Six faculty members receive 2016 Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Six Penn State faculty members have received the 2016 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching.

They are Robert Beaury, interim director and instructor for ESHIP and engineering leadership minors in the College of Engineering, Nathan Greenauer, assistant professor of psychology at Penn State Berks; Timothy W. Kelsey, professor of agricultural economics in the College of Agricultural Sciences; Megan L. Nagel, professor of chemistry at Penn State Greater Allegheny; Nicholas J. Rowland, associate professor of sociology at Penn State Altoona; and Jaime Schultz, associate professor of kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Development.

The award, named after Penn State’s seventh president, honors excellence in teaching at the undergraduate level.

Robert Beaury

Beaury says he relies on his enthusiasm and passion inside the classroom to foster “an energy level, an edge to the classroom environment that is distinctly different from other classes.” Tools such as videos, music and his “demanding approach” for results also help his students better understand challenging problems and to think creatively and critically toward solutions. Students often work in teams for problem-based, experiential learning sessions.

“I love entrepreneurship and leadership,” said Beaury. “Both have defined my professional and personal life, and that passion comes through in my teaching.”

Beaury expects his students to become fearless problem-solvers. He encourages students to enthusiastically take on difficult tasks and encourages them to embrace failure because, he says, that’s what they’ll be expected to do in their careers.

Beaury encourages his students to be imaginative, and he leads by example. A few out-of-the-box ideas he throws students' way include:

  • Grab a partner who you’ve never met and co-imagine a never-before-made food dish. Cook the dish and bring it in to share with the class.
  • In a small team, gather more than 25 pieces of junk and “create something wonderful.”
  • Figure out how to make $500 in revenue within three weeks, again in a small team.

A former student said Beaury was a powerful mentor and catalyst for his post-graduate endeavors.

“He helped teach me that I, as an entrepreneur and lifelong learner, need to engage risk, disrupt the status quo, spar with doubt and fear, and work really hard for success,” said the former student.

Beaury’s colleagues said his SRTE scores are among the highest in the department and that his students “take responsibility for their learning and become effective community members, which all successful entrepreneurs must do.”

Nathan Greenauer

Greenauer says students are constantly changing and it’s up to great educators to do the same.

He’s embracing new technology, such as GroupMe, a group messaging application that allows students immediate access to him so that they can get clarification, share information or discuss assignments with fellow students. These public interactions benefit the entire group more than private conversations, he said.

A colleague said, through technology, Greenauer is “constantly interacting with his students, maintaining a high level of academic discussion and communication among them, and keeping his students engaged in the subject matter.”

Stressing the importance of research, Greenauer is committed to finding opportunities for his students. He uses them frequently on his own projects with the ultimate goal that they’ll become inspired to begin their own studies.

“Regardless of their future goals, such experiences foster the development of critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving skills that will apply to many aspects of their lives,” said Greenauer.

A colleague said Greenauer “provides a very unique learning experience for our students in that he makes cognitive psychology and the psychology of learning interesting, accessible, actively engaging and applied to his students’ lives.”

Timothy W. Kelsey

Kelsey knows academic theory is useless if his students can’t bridge the concepts into their professional lives. That’s why he relies on two decades of experience in the field, working with private, nonprofit and government agencies, to guide his instruction.

His students frequently work in group settings, tackling real-world problems through trial and error. He encourages his students to make mistakes and even allows them to revise homework assignments to assess and correct concepts they may have missed.

“I believe this helps reinforce their critical thinking skills, gives them practice applying what they learned and builds their confidence applying what they learned,” Kelsey said.

He’s also exposing his undergraduate students to research, routinely hiring them for projects and offering them co-authorship on research reports and journal articles.

A former student said Kelsey is “one of the most engaging, attentive and caring professors” at Penn State, adding “he provided me with an education applicable to my field, but also with values that taught me how to respectfully engage with others and work effectively.”

A colleague said Kelsey is deserving of the award because of “his passion for teaching and community engagement, his openness and availability to students, his willingness to cater teaching and learning to best meet student needs and interests, and his ability to articulate and share his field experiences.”

Megan Nagel

“A classroom that allows for students’ questions, a lack of judgment, and a call to think critically contributes to an environment that’s ripe for learning,” said Nagel, who views learning as a two-way street.

Nagel said most of her students — even chemistry majors — won’t go on to a career in chemistry, so it’s important that she teaches students information that’s still relevant in their future careers.

“If I can teach students how to learn, then I have ultimately achieved my goal,” said Nagel.

Colleagues praised Nagel’s ability to tackle tough topics with ease. She uses a series of pre-class videos to help prepare students. Using in-class clicker questions, partially filled-out handouts, small group discussions, she pulls students into the material and constantly engages them.

“Dr. Nagel is a great teacher and scholar who is devoted to student-centered learning,” said a colleague. “She makes a tremendous contribution to the life of this campus.”

Nicholas J. Rowland

Rowland says actively engaging his students with nontrivial opportunities for personal growth is his core teaching philosophy.

Engaging, he says, means students have opportunities to engage with faculty, staff and their peers. Interactions like this led to a paid internship for one of his students who couldn’t afford to take an unpaid position. The model Rowland developed paid off for that former student, who now works in Harrisburg conducting research, and it paid off for other students because it’s now incorporated into an internship prep course that Rowland co-teaches.

Nontrivial, he says, refers to opportunities to publish, present or perfect a skill. To offer nontrivial experience for his sociology students, Rowland opened the social sciences laboratory for undergraduate students in the field, an achievement he calls his “single proudest accomplishment as a faculty member.”

Growth and success, he says, reminds him of an experience he had with a former student who was ready to drop out after four hard, low-GPA semesters. Rowland intervened, invited the student to the research lab, and began demanding better work from him. The student was able to turn his academic career and continued to grow, even after submitting a subpar senior thesis to Rowland.

“When I suggested a full rewrite, he paused, crushed, and then bravely responded, ‘this is an opportunity for growth,’” said Rowland, adding that the student is now in graduate school.

“Rowland appears unfaltering in his efforts to improve himself, his students and the University,” said a colleague. “His research on engaging scholarship is gaining national recognition, and his devotion to teaching has garnered local accolades and the trust and esteem of his students.”

Jaime Schultz

Schultz said she used to feel embarrassed telling people she taught sports. It seemed trivial, she said, when her colleagues were teaching about racism, sexism, homophobia, violence, religion or social change. Over time, however, she realized that sports are a defining force for those issues.

Sport provides a fascinating and accessible vehicle for getting at those same issues,” she said. “Sport has power. It matters.”

Schultz cites examples such as Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, the “Munich Massacre” during the 1972 Olympics, and body-image pressures through sports marketing and media.

Schultz says she’s always trying to “draw students in to provoke them, and to ask them to actively participate in their academic and personal development.

“It’s important to me that students know that I care about and appreciate them, both as learners and as people,” said Schultz.

“Part of what makes her teaching style so unforgettable is her raw interest, both in the material and in the students,” said one of her students. “The way she embeds a personal story with a lesson is conveyed so upfront. The lessons become more relatable to the students.”

A colleague, noting that Schultz’ SRTE scores are among the highest in her department, said she “constantly assesses her strategies and objectives, sincerely seeks feedback from her students, and is a major force in curricular and pedagogical discussions.”

Last Updated April 27, 2016