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Five Faculty Members Honored with 2016 University Teaching Awards

Awards celebrate excellence, innovation and influence in undergraduate teaching
  • Awards ceremony in Evanston at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, May 19 in Guild Lounge
  • Recipients receive Charles Deering McCormick Teaching Excellence Awards
  • Student testimonial: I was transformed “from a passive student to an active learner”

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Five faculty members will be honored with 2016 University Teaching Awards later this month for outstanding performance and dedication to undergraduate education at Northwestern University.

Elizabeth M. Gerber, Daniel J. O’Keefe and Wendy Lee Wall will each receive a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence award. David W. Gatchell will receive the Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Clinical Professor award, and Erik Gernand will receive the Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturer award.

The recipients will receive their awards at an installation ceremony at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, May 19, 2016 in the Guild Lounge, Scott Hall, on the Evanston campus. All members of the Northwestern community are invited to attend the ceremony and following reception.

The Charles Deering McCormick Professorship, Lectureship and Clinical Professorship Awards have a three-year term and for each year of the award term, the recipients receive $7,000 as a salary supplement and $3,000 for professional development. A one-time $3,000 award also is given to the recipient's home department to support activities that enhance undergraduate education.

The process for selecting these award recipients begins with nominations from the deans of the schools or colleges in which the recipients have principal appointments. The selection committee, chaired by Provost Daniel Linzer and including senior faculty members, University administrators and a student representative, then selects the recipients from a diverse and strong pool of candidates.

Recipients of the 2016 Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence Awards:

Elizabeth M. Gerber is an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and communication studies in the School of Communication. She is a campus leader in design education, utilizing project-based learning and interdisciplinary collaborations to impart real-world design and innovation skills to her students.

Gerber is known to adapt and personalize her course based on live feedback from her students. She also places a high priority on mentoring her students. Many of them have contributed to peer-reviewed papers in the design field.

She founded the undergraduate co-curricular initiative, Design for America (DFA), in 2009 to provide undergraduate students with the opportunity to partner with community businesses and design products that will have a real societal impact. The program has been highly influential on other design engineering programs, and DFA can now be found at nearly 40 institutions across the United States. One former student said, “Through Prof. Gerber’s teachings, which trickle down to every level of Design for America, I now feel that I have the power to address some of the biggest issues that affect society today.”

Gerber received her Ph.D. in management science and engineering and her M.S. in product design, art and mechanical engineering from Stanford University. She received her B.A. in studio art and engineering from Dartmouth College.

Daniel J. O’Keefe is the Owen L. Coon Professor in the Department of Communication Studies in the School of Communication, where he teaches Theories of Persuasion and a communication studies research seminar. An accomplished scholar and researcher in persuasion and argumentation, he has received six national association awards for articles he has authored, in addition to two distinguished research awards.

O’Keefe is also a talented educator whose teaching strategy demonstrates his commitment to deepening students’ thinking about the persuasion process and improving their writing abilities. He teaches large classes that can reach up to 80 enrolled students and also smaller seminars during which he is known for providing detailed constructive criticism of his students’ written assignments.  His teaching methods also include incorporating real world examples to contextualize theoretical understanding of course material, a practice that resonates profoundly with his students.

Compared to their writing before taking O’Keefe’s class, students demonstrate marked improvements in their grasp of persuasion and writing in both theory and practice. One former student recalled, “I learned to care more about critical inquiry than a grade, transforming me from a passive student to an active learner.”

O’Keefe earned his Ph.D., A.M. and A.B. degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Wendy Lee Wall is the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of English, where she specializes in early modern literature and culture. In the classroom, she strives to make literature and language of the early modern period accessible to her students in a way that influences their perspective on the world today.

In her courses, Wall holds high expectations for the work her students produce. As one student says, “One of her greatest strengths in the classroom is the ability to discern how best to challenge her students.” Her students note that, even in classes of up to 70 students, she engages everyone through her genuine interest in their perspective and insights.

She encourages her students to interrogate the contextual history of language down to specific words, instilling in them the understanding that no ideas, past or present, are either self-evident or unchanging.

Wall has been the director of the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities since 2013. One student described her leadership of the institute as that of “a dynamic leader, who never fails to speak enthusiastically and infectiously about each and every topic within the humanities.”

Wall earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, and her B.A. from the University of Alabama.

David W. Gatchell is a clinical associate professor in the Segal Design Institute at McCormick. He is driven to help all of his students identify their passions and realize their potential by understanding their intellectual, social and emotional needs.

In teaching, Gatchell offers what one student described as “an impressively personal education to all of his students” and values the ability to look at a problem from multiple perspectives, which he encourages his students to do as well. His students note that through his teaching they become skilled in learning from obstacles and mistakes, which keeps them thinking critically. As one student described, “He has an original way of looking at things as opportunities instead of dead ends that is inspiring as a student when classes or team relationships become difficult.” 

Gatchell’s students are also grateful for the time he takes to support their learning outside of classes, teaching them to connect theory to practice.

He is also the director of the Manufacturing and Design Engineering (MaDE) program at McCormick, where he advises students on their class choices, internship opportunities, extra-curricular activities and post-undergraduate aspirations.

Gatchell received his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Boston University and his A.B. in physics from Bowdoin College.

Erik Gernand is a senior lecturer in the department of radio, television and film in the School of Communication, where he teaches both writing and production courses such as “Media Construction,” “Playwriting for Filmmakers” and “Producing the Sitcom.” In his teaching, he draws upon his industry experience in managing a video production company for nearly a decade and the multiple award-winning short films he has written and directed.

During his time in the department, Gernand has helped deepen the community for students and faculty by creating and continuing to run the annual 48-hour film festival for first-year students. He has also helped to organize the first-year experience and develop a three-quarter sequence in which student teams produce an original sitcom.

Gernand has been elected three times to the Faculty and Administrator Honor Roll by members of the undergraduate student body.

He has a reputation for creating a space where creativity can blossom. One student claimed, “I believe that work in the arts relies on the artist’s ability to be vulnerable, and I have never felt more comfortable being vulnerable than in Erik’s classroom.” The personalized feedback he provides on all aspects of his students’ work challenges them to think of their projects in new ways.  As another student said, “What separates Erik…is his ability to take any student…and find a way for them to improve themselves.”

Gernand earned his M.F.A. in writing for the screen and stage from Northwestern, and his B.A. in telecommunications and German from Ball State University.

Read about previous winners here