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October 25, 2011

Goergen Award recipients honored for excellence in teaching

While the recipients of the 2011 Goergen Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching are in vastly different fields of study, faculty members, students, and staff agree that all three professors have two things in common: the ability to motivate students and an unparalleled passion for their disciplines. Chosen from among the College’s more than 300 faculty members, this year’s recipients are: Dan-Andrei Geba, associate professor of mathematics; John Givens, associate professor of Russian; and Joanna Scott, the Roswell Smith Burrows Professor of English.

The Goergen Awards, which are named for and sponsored by alumnus, trustee, and former board chairman Robert Goergen ’60 and his wife, Pamela, recognize faculty members who have made substantial contributions to the undergraduate experience at Rochester. The University formally recognized this year’s winners during a luncheon and awards ceremony during Meliora Weekend.

Dan GebaDan-Andrei Geba

Allan Greenleaf, professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics, says Dan Geba has had a “major impact” on the undergraduate mathematics program since joining the faculty in 2006. And at Rochester, Geba doesn’t just teach students how to solve mathematical problems. According to former student David Carroll ’10, Geba teaches them to “slay the dragon” and he “awakens a primal, competitive drive” in his students, urging them to “study furiously so that [they] can conquer challenging problems by any means necessary.” 

Current student Benjamin Vespone ’14 agrees. In a letter nominating Geba for the Goergen Award, he writes that “a large part of my motivation to succeed was driven by a desire to return the level of excellence that I felt Dr. Geba exhibited every day.”

In addition to mentoring students, Geba serves as a coach for students competing in the prestigious William Lowell Putnam Competition. Under his tutelage, Rochester students have turned out top performances, placing 10th, 14th, and 12th in the last three years. Geba also established the Rochester Area Math Circle, which gives middle and high school students the opportunity to engage in advanced mathematical problem solving.

In his letter nominating Geba for the award, Greenleaf says that he has made “extraordinary efforts to enrich the intellectual lives” of the many undergraduate students he encounters—both inside and outside of the classroom.

John GivensJohn Givens

“Givenism” is a term created by students at Rochester to describe John Givens’s ability to motivate, teach, and inspire within them a love of learning. Susan Gustafson, the Karl F. and Bertha A. Fuchs Professor of German Studies and chair of Modern Languages and Cultures, pointed to the term of endearment and to the many contributions Givens has made in his time at Rochester as proof of his success as an educator.

Givens’s enthusiasm for teaching is demonstrated by his deep commitment to providing enriching experiences for Rochester’s undergraduates. He is codirector of Rochester’s summer study abroad program in St. Petersburg, Russia, serves as a premajor advisor for undergraduates, and is instrumental in organizing the Modern Languages and Cultures Undergraduate Research Conference each year. Since joining the University in 1993, he has mentored 19 undergraduate theses and was chair of the Board of Academic Honesty from 2004–10.

In a letter of support for his nomination, Beth Jörgensen, a professor of Spanish, writes that he “fosters an atmosphere of real intellectual engagement with the material, and he inspires a high level of interest and even passion for the subject matter in his students.”

The same observation is cited by his students as well. Gabrielle Cornish ’13, who took Russian language and literature courses with Givens, says, “Not only did he share his incomparable knowledge and scholarship with us, but he also helped us discover our own potential—as writers, readers, and thinkers. He helps us discover our own voices and capabilities, cultivate them, and then prepares us for further study.”

Joanna ScottJoanna Scott

John Michael, professor and chair of the Department of English, said that through her writing workshops and seminars in fiction, Joanna Scott has “unlocked the creativity of generations of UR students.”

Scott’s students agree. Leah Squires ’10, who took two courses under Scott and solicited her mentorship as she completed her senior thesis, says Scott’s “defining strength as an educator is her ability to foster creativity among her students.” In the classroom, Squires says that Scott’s “enthusiasm for storytelling was palpable in each lecture” as she encouraged her students to develop a “heightened awareness of how to use language.”

In her time at Rochester, Scott has been a champion for literature and storytelling. Chad Post, director of Open Letter Press, writes that she played “an instrumental role” in launching both Open Letter and the Literary Translation Program, serving on the founding committee for the program and the editorial committee for the press. Michael also points to Scott’s work with the Inspiration Project as proof of her profound belief in the power of storytelling. The project, which launched last spring, is a semester-long initiative pairing students with individuals from CP Rochester, part of the Al Sigl Community of Agencies, for one-on-one conversations and interviews that culminated in a variety of expressive pieces and literary works, including stories, poems, and memoirs. 

Katie Van Wert, a graduate student who worked with Scott on the Inspiration Project, notes that the results of the program—beautiful stories and close bonds between the students and adults—is a testament to Scott’s rare talents as a teacher. “Joanna taught the students how to spark the inventiveness of their interviewees through careful listening and conversation,” she writes. “In essence, she taught them how to teach as she does—a lucky thing for the students in their lives.”

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