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Five honored with University Teaching Awards

Annual award recognizes those who demonstrate excellence in undergraduate education

Five faculty members are being honored with the 2021 University Teaching Awards. The annual honor is given to professors who demonstrate excellence and innovation in undergraduate education.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made this academic year even more challenging. Faculty have had to enhance their courses while developing new ways to teach outside of the classroom.

“These five McCormick Teaching Award honorees are a testament to Northwestern’s commitment to our students, particularly during this period of adaptation in the ways we approach teaching and learning,” said Provost Kathleen Hagerty.

“Their creativity and dedication in the classroom — whether in person or remote — serve as a guiding light for the constant enhancement of our pedagogical practices.”

The recipients were nominated by the deans of the schools, or colleges, in which they have their principal appointments. Winners were selected by a committee chaired by the Provost and made up of senior faculty members, university administrators and a student representative.

The award includes a salary stipend for the next 3 years as well as funds for professional development. The term commences at the start of the 2021-2022 academic year.

The 2021 University Teaching Award Ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

Michael J. Allen

Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence 

Michael Allen explains that “the goal of historical study is not the mastery of facts but rather a conversation with the past about questions and concerns we still struggle with in the present.” 

Michael Allen
Michael J. Allen
He challenges his students to think critically about people and places directly related to their own lives and to reconsider notions rooted in popular culture and family folklore “in hopes of helping them to become more thoughtful, more compassionate, more engaged human beings and citizens.” As one student explains, “Covering topics ranging from the women’s liberation movement to the Iran-Contra scandal, Professor Allen wove a plethora of historical details into a gripping narrative and always gave impassioned lectures that showed us why this history was so important to our present.”

Throughout his classes, Allen facilitates peer discussion and assignments that hone critical analysis and clear communication. His chair writes, “Allen’s courses zero in how to find, shape, and deploy the evidence that buttresses larger arguments. His courses encourage critical thinking and skilled expository writing by providing the students many opportunities to practice both, get feedback, and do it again.”  Students echo this sentiment as one student writes, “In his classroom, the study of history became a lively discussion of people, movements and ideas, and the clashes between them. He encouraged us to see history as contested and contestable — and to actually join in the process of contesting it.”

Allen is an Associate Professor in the Department of History. He earned his Ph.D. in History from Northwestern.

Cynthia Ellen Coburn

Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Cynthia Coburn strives to help her students deeply understand the process of policymaking and implementation and to develop their strategic and reflective judgement when teaching social policy. 

Cynthia Coburn
Cynthia Ellen Coburn
She explains, “I want them to learn the theory and research related to policymaking and policy implementation not for its own sake, but to inform their problem solving, ability to navigate complex political terrain, and play a role in social change in whatever domain they find themselves after graduation.”

Coburn designs class activities that encourage students to question their assumptions, engage in reflection and discuss course content with their peers. Her dean writes, “Coburn stresses the importance of critical thinking and context during discussions of policy issues, which students say makes the ideas ‘stick’.” As one student explains, “I came to class each day excited about the policy brief we would be dissecting because each analysis would mean more exposure to Professor Coburn’s astute perspectives as well as the opportunity to engage in her thought-provoking discussions.”

Beyond the classroom, Coburn is committed to mentoring undergraduates as part of her research. Students emphasize how much they value both her support and her high expectations. As one research assistant writes “I now have a clear vision and understanding of what I want to do with my career, thanks to her initial leap of faith in my abilities.”

Coburn is a Professor in the School of Education and Social Policy. She earned her Ph.D. in Education from Stanford University.

Pam Daniels

Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Clinical Professor

Pam Daniels approaches teaching human-centered design by honoring the individual student, creating a climate of collaboration, and building creativity and confidence. Comparing her role as a teacher to that of a guide, she learns alongside her students. 

Pam Daniels
Pam Daniels
Her chair explains that Daniels “sees her role with students … as a collaborative coach and supporter, rather than an expert imparting knowledge.”  She encourages students to freely explore new ideas, ideate, and take risks without fear of judgement. One student says, “I have seen her effortlessly convince students who believe they ‘can’t draw’ that not only can they express their ideas visually, but they can also make a rapid prototype, start testing right away, and improve their design based on feedback and observation.”

As a human-centered designer, Pam Daniels teaches the importance of empathy in design. A student explains that she “makes it her mission to remind us that we are, first and foremost, designing for people" while another adds that she “taught us that finding a meaningful problem is just as valuable as finding a good solution.” Students emphasize the impact of Daniels on their work as designers and beyond. In the words of another student, “Through her years of inspiring students to be better designers and better people, Pam Daniels has undoubtedly made the world a better place.”

Daniels is a Clinical Associate Professor of Design Innovation at The Segal Design Institute in the McCormick School of Engineering. She earned her Master of Science, Product Design & Development from Northwestern University.  

Thomas J. Meade

Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence;

The Eileen M. Foell Professor of Cancer Research

Thomas Meade adheres to a philosophy for teaching biochemistry in which learning occurs when students can apply their understanding of content to answer new questions.

Thomas Meade
Thomas J. Meade
He explains, “This process provides the student with something invaluable: it equips a student to self-derive an answer rather than to merely memorize an answer.” Students credit Meade’s engaging lectures and class discussion with helping them understand and apply course concepts. One student says, “Professor Meade has an extraordinary ability to distill complicated biochemical concepts into intuitive chunks, connecting his lessons to broader historical and scientific developments.” Another student echoes this sentiment asserting that, “I was challenged to think critically about science, to present and discuss my work confidently, and become independent in my research pursuits.”

Meade has a reputation as a caring instructor open to dialogue with students. His chair explains, “Students fill the empty front seats of the lecture hall and line up early for office hours.” His students agree, explaining that Meade frames his classroom “as a place of learning and improvement,” and that “He answered every question we had with patience and curiosity, even if we needed him to explain complicated topics covered in class several times.” His chair also emphasized Meade’s important role as a mentor to undergraduate students. As one student notes “Without a doubt, Dr. Meade transformed the way I valued science, education, and my own potential as a researcher.”

Meade is a Professor in the Departments of Chemistry, Molecular Biosciences, Neurobiology and Radiology. He earned his Masters in Biochemistry and his Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry from The Ohio State University.  Meade is a member of the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute and also is Director of the Center for Advanced Molecular Imaging (CAMI) and Quantitative Bio-Element Imaging Center (QBIC).


Stephan Moore

Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Professor of Instruction

Stephan Moore views teaching the audio arts as a kind of ongoing experimentation in which his central responsibility “is to remain open and responsive to the opportunities and challenges that present themselves in the classroom.”

Stephan Moore
Stephan Moore
His lessons aim to engage students in making and doing in order to produce lasting and deeply integrated knowledge. Moore’s dedication to teaching draws on what his chair describes as a “vast expertise in multiple fields of audio” coupled with “his ability to communicate that experience and expertise in the classroom.”

Moore establishes an inclusive learning environment by acknowledging and supporting students’ varying levels of experience and skillset. His chair writes, “he makes the fundamentals of audio and acoustics accessible to students who are new to the field, while filling in gaps and making fresh connections for students who have worked in audio before.” Similarly, a student comments, “As someone with little programming experience, I appreciated that [Professor Moore] was upfront in fostering support for students like me so that I was comfortable asking for help.” In addition, Moore encourages students to serve as resources for each other. A student writes that he “created an atmosphere in the classroom where each of us felt comfortable asking our peers for help as it was often the case that you had an expert in exactly what you wanted to learn just a few seats down.”

Moore is an Associate Professor of Instruction in the School of Communication. He earned his Ph.D. in Computer Music and Multimedia Composition from Brown University.