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November 04, 2015

Goergen Awards honor excellence in teaching

group of faculty members
John Kessler, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, and his presenter, Eleanor Arrington ‘14; Deborah Rossen-Knill, associate professor and director of the Writing, Speaking, and Argument Program, and her presenter Allison Goldstein ‘08; and Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology, and his presenter Jeffry Magloire ‘16.

In acknowledgement of their contributions to undergraduate education, Andrew Elliot, John Kessler, and Deborah Rossen-Knill were honored with the College’s 2015 Goergen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

The 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. This year’s winners were formally recognized during Meliora Weekend.

Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology

Colleagues and students commend Elliot for his strengths in lecturing and mentoring.

Since 2001, he has taught Social Psychology and Individual Difference, a core course in the psychology major and one that often draws more than 300 students each semester.

By integrating current events and pop culture with psychological concepts, he engages students by highlighting how psychology applies to real-world situations. He earns students’ respect, nominators say, with his approachable demeanor and thoughtful responses to questions.

Elliot is also lauded for mentoring numerous research assistants and teaching assistants. Since 2001, almost 600 undergraduates have served as research assistants in Elliot’s lab, an average of about 20 per semester. Many have gone on to graduate programs in psychology and related disciplines, and they often cite this research experience as strengthening their interest in the field.

Last spring, Elliot led a trip to Haiti as part of his Achievement and Motivation in Developing Countries course. The goal of the trip was to speak directly with and learn directly from the Haitian people in order to fully understand the barriers to education they encounter. Students also say the trip was a “life-defining” experience.

John Kessler, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences

Kessler enthusiastically and effectively intertwines research in a classroom setting to help undergraduate students understand and carry out high-level research projects, his students and colleagues say.

He regularly offers a core environmental science class, A Climate Change Perspective to Chemical Oceanography, and a graduate/advanced undergraduate course on Stable Isotope Geochemistry: Fractionation Equations and Models. In course evaluations, students rate Kessler highly as “very engaging during lecture and discussions” and “approachable and always willing to help.”

In 2014, Kessler developed an innovative class for undergraduates called Research in Ocean Biogeochemistry, which requires a yearlong commitment from students. They spend the spring semester surveying literature and developing research projects to be conducted on a summer research cruise. In the fall, they analyze the data they collect and write up papers on the results, two of which have been submitted to rigorous scientific journals. The course has also set students on a path to pursue graduate work on the topic.

Deborah Rossen-Knill, associate professor and director of the Writing, Speaking, and Argument Program

Students and colleagues say Rossen-Knill has made a tremendous contribution to the University community as an instructor, mentor, and pre-major advisor. She is the founding director of the University’s Writing, Speaking, and Argument Program, and she teaches courses in Advanced Writing and Peer Tutoring and Writing Pedagogy.

Her teaching style—which encourages roundtable discussion and debate—fosters confidence and strong critical thinking skills among her students. She recognizes the value of teamwork, nominators say, and puts a lot of trust in her students.

Rossen-Knill is also lauded for encouraging undergraduates to pursue challenging academic endeavors such as presenting at national conferences, publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals, and conducting research.

As one student notes in Rossen-Knill’s nomination for the award, “She teaches writing with love and commitment and in doing so teaches empathy, self-confidence, and strength.”

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