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2018 Recipients

Joshua Leonard

Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Joshua Leonard is a leader in teaching innovations which promote students’ independent thinking and real-world problem-solving skills. He describes his approach as “balancing intellectually rigorous and challenging course material with teaching methods that encourage exploration, self-directed learning, and conceptual understanding that transcends specific course content and topics.” Passionate about student-directed learning, Leonard has both redesigned longstanding courses and created new courses to build hands-on learning opportunities that immerse students in the “practice of real science and engineering.”  A current student explained that Leonard challenges one to understand the material so that “you take what you had learned and apply it in a novel way” which although difficult, “encouraged (us) to take ownership of (our) understanding the material.” Leonard is committed to “evidence-driven teaching,” using frequent student feedback and evaluations of learning outcomes to continually improve teaching strategies and adapt course content to meet diverse learning styles and goals.  

Valued as a mentor by numerous students, Leonard views undergraduate research as key to promoting students’ critical thinking skills. He has directly mentored nearly 40 students in his lab, many of whom go on to earn competitive awards and author publications, and he is a long-serving member of the Office of Undergraduate Research’s team that provides feedback on student-led projects. He co-founded and is lead advisor for Northwestern’s international Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) team, which prepares students for careers in the emerging engineering discipline of synthetic biology, and he serves as a mentor in the Murphy Institute, which enables McCormick undergraduates to pursue an extended, self-directed project. “Professor Leonard” a student wrote, “exemplifies teaching both in the classroom and as a mentor.” 

Leonard is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. He received his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of California Berkeley, and his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University.  


Miriam Petty

Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Miriam Petty is “deeply committed to a teaching practice that frames each course as a community” in which the students’ “work, interests, energies, and understanding are vital to its success.” She wrote that “the content of my scholarship, which explores issues of race, gender, representation, and hierarchies of power, often means asking students to think seriously and critically about difficult ideas.” She explains her approach is “simultaneously…balancing the personal – the realm in which students can feel defensive or challenged – with the empirical and the textual”, and models for her students “how to parse the relationship between these emotional and intellectual facets.” Designing curriculum, crafting lectures, and facilitating discussion within the context of this content and transforming the class into a community exemplify her teaching excellence.  

Petty engages students’ critical thinking on the “deep contexts of history, production, and reception” and their interplay in film and television media. As one student wrote, “Professor Petty has taught me to treat a media text with nuance and to look beyond the surface.” Petty’s teaching style results in student engagement in lecture as well as seminar-style classes. Petty takes especially seriously the opportunity for undergraduates in the Department of Radio, TV and Film to combine theory and practice, in her classes that explore topics like genre, adaptation, and authorship. A student from her adaptation class reflected that the course “honestly changed the way I originally thought about why I want to produce media, as an RTVF major,” and that “while it is a class about African-American literature and film in particular, it is also much broader than that.” 

Petty regularly attends Searle Center and the Graduate School pedagogy workshops, participates in teaching teleseminars through the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, and engages with her colleagues to compare syllabi, discuss classroom strategies, and share best practices.   

Petty is an Associate Professor in the Department of Radio, TV, and Film in the School of Communication, with courtesy appointments in the Departments of Performance Studies and African American Studies. She received her Ph.D. (American Studies) and MA (Interdisciplinary Studies) from Emory University, and her BA in History from Carleton College. 

Catherine Woolley

Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Catherine Woolley’s department chair describes her as creating a “21st century approach to neuroscience education that mirrors the interdisciplinary revolution at the cutting edge of neuroscience research” and credits her with “transforming the landscape of undergraduate education in Weinberg.”  Woolley notes that “the future of the field will draw more and more on diverse areas.” She led the curriculum design of the neuroscience major, which includes a strong foundation in basic science, organizes brain-related courses into a menu of options, and provides paths for additional study in an “Allied Field.” The curriculum also contains “incentives for students to pursue research” and incorporates “professional skills needed for diverse careers.” Launched in 2015, the success of the new neuroscience major is evident, with 409 majors since its inception and 100 expected to graduate in the current year. 

A student described Woolley’s “commitment to (the) undergraduate experience (as) truly extraordinary.” Woolley established the Northwestern Education and Undergraduate Research on Neuroscience (NEURON) program to provide “support for undergraduates to work in labs and present their science, including at a summer research symposium,” a goal affirmed by the student who wrote, “she taught me how to be a scientist.” Students describe her lectures as “captivating and inspiring” and one student in particular noted, “her enthusiasm, eloquence, and ability to convey complicated concepts are unparalleled,” while another wrote, “she makes it clear that she cares about us.” In her personal teaching statement Woolley wrote, “Once students believe that a professor cares about them as individuals, they are more likely to let down their guard, take responsibility for their part of the work in a class, and to learn. And if students are learning, then I am a teacher.” Her students are clearly learning, exemplified by the student who wrote, “You owe it to yourself to take a course as amazing as this one; they don't come around too often in life.” 

Woolley is a Professor in the Department of Neurobiology. She received her Ph. D. in Neuroscience from Rockefeller University and her B.S. in Zoology from Texas A&M University.  

Noelle Sullivan

Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Lecturer

Noelle Sullivan describes her pedagogical goals as teaching “How the World WorksHow to Speak and Write to be Heard, and the Effect on and Engagement with Wider Communities.”  Students’ comments consistently identified a sense of profound learning aligned to these goals.  A student wrote that Sullivan developed students’ ability to “not only check our assumptions at the door, but also examine and understand the structures which gave us these biases in the first place.”  Another student described that “Dr. Sullivan made me realize that the smartest person in the room…is not someone who hides behind elaborate language but (is) someone with the audacity, self-awareness, and humility to communicate in an inclusive way that engages others from different backgrounds.” A student described Sullivan’s wider impact as “cultivating an educational environment where students and faculty honestly engage with each other to expand knowledge, passions, and personal growth.” 

Sullivan’s department chair credits her with taking “important leadership roles in curricular and program development with Global Health Studies (GHS) and the College.” Her “innovations with the introductory course have been particularly important and influential,” and the methodological training her students received “dramatically improved the quality and impact of the independent research projects frequently carried out by GHS students.” Sullivan is committed to undergraduate research and has supervised numerous undergraduate honors theses and independent research projects, served as a mentor for GlobMed and Project Rishi, and has invited students into her own research projects.  

Sullivan was named to the Associated Student Government Faculty Honor Roll in 2015-16.  She is an Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Global Health Studies Program.  She received her Ph.D. and M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Florida, M.A. in African American Studies from the University at Albany, and her B.A. in Anthropology and History from the University of Victoria, Canada. 

Jill Wilson

Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Professor of Instruction

Jill Wilson has profoundly shaped the Industrial Engineering program through curricular leadership in both required and elective courses, integrating assessment to ensure continual reflection for improvement. She established Group Advising for new IE majors, and promoted a sense of community for engineering students by introducing collaborative spaces in the IE Lounge and launching “dIvErsion,”  a weekly student social gathering, and “Weekly dIgEst” to inform undergraduates of opportunities and resources." Jill has created a culture of community among undergraduates that simply didn't exist before she joined our faculty," department chair David Morton states. 

Wilson believes that learning stems from subjects "based on (student) interest" and "direct engagement with the material.” She builds on this principle by ensuring class examples and exercises are "strongly grounded in authentic context.” A student wrote, "The things you learn in this course will make you feel like Superman.” Her impact goes on to leave a lasting effect, as noted by another student who wrote “I still frequently refer to my notes and equation sheets from Professor Wilson's class whenever I need to refresh my memory.” Wilson makes it clear that "every student is important in her classroom," and she has made each class an "inclusive community" where students can "feel free to learn" and not feel afraid of failure.  Students regularly point to Wilson creating an IE undergraduate community and the profound impact this has on their education. As one student noted, “I cannot stress enough how wonderful it is to have a mentor like Dr. Wilson; when someone you respect deeply believes in you, it makes up for a lack of belief in yourself, and no goal seems out of reach.” David Morton, IE department chair described a recent visit by prospective students when a current IE student was overheard saying, “Oh, have you met Professor Wilson? You must. She’s wonderful and she runs the department.” 

Wilson is a Professor of Instruction in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences. She received her Ph. D. in Algorithms, Combinatorics and Optimization and M.S. in Operations Research from Georgia Institute of Technology, and her B.S. in Mathematics from the University of Kentucky.