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Let's Hear it for Great Teachers!

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University has recognized seven faculty members for teaching excellence, six with 2012 Charles Deering McCormick Awards and one with an Alumnae of Northwestern Teaching Professorship.

Bruce Earl Ankenman, Robert A. Orsi, John Torkelson and Eric Zaslow have been named this year’s Charles Deering McCormick Professors of Teaching Excellence, and Brodwyn Fischer has been named the Alumnae of Northwestern Teaching Professor. William Bleich and Jinah Kim have been named Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturers.

Collectively the three awards are known as the University Teaching Awards. They recognize individual faculty members who have consistently demonstrated outstanding performance in classroom teaching or who have developed significant innovations that have also influenced the methods and teaching effectiveness of other faculty. Recipients are selected by the University Teaching Awards Committee.

Each holder of a McCormick or Alumnæ appointment is designated a Fellow of the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence.

Charles Deering McCormick Professors of Teaching Excellence

Bruce Earl Ankenman

Ankenman, associate professor in industrial engineering and management sciences, is a founding faculty member and current co-director of the Segal Design Institute and the director of the Master of Engineering Management Program. He came to Northwestern in 1996, after a career as an electrical engineer. His decision to leave industry was born of a desire to “help engineers to be more efficient and more effective as decision makers.” He teaches statistical methods by engaging his students in realistic engineering experiences. With National Science Foundation (NSF) funding, he co-developed the Quality Engineering Laboratory to provide students with hands-on experience in data collection, statistical analysis and developing effective techniques for experiment organization. He also is deeply committed to building engineering and design curricula that will attract students and teach them to effectively solve real-world engineering problems. For example, students in his highly acclaimed freshman design course, Engineering Design and Communications, have partnered with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in designing devices to assist disabled individuals accomplish simple tasks such as opening a jar, cutting vegetables or playing the piano. He believes that this focus on providing real-life experience is one of the key reasons why so many freshmen are attracted to the engineering program at McCormick. His students attest to his ability to explain principles using real-world scenarios and his emphasis on the need for balance between “statistical significance and practical importance.” Ankenman received his Ph.D. in industrial engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Robert A. Orsi

A historian of American religion, Orsi is the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies and professor of religious studies and history. He is widely recognized for his work on theory and method for the study of religion. He has demonstrated teaching excellence at all levels, undergraduate and graduate, and in different formats, from large lecture classes to intimate seminars. As a mentor, Orsi advises many undergraduate students writing senior theses and numerous graduate students as principal advisor or as a member of a thesis committee. He is lauded by his colleagues and students for his ability to discuss a sensitive topic -- religion -- in a rigorous and scholarly manner. Students routinely praise his ability to make a large lecture format feel like a small group setting and to make each person “feel valued and significant” during class discussions. Students also appreciate his efforts to encourage each person to discover his or her own intellectual voice and language. On one occasion, a former student, who was a dance major, was welcomed to share her insights into the Catholic body in terms of an “internal and external kinesphere.” She later recalled this moment as the “single most memorable academic experience” of her college career and one that affirmed and honored her identity as a scholar. Orsi’s genuine interest in his students’ lives and their intellectual growth is reflected by his 2010 E. Leroy Hall Award for Teaching Excellence in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and his numerous elections to the Associated Student Government Faculty Honor Roll. 

John Torkelson

Torkelson, Walter P. Murphy Professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering and in the department of materials science and engineering since 2002, embodies the hallmark of great teaching. He demands much from students but also rewards their efforts in his chemical engineering courses. A colleague observed that students willingly accept the challenges in his courses because they know he will work harder than any of his students on their behalf, even starting his day at 3 a.m. and, at students’ requests, hosting office hours on the weekends. Comments in his course evaluations attest to the combination of rigor and reward: “Torkelson is amazing! This class is hard and a ton of work, but you will never learn as much in 50 minutes as you do with Torkelson.” In his classes, he uses innovative approaches infused with humor to communicate complex and difficult ideas, such as using silly putty to demonstrate non-Newtonian behavior and his now famous “Polymer dance” to explain concepts in polymer physics. For more some three decades, he has averaged a CTEC score of 5.6 (out of 6), and historical files show that student praise for his teaching was as strong in the 1980s and 1990s as it is today. Torkelson also is a dedicated and effective mentor and student advisor, who spends additional time with his students to guide them through not only curriculum requirements for a degree but also with career and life choices. He is the current chair of the division of polymer physics in the American Physical Society and has founded a small-business, startup company based on research conducted by his University lab. He received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota. He has been named to the Associated Student Government Faculty Honor Roll and has received the Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award in 2009 and the McCormick School of Engineering Teacher of the Year Award in 2008. 

Eric Zaslow

He has been a faculty member in the department of mathematics since 1998. For more than a decade, Zaslow, professor of mathematics, has also taught in the Integrated Science Program (ISP), an intense honors program for undergraduates that integrates sciences with mathematics. His background in physics has enabled him to integrate successfully the curriculum in mathematics with the one students take in physics simultaneously in ISP. He receives consistently high CTEC scores and rave reviews from students about his teaching methods and dedication to them. Zaslow learns students’ names before they even enter his classroom and will sometimes require them to ask a minimum of 20 questions per class as a way of encouraging inquiry and making them engage with the material. Students praise his persistence in answering their questions in ways that help them even with their courses in physics. One of his students says, “Because he took a personal interest in each of his students, I can say that, as a class, we respected and admired him immensely and continue to refer to him as someone of legendary status.” Another former student recalls how Zaslow had a “quirky habit” of not allowing him to consult his textbook when he forgot a mathematical definition. Instead, the student was encouraged, through a method of Socratic exchanges, to work out the definition on his own. In this way the student learned how to think about mathematics as a process of “creation, not recall.” Zaslow has excelled in teaching while still continuing a high level of research. He has been the recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, a Clay Senior Scholar award and numerous other grants. He has been named to the Associated Student Government Faculty Honor Roll and received the Weinberg College Distinguished Teaching Award in 2001. Zaslow received his Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University.

Alumnae of Northwestern Teaching Professor

Brodwyn Fischer

A Northwestern faculty member since 2001, Fischer is an associate professor of history. She specializes in Brazil and Latin America, with a particular emphasis on law, cities, migration and social inequality. She also serves as the director of Undergraduate Studies in the department of history and has brought about significant changes in course offerings and major requirements. She teaches courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, including an interdisciplinary seminar. Fischer consistently receives CTEC scores well above 5.0 for her classes. She strives to foster in her students the “knowledge, citizenship, historical sense and critical skills” that are the hallmarks of the best liberal arts education. She exhibits passion for teaching and for her subject matter, continually challenging students by setting high expectations. Fischer approaches her teaching thoughtfully, refining her courses and teaching materials to help students to acquire critical skills as well as knowledge. Her students praise her level of commitment to them. Her impact as a mentor is reflected in the large number of students who do honors and even graduate work. One former student, who has gone on to pursue a career as a historian, credits Fischer for providing a role model for all “young people, especially women, who pursue a career in academia or otherwise.” She is the author of “A Poverty of Rights: Citizenship and Inequality in Twentieth Century Rio de Janeiro” (Stanford, 2008), which has won four national academic prizes. Fischer received her Ph.D. in history at Harvard University.

Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturers

William Bleich

A senior lecturer and associate chair in the department of radio-TV-film in the School of Communication, Bleich has translated his successful career as a television and film writer and producer in Hollywood into a passion for teaching. A colleague writes, “Here is someone who is a master of his craft, a craft for which he has a deep love and appreciation.” He is involved in many aspects of the School of Communication, serving as the co-creator and associate director of the highly successful MFA program in Writing for the Screen and Stage and as associate director of the Creative Writing for the Media Program. He stands out in his work with students, from inspiring passionate writing and risk taking in his screenwriting classes to serving as the inaugural live-in faculty resident in the new undergraduate Elder Residential Community. In his always fully subscribed courses, he receives an average CTEC score of 5.8 (out of 6). A dedicated mentor, Bleich works extensively with students by guiding them through the mechanics of screenwriting, by helping them refine their craft and by working with students who seek his highly valued advice as they make decisions about careers. He exemplifies to students the life of the writer. One of his students writes, “Bill is the most motivating, inspirational professor I have ever had.” He is a member of the Writers Guild of America and the California Bar Association. Bleich received his MFA in Screenwriting from the University of California, Los Angeles and a J.D. from Boalt School of Law at University of California, Berkeley.

Jinah Kim

Kim, assistant director and lecturer in the Asian American Studies Program, has inspired and challenged her students in and outside the classroom since coming to Northwestern in 2006. She receives exceptional evaluations in all of her courses, including four which she has introduced into the Asian American Studies Program. The courses deal with the difficult and often controversial topic of race. They are interdisciplinary in nature and cross-listed in English, American Studies, Latino and Latina Studies, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and African American Studies. Kim continually succeeds in engaging students in difficult conversations in a way that leaves them inspired and filled with a sense of empowerment. Students often have remarked that they enrolled in her courses to fulfill a distribution requirement, but came away with a true passion for the subject. One colleague observes, “Of all the things that Jinah offers to her students, the one that is most praiseworthy is her ability to inspire students.” Kim takes an innovative approach to teaching by incorporating digital media, blogging and digital video in her courses. The line of students waiting to talk to her outside her door, the amount of time she spends with her advisees each week and her many invitations to speak at student events all highlight how deeply she cares about her students. For the last two years, she has been elected to the Associated Student Government Faculty Honor Roll. Kim received a Ph.D. in cultural studies from the University of California, San Diego.

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