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Four honored with University Teaching Awards

Annual awards for excellence, innovation and influence in undergraduate teaching

Four faculty members will be honored with 2015 University Teaching Awards for their outstanding dedication to undergraduate education at Northwestern University.

Walter B. Herbst will receive the Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Clinical Professor award and Deborah Cohen, David N. Rapp and Karen Smilowitz will each receive a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence award.

They will be recognized at a ceremony from 4 to 5:30 p.m., Thursday, May 21, 2015, in the Guild Lounge, Scott Hall, on the Evanston campus. A reception will follow the event.

Undergraduate deans nominated faculty members for these awards, and the selection committee, chaired by Provost Daniel Linzer and made up of senior faculty members, University administrators and a student representative, selected the recipients from a diverse and strong pool of candidates.

The Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence Award has a three-year term and includes $7,000 to the recipient as a salary supplement, $3,000 for professional development and a one-time $3,000 award to the recipient's home department to support activities that enhance undergraduate education.

Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Deborah Cohen is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of the Humanities and a professor of history in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. She is known for her energetic lectures and ability to spark interest in historical topics through imaginative and innovative assignments. Such pedagogical innovations include an assignment designed to mimic a scavenger hunt, in which students work with Victorian memoirs and newspapers and formulate their own research questions based upon something that intrigues them during that process.

Cohen’s goal in the classroom is to encourage students to think expansively about a topic while evoking a sense of empathy and appreciation for those who lived in the past. Students repeatedly remark that she makes her courses interesting and engaging for even non-history majors.

One colleague notes, that she makes “our students remember their time here as having expanded their horizons in ways they little imagined when they first arrived.” Her ability to resonate with her students is bolstered by an impressive scholarly knowledge of modern Britain which has yielded three highly acclaimed books; her last two, “Household Gods” and “Family Secrets,” both earned the top two book prizes in her field, a double double-awarding never before accomplished. In addition to these academic successes, numerous students have commented on Cohen’s warmth, genuine kindness and unparalleled dedication to their success. As one student remarked, “Professor Cohen’s greatest strength is that she genuinely wants every single one of her students to succeed and is willing to go above and beyond to make sure that happens.” A member of the Northwestern faculty since 2010, Deborah Cohen received her Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and her B.A. from Harvard-Radcliffe College.

David N. Rapp is a professor of learning sciences in the School of Education and Social Policy and a professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

With this dual appointment, he works to build connections between the two schools through his extensive student teaching, advising and mentoring activities. His research focuses on the cognitive processes that underlie comprehension and learning, and this work informs his teaching practices.

He is committed to iteratively examining his own instructional practices and identifying opportunities to build active, collaborative learning spaces within and outside of the classroom. Rapp fosters students’ critical thinking, analytic experiences and writing skills by employing innovative teaching methods and encouraging student involvement in his own lab. Students have praised his ability to “connect what students are learning to other domains and apply that knowledge to the world outside the classroom.”

Rapp is also hailed for his frequent work as a mentor to graduate and undergraduate students, who describe their admiration for his patience, ability to identify their needs and success in inspiring them by his inquisitive nature and extensive subject knowledge.

He has received a McKnight Land-Grant Professorship Award from the University of Minnesota, the Tom Trabasso Young Investigator Award from the Society for Text and Discourse and an Excellence in Teaching Award from the Undergraduate Psychology Association at Northwestern University. He also is a fellow of the Association of Psychological Science. Rapp received his Ph.D. in experimental psychology from State University of New York at Stony Brook and his M.A. in psychology from New York University.

Karen Smilowitz is an associate professor in industrial engineering and management sciences in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. A Northwestern faculty member since 2001, Smilowitz has had a tremendous impact on the school’s curriculum, teaching courses such as “Supply-Chain Modeling and Analysis,” which instructs students on real-world issues related to humanitarian and non- and for-profit logistics. Her thoughtful work on the design of this challenging yet popular engineering course has resulted in substantial waitlists for students who are clamoring to work with her. She also has adapted a very successful graduate-level course into the undergraduate, University-wide course “Analytics for Social Good,” which is being offered for the first time this spring.

Smilowitz’s infectious passion and research in this field has allowed her to work with several organizations, from the Chicago Marathon to non-governmental organizations in Africa. She uses these connections to create opportunities for her students to engage in real-life prosocial work. As she says, “Chicago is our laboratory.”

Students frequently remark on her availability, openness, kindness and genuine interest in their career goals. As one student enthusiastically wrote, “By the end of the summer, professor Smilowitz had instilled so much confidence in me that I was sure I wanted to change my major from mechanical engineering to whatever her department was; her passion and knowledge inspired me so much.”

Indeed, she is an inspirer, motivator and dedicated teacher to many within Northwestern and beyond. Smilowitz holds a Ph.D. and an M.S. from the University of California, Berkeley, and a B.S.E. from Princeton University.

The Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Lecturer or Clinical Professor award has a one-year term and includes $7,000 to the recipient as a salary supplement and $1,000 to the recipient's home department to support activities that enhance undergraduate education.

Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Clinical Professor

Walter B. Herbst is a clinical professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Master of Product Design and Development Management Program in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Herbst has had an illustrious career as an award-winning global product designer. He was the founder of Herbst LaZar Bell and is co-founder of the design firm Herbst Produkt in Silicon Valley. He also is a dedicated and passionate teacher, lauded by students for his ability to “combine incredible proficiency and knowledge in his field with a passion for teaching and obvious care for students and their learning.” He pushes students to an empathetic understanding of how their work affects peoples’ lives, and he draws upon experiential learning and reflective practices to bring this teaching goal to life for his students.

By advocating for a “human-centric” approach to all things design related, he has been instrumental in the rebranding of the “Design Thinking and Communication” course and the development of a new “Sketching” course, the latter aimed at increasing students’ ability to effectively communicate their design ideas.

“No other instructor has been so influential in advocacy for learning design-thinking in McCormick undergraduate education,” says one administrator, summing up Herbst’s wide influence.

Herbst’s ability to, as one former student described, “meet students at their level and elevate them,” coupled with his incredible commitment and vision for undergraduate education, has made him an invaluable member of the McCormick faculty. Professor Herbst is a Ph.D. Candidate from Coventry University and received his MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.