life-long learning. Students share that one of her strengths is her dedication to giving them the tools to do their own research and explore their own passions. Her student research advisee notes that she, “[makes] a large university easily navigable,” and students describe feeling “respected as an intellectual” in her class. Ultimately, Francesca is committed to her students’ holistic success, which does not go unnoticed. As one past student recalled, “Professor Tataranni is an astoundingly good professor, deeply invested in making sure her students comprehend the material and extremely skilled in ensuring they do so, and it showed.” Tataranni is a Professor of Instruction in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, where she teaches Latin language and literature, Roman history, and receptions of classical antiquity in contemporary theater, literature and architecture. She received her Ph.D. in Ancient History, and a Laurea (equivalent to a B.A. in Classics and M.A. in Roman History) from the University of Pisa.

Tracy L. Vaughn-Manley

Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Professor of Instruction

Tracy L. Vaughn-Manley’s teaching philosophy is to “create and maintain an environment that is physically, emotionally, intellectually, and culturally safe and conducive to the free exchange of thoughts and ideas.” An exacting challenge anywhere, but particularly in Qatar with students from 31 countries representing “many ethnicities and creeds,” which a student explained, is an environment, “where race and color are not discussed.” Vaughn-Manley finds “tremendous joy and responsibility” in teaching students “the power and beauty of literature to…be a prism through which many facets of the human condition can be reflected.” Described by her dean as an “exceptional teacher,” she “has the capacity to confront people from different cultures with concepts and ideas about diversity, tolerance, and artistic expression.” Student comments testify to Vaughn-Manley’s success, as one student wrote of learning “the importance of …understanding different perspectives through others’ lives,” another describing Vaughn-Manley as “a source of inspiration,” and another student writing simply, “I became more tolerant.” Students characterize Vaughn-Manley as “interactive,” “dynamic,” and with a “passionate love of literature” that positions it “as urgent, provocative, and [as] engaging as breaking news.” Students point out that the “kindness and thoughtfulness with which she responds to every student’s contribution, no matter how small,” promotes their becoming “more effective writer[s] and communicator[s].” She is described as a “role model and cheerleader for the young women she teaches,” with a current Ph.D. candidate writing, “I credit my academic success to Professor Vaughn.” A student summarized, “Teaching is Professor Vaughn’s calling and she answers it earnestly every day at NU-Q.” Vaughn-Manley is an Associate Professor of Liberal Arts in Residence at Northwestern University-Qatar, and Associate Professor of Instruction in the Department of African American Studies and by courtesy, the Department of English at Northwestern, Evanston. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Massachusetts, and her B.A. from California State University, San Bernardino.

Erin Waxenbaum

Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Lecturer

Erin Waxenbaum believes “education should be collaborative, inclusive and integrative” and has translated this ideology, with the support of two Hewlett Fund for Curricular Innovation Awards, into an experiential teaching pedagogy. “Her knowledge of anthropology” a student stated, “is only outmatched by her enthusiasm to teach the subject.” Described by students as “magnetic,” one student wrote, “she was able to captivate a room of Anthropology majors and non-majors alike,” while another noted, “I would recommend [her] course for anyone of any background.” Her ability, as described by a student, to “effectively translate complex subjects into something everyone can understand” has been recognized through election to the Faculty Honor Roll three times and an Access Ability award. In addition to introducing five new classes, Waxenbaum has revised an introductory course, which has drawn new levels of enrollment. She is credited by her department as setting, “a model for the incorporation of hands-on learning into a large lecture class,” and as a key driver in doubling the number of Anthropology majors. Waxenbaum also serves undergraduates as a first-year advisor as well as a supervisor to seniors on their capstone theses. She has played an instrumental role in seniors receiving Undergraduate Research Grants.  She has helped students engage the Chicago community through her positions as Research Associate at the Field Museum and Forensic Anthropologist for the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. Her relationship with students often continues beyond graduation as a collaborator on research projects and papers. In recognition of her outstanding mentorship of undergraduates, the Anthropology department recently created the position of Undergraduate Advisor specifically for her. Waxenbaum is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. She earned her Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Florida, and both M.A. and B.A. in Anthropology from Brandeis University. Back to top