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2014 Goergen Awards honor excellence in teaching

October 21, 2014
a woman and two men, holding plaques

In acknowledgement of their contributions to undergraduate education, professors Julie Bentley, Jeffrey Tucker, and Jonathan Pakianathan were honored with the University of Rochester’s 2014 Goergen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

The Goergen Awards recognize the distinctive teaching accomplishments and skills of faculty in Arts, Sciences, and Engineering, and they are named for and sponsored by alumnus, trustee, and former board chairman Robert B. Goergen and his wife, Pamela. At a reception on Wednesday, Oct. 15, the University formally recognized this year’s winners, who were nominated for the award by the chairs of their academic departments.

Julie Bentley, associate professor of optics

teachingJulie Bentley started her academic career here as an optics student. She received her BS, MS, and her Ph.D. degrees from the University of Rochester.

In 1998, Bentley joined the faculty as an adjunct professor and became a full-time professor in 2009. In his nominating letter, Xi-Cheng Zhang, director of the Institute of Optics and the M. Parker Givens Professor of Optics, wrote, “Julie is a crucial part of our undergraduate and graduate program. Her expertise helps distinguish the Institute of Optics as the primary place in the United States to learn lens design.”

Bentley’s accomplishments are many—she helped launch the department’s bachelor’s degree in optical engineering, and she continues to pursue significant research while maintaining strong leadership in the optics community. She is also the incoming director of SPIE (the International Society for Optics and Photonics).

Supporting nominations also attested to Bentley’s skills as a teacher and a scientist. Wayne Knox, professor of optics, described her as “one of the best teachers the institute has ever had.” Duncan Moore, vice provost for entrepreneurship and the Rudolf and Hilda Kingslake Professor in Optical Engineering, said Bentley is “a hands-on teacher who requires the best of her students while challenging them.” Current Ph.D. candidate Matthew Bergkoetter said that “as a practicing lens designer and consultant with more than 20 years of experience, Professor Bentley brings into the classroom unparalleled insight into state-of-the-art tools and methods in the industry.”

Jeffrey Tucker, associate professor of English

Jeffrey Tucker Jeffrey Tucker joined the Department of English 15 years ago. He is highly regarded by students and colleagues for his passion for teaching and his intellectual and professional generosity. He is actively involved in the Frederick Douglass Institute for African-American Studies and with the Office of Minority Student Affairs. He is also a strong supporter of the University’s International Theatre Program.

Letters in support of his nomination note that Tucker sparks a love of learning in his students. As a mentor, he builds confidence and skills in students, and helps them discover their voice as scholars and writers. His supporters hold him in high esteem for his knowledge of racial representations and cultural and identity politics in literature.

“Jeff’s contributions to undergraduate education and throughout the College deserve thunderous applause from all of us,” said Rosemary Kegl, chair of the English department. Former student and current teacher Andrea Ferrara Popp, Take Five ’05, wrote, “if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then my strongest praise for Dr. Tucker’s teaching can be seen in the way I teach my own English classes.” John Michael, professor of English, said that Tucker has the gift of “tact and courage” to teach courses that deal with difficult subjects, such as the history of race and racism in America.

Jonathan Pakianathan, associate professor of mathematics

Jonathan PakianathanIn his 14 years with the University of Rochester, Jonathan Pakianathan has designed or revamped five courses for the math department, including a mathematical modeling course that is an integral part of the public health epidemiology major. He has served as an advisor for more than 200 students, supervised numerous senior research projects, and served five years as the department’s director of undergraduate studies.

Since Pakianathan joined the University, the number of math majors has increased by 45 percent. “Jonathan is a stellar educator in every sense of the word. He has been a big part of this remarkable increase,” said Professor Thomas Tucker, chair of the math department. Professor Alex Iosevich, also of the math department, recognized his colleague’s willingness to “always explain the solution with clarity, completeness, and passion.”

Former students recognized Pakianathan’s ability to teach complex material clearly. Manuel Alves ’09 wrote that he “was continually impressed by the commitment and patience Pakianathan showed toward his students.” Raechel Isales ’13 noted that Pakianathan had an uncanny way of knowing when he was teaching above her ability, and yet always managed to make the material meaningful. “This is an absolutely priceless gift in mathematics that I have seen in no other professor.” Observing Pakianathan’s teaching helped Alexande Zisfein ’13 form his identify as a teacher. “Professor Pakianathan has the ability to do what most college professors can’t do: empathize with the learner,” he said.

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Category: Student Life