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Goergen Award winners honored for contributions to education

The University will recognize the recipients of this year’s Goergen Awards for Contributions to Undergraduate Education in the College on Friday, September 8. The awards were first presented in 1997 and are named for and sponsored by trustee and former board chairman Robert Goergen ’60 and his wife, Pamela.

We asked this year’s recipients to talk more about their approach to undergraduate learning, what inspired them to pursue a career in education, and what the Goergen Awards mean to them. Here are their responses:

Susan Gustafson, the Karl F. and Bertha A. Fuchs Professor of German Studies
Goergen Award for Distinguished Achievement and Artistry in Undergraduate Education

Susan Gustafson

Since joining the faculty in 1987, Gustafson has created and taught courses in German language and literature, comparative literature, and women’s studies. She also is director of the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies.

“The best teaching is really about imparting a love of learning, about engaging students in the joy of discovery, about encouraging students to grasp and follow their own inspirations. And while professors of literature like me profess and model their research methods, their theoretical approaches, and their writing techniques in class, the very best learning is ultimately the result of a magical, personal excitement about something on the part of the students. Enthusiasm is the key—ours too, of course—but, much more important, the students’ own.

“I am very honored to have received a Goergen teaching award and it has led me to think more precisely about teaching and the love of learning. My expectations for my students are high. I am not satisfied with teaching them just the mechanics—how to write a precise thesis, or how to structure an argument or essay. While those are important basics, I want my students to reach beyond that. I want them to think critically and independently. I hope they find literary puzzles that fascinate them and that they experience the adrenalin rush of intellectual passion. I hope they discover the thrill that is the love of learning in and of itself.”

Jeffrey Runner, associate professor of linguistics and of brain and cognitive sciences
Goergen Award for Distinguished Achievement and Artistry in Undergraduate Education

Jeffrey Runner

Runner has taught undergraduate and graduate students at the University since 1994 and has developed courses in syntax, linguistic analysis, semantics, and grammatical systems. The recipient of National Science Foundation fellowships for his research, he is the author of the book Noun Phrase Licensing.


“Becoming an educator seemed a natural career path for me. My grandfather taught chemistry at Columbia University, my uncle currently teaches chemistry at the University of South Carolina, my aunt taught music, my mother taught kindergarten and first grade, my brother is a music teacher, as is his wife, and my father spent many years as a minister, which is another kind of educator. I also have been inspired by a number of my own teachers over the years. Probably one of my earliest influences was a high school math teacher. I began college with that career in mind, but ended up discovering linguistics, which in many ways is the ‘mathematics’ of language.

“As an educator, I enjoy interacting with students, asking them questions, pushing their analytical skills. Not all courses are ideally suited for this type of teaching; however, I try to incorporate as much as possible of this style of interaction into every course I teach. Students do seem to respond to this, as well as my enthusiasm for the material. I think this enthusiasm, the enthusiasm to try to draw them out and get them ‘enthused,’ is a big part of what makes me a good teacher. I also feel one of my most important roles as an instructor here at the University is to help students learn to think analytically, to argue their position persuasively, and to write clearly and effectively. I do this by engaging them in the study of language. The abilities they develop doing this form the foundation for success not only while they are students, but for the rest of their lives.”

Dan Martin Watson, professor of physics and astronomy
Goergen Award for Distinguished Achievement and Artistry in Undergraduate Education

Dan Martin Watson

Watson is a five-time winner of his department’s undergraduate teaching award. He joined the faculty in 1988 and teaches courses in astronomy, astrophysics, physics, electricity, and magnetism. Watson says the best results in the classroom often come by striking a balance between two conflicting forces:

“One force is the will to produce compelling, multimedia, and durable (i.e., electronic) teaching material—lecture presentations, lab experiments, homework and exam problems, solutions to the problems (This is a crucial part of my technique, to the extent that I have one.), Web sites, etc. It is so much trouble to create those things that they would suggest doing the next class exactly the same, to get maximum use out of the durable materials. But then there’s the other force: Each class is different and its members come in knowing different things than the last class, so one has to stay flexible, measure what they already know and how best they learn, and create or adapt appropriate tools.

“My expectation for my nonscience students is that they will take away, first, simply an appreciation of the empirically founded, scientific method: the idea that there are facts and that scientific theories are made more secure by this foundation. Second, the idea that a theory inconsistent with the facts is not much help. Third, that a logically consistent theory based on the facts can lead one to predict new, interesting, and useful effects. I want the students to be able to apply general scientific thinking, to whatever they turn out to do. In the case of physics and astronomy students, I additionally need to make sure they leave with mastery of the basic tools of physics that are introduced in the course.”

The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program
The Goergen Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Learning in the College

Beth Olivares and John Barker

This year’s award will recognize the McNair Program, named for the laser physicist who perished in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster. The program was created to support and increase the numbers of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented minority undergraduates pursuing doctoral degrees for research and teaching. Director Beth Olivares, pictured at right with assistant director John Barker, discusses the program’s successful approach:

“The College has been home to the program since 1992. At Rochester, the program has achieved a very high level of success: 100 percent of our students graduate within five years, more than 74 percent of our McNair scholars go on to enter graduate study, and well over 30 have already earned doctoral degrees.

“Why are we so successful? Clearly, one reason is our dedicated staff of professionals. Another is the quality of the overall student body. Another important component is the dedication of all the faculty members who serve as mentors to our students, guiding them through the research process and taking their academic aspirations quite seriously. We also believe the individualized support services, hands-on counseling, tutoring, and the family atmosphere we work hard to provide make the critical difference in the lives of these young people. The College has, through its continued and substantial support of this program, created a safe and supportive environment that encourages each McNair scholar to achieve and even exceed his or her dreams and goals. This Goergen Award recognizes both the amazing abilities of our students and the program’s concerted efforts to propel them ever forward along their educational paths.”

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