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Meet the 2023 Distinguished Teaching Award recipients

April 6, 2023

Twelve faculty members have been chosen to receive this year’s Distinguished Teaching Awards, an honor given out since 1953 to recognize some of the university’s finest educators. A ceremony will take place at 5 p.m. April 25 in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union. Campus and community members are invited to attend; RSVP by April 10.

Photographs by Althea Dotzour, Jeff Miller and Bryce Richter

Chancellor’s Teaching Innovation Award

Fabio Gaertner

Associate professor of accounting and information systems

Fabio Gaertner is pictured in a portrait in Grainger Hall. Photo: Althea Dotzour

Gaertner is an outstanding, respected instructor in the Wisconsin School of Business, and he has worked hard to polish his already excellent teaching skills. He currently teaches Financial Accounting for MBAs, a core class in the Masters of Business Administration degree. The demanding course draws students with widely varying levels of accounting expertise, and it covers a subject with a reputation for being difficult and dry. But the course has become a student favorite under Gaertner. His students speak of feeling engaged, entertained and challenged. They note how Gaertner’s teaching style makes a challenging subject intuitive and easy to understand. Further, his students report learning lifelong financial skills — skills that empower them in their personal and professional lives.

Chancellor’s Inclusive Excellence Award

Lara Gerassi

Assistant professor of social work

A woman sits at a desk.

Lara Gerassi is pictured in the School of Social Work Building. Photo: Jeff Miller

Gerassi’s innovative classroom strategies consistently engage and inspire students to learn from difficult material with intention, rigor and awareness of their social position in making sustainable change. Her classrooms produce students who can think and ethically act in a manner consistent with their own and others’ minoritized experiences. Gerassi has become a trainer to other instructors on campus and nationally, as she teaches stigmatized topics in the field of sex trafficking, the sex trades, and violence. Her published works further enrich training and education in her field more broadly. She works with service providers and advocacy groups around the country. She serves on several community initiatives to address human trafficking and gives frequent presentations, agency trainings and consultations to statewide and local agencies.

Van Hise Outreach Teaching Award

Richard Hartel

Professor of food science

A man gestures while talking to a classroom.

Richard Hartel teaches during a Nutrition and Snack Bar Technology Course for professionals in the Educational Sciences Building. Photo: Bryce Richter

As a leading confectionery scientist, Dr. Hartel translates complex material science phenomena to applications in confections and similar foods. Hartel is an exceptional instructor, both in the food science courses he teaches and in the outreach education he provides about the science and art of confections. He has helped transform the food science curriculum into something that brings students, alumni and the surrounding industry together to foster the pipeline of food science professionals, particularly in the candy industry. Hartel coordinates the “candy school,” a two-week short course for industry that teaches theory and hands-on lab exercises in basic confections such as chocolates, gummies, chewing gum and caramel. The core candy school is highly respected in the industry, with a long wait list every year.

Emil Steiger Teaching Award

Margaret Kerr

Assistant professor of human development and family studies

Margaret “Maggie” Kerr (at left) works with graduate student Inés Botto (right) and others as they practice use of new statistical software during a team meeting in Nancy Nicholas Hall. Photo: Jeff Miller

Kerr teaches courses and also provides outreach teaching and education support for the Division of Extension. Her courses include Family Theories as well as Theories and Issues in Human Development. Although they are theory courses, student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, emphasizing Kerr’s teaching skill and compassion. Kerr redeveloped these courses with an eye toward diversity, equity and inclusion. She revised the reading lists, integrated a more diverse set of theoretical frameworks and incorporated more inclusive language and practices in the syllabi. Her teaching style shows her enthusiasm for the class and her extensive understanding of the topic. Kerr is an exceptional mentor for undergraduate and graduate students alike. She has also led efforts to demystify graduate school, facilitating several discussions on the “hidden curriculum.”

Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Charles Lauhon 

Associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences

Charles Lauhon teaches during a Pharmacy Science 531 course in Rennebohm Hall. Photo: Bryce Richter

Lauhon is a dedicated and innovative teacher, as reflected by outstanding student and peer evaluations that praise his passion and engagement, as well as by his numerous teaching awards. His Medicinal Chemistry I course for first-year Doctor of Pharmacy students generates interest and enthusiasm for the basic sciences in students who are often more focused on their future clinical work, impressing upon them the importance of a basic science foundation for clinical excellence. Lauhon aspires to serve as a bridge between the bench and the bedside — from the chemical, biomedical and clinical science to the therapeutic interventions that save lives. He takes student feedback seriously and uses it to make himself a better teacher, and trains students to be lifelong critical thinkers.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Jan Miernowski

Professor of French and Italian

Jan Miernowski is pictured during a conference on Dec. 13, 2019. Photo courtesy of Jan Miernowski

In the past three decades at UW–Madison, Miernowski has taught a wide range of courses in early modern studies, the Renaissance, philosophy and theology, humanism and antihumanism that all receive stellar student evaluations.

Miernowski has been highly innovative in the field of multimedia teaching. In 2003-2004, he led a team of faculty that created the French and Italian Renaissance Literature Online course and designed the “Critical Reader,” an instructional online tool that has been adopted by many departments.

He recently created an interdisciplinary course on literary representations of biological life, equally exciting to humanities and science students. Miernowski is regarded by students as a passionate, enthusiastic, generous and dynamic teacher who is always available to them and who constantly challenges them to think critically and introspectively.

Chancellor’s Inclusive Excellence Award

Diego Román

Assistant professor of curriculum and instruction

A man, standing, smiles as he talks to a seated student.

Diego Román teaches students in Curriculum and Instruction 372: Teaching Science, in the Teacher Education Building. Photo: Jeff Miller

Román engages students in deep and robust learning, even as he ensures that all of his students feel they belong in his classroom. He’s popular among students — whenever he walks by, there’s a chorus of “Diego!” as they greet him. His courses hold students accountable for recognizing and unpacking the deep inequities in language that affect our school systems. Román has partnered with Wisconsin rural school districts such as Algoma and Arcadia, where Latinx students and families have become a demographic reality. Based on that research, he’s offered professional development workshops and held a summer institute to help educators serve Latinx students better. Internationally, Román has forged a public-private partnership that gives professional development opportunities for teachers and school principals in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Michelle Schwarze 

Associate professor of political science

Michelle Schwarze is an associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Laura Zastrow Photography

Schwarze is an outstanding educator who engages her students by fostering an active and inclusive classroom, all the while working to continually improve her teaching. Schwarze teaches a range of undergraduate courses in the field of political theory and is very active in graduate advising. In the past four years, she has also taught the Introduction to Political Theory course, which has seen an increase in popularity due to the tremendous work she has done in reforming the course to engage students and emphasize the contemporary import of political theory. Her students come prepared to take risks and ask challenging questions in the welcoming, inclusive environment she creates.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

David Williamson Shaffer

Professor of learning sciences

A man gestures to a whiteboard as students listen.

David Williamson Shaffer teaches during an Educational Psychology 551 course in the Educational Sciences Building. Photo: Bryce Richter

For Shaffer, teaching is grounded in storytelling. For two decades, he has created online courses, lectures, and classroom discussions that lead students through a narrative arc, compelling them to dig deeper and stretch further. Consistently lauded as a “best of the best” instructor in course evaluations, he melds compassion and respect for his students with the highest expectations and meticulous planning. Shaffer’s courses are described as engaging, exciting and challenging experiences that are transformative and enduring. Even at the height of COVID, students said Shaffer’s courses (moved online) promoted engagement and a sense of belonging. He is also a trusted mentor to faculty and staff, who say: “He lifts us up to his standards. He is exacting, meticulous and supportive.” One colleague writes, “The quality and nature of David’s teaching is unparalleled.”

Class of 1955 Teaching Excellence Award

Prashant Sharma

Associate professor of integrative biology

At center, Prashant Sharma talks with undergraduate students studying specimens during a lab section of Sharma’s class, Zoology 301: Invertebrate Biology and Evolution Lab, taught in Noland Hall. Photo: Jeff Miller

Sharma stands out for his extraordinary devotion to undergraduate and graduate education. In particular, he is known for his innovative, immersive teaching approaches and for broadening participation of historically underrepresented groups in STEM. In addition to the courses he teaches, he actively participates as an invited lecturer for residential learning communities and K-12 teacher training programs. He mentors 5-6 undergraduate students per year in directed research projects in his laboratory, leading to several published peer-reviewed works. When working with students, Sharma never hesitates to roll up his sleeves and join in the work, whether it’s at the bench, microscope or field site. Sharma is an engaging teacher, telling jokes and making pop culture references while conveying enthusiasm and passion for the material. In evaluations, students rave about how much they learned — and laughed — in his courses.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Lyn van Swol

Professor of communication arts

A woman gestures as she talks to a room of students.

Lyn van Swol teaches students in Communication Arts 368: Theory and Practice of Persuasion in Grainger Hall. Photo: Althea Dotzour

Van Swol has made a transformative impact on her students by undertaking teaching innovation projects, cultivating better learning communities and fostering diversity. Van Swol receives phenomenal end-of-semester evaluations from students who say she “cares about her students’ success” and gives lectures that are “intriguing and thought-provoking.” Her teaching practices have served as a model to others, in terms of the mix of theory, empirical research and practical case studies, but also in her willingness to engage in educational innovation. Over the past decade, she has continuously developed new ways to teach students, bringing courses to online platforms, incorporating digital technologies, broadening the repertoire of discussion techniques for student engagement and expanding participatory and community learning into her classrooms. She has given numerous presentations on pedagogy at various symposia and learning events.

William H. Kiekhofer Teaching Award

Mark Vareschi

Associate professor of English

A man smiles at the camera.

Mark Vareschi is pictured in a portrait. Photo: Althea Dotzour

Vareschi, a scholar of Restoration and eighteenth-century British literature with a specialty in digital studies, is a transformative teacher. Since arriving at UW–Madison in fall 2012, Vareschi has developed and taught fifteen new courses, big and small, introductory and advanced. Along with disabusing students of their impression that the eighteenth century is dry and difficult, Vareschi has consistently worked to highlight how the questions posed by the discipline of literary studies can engage contemporary concerns. Vareschi helps students strategize together to find ways to get analytical traction with dense scholarly arguments, and his students make remarkable progress in their abilities to synthesize and apply the scholarship they have read. Students report that his courses offer one of the most energizing intellectual challenges they have had at UW–Madison. As their evaluation comments and scores indicate, students glowingly admire Professor Vareschi’s teaching, giving him near perfect ratings.