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Teaching excellence at UW-Madison recognized with Distinguished Teaching Awards

April 14, 2015 By Kate Dixon

Photo: John Parrish

John Parrish, professor of animal science, works with students to perform an ultrasound on a horse in his Animal Science 375: Equine Reproductive Management class in the Horse Barn. 


Twelve faculty members have been chosen to receive this year’s Distinguished Teaching Awards, an honor given out since 1953 to recognize the university’s finest educators.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf will present the awards at a ceremony April 29 at the Fluno Center, 601 University Ave., Madison. The awards presentation will be from 5 to 6 p.m. followed by a reception from 6 to 6:30 p.m. with complimentary refreshments and a chance to meet this year’s honorees. The ceremony, sponsored by the Wisconsin Alumni Association with support from the Office of the Secretary of the Faculty, is free and open to the public. People can register to attend by April 22 at

This year’s recipients are:

David A. Baum, professor of botany, Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Photo: David Baum

David Baum

David Baum is respected for his popular lectures and innovative introductions to overall evolutionary biology and phylogenetics — what Baum calls “tree thinking.” Baum is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has served as chair of the Department of Botany and is the founding director of the UW’s Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution. A generous colleague who promotes active learning, Baum recently coauthored two new textbooks that introduce evolutionary thinking to a broad audience. Baum, a champion of the UW’s Darwin Day programming, regularly delivers a lecture on evolution dressed as Charles Darwin.

“I have heard David lecture numerous times in both class and seminar formats and have seen his remarkable rapport with the students in action. … David is a uniquely talented instructor and remains an extremely important asset to the university in the teaching of the biological sciences and beyond,” says Simon Gilroy, a professor in the Department of Botany.

Karen Britland, professor of English, Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Photo: Karen Britland

Karen Britland

Once named one of the “most brilliant Renaissance drama scholars under the age of 40,” Karen Britland is known for her wit and humor in engaging students of Shakespeare and early modern English literature. Her vibrant teaching incorporates collaborative learning and support for students as they build their writing and thinking skills. She also earns praise for her commitment to mentoring the next generation of English teachers and scholars. Britland’s numerous campus honors include a Romnes Faculty Fellowship in support of her research and publications.

“What makes Professor Britland’s style so truly powerful and unusual is that she manages to be witty and engaging while also consistently challenging her classes. … Even the most reluctant students find themselves fascinated,” says Caroline Levine, professor and chair of the Department of English.

A. Finn Enke, professor of gender and women’s studies, Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Photo: A. Finn Enke

A. Finn Enke

Finn Enke’s approach to teaching the history of sexuality and gender includes a focus on critical thinking, creating a classroom experience in which students say they are transformed, respected and educated. During 13 years of service, Enke has introduced trans scholarship to UW–Madison, teaching 14 different courses, including one of the nation’s first courses focused on transgender history. The only faculty member with a formal appointment in LGBTQ studies, and more recently, as the only openly trans faculty member on campus, Enke is also a respected and invaluable mentor for students from departments across campus.

“Intellectual disagreements can, in less skilled hands, be interpreted as personal attacks. That a diverse group of students could feel, as one student put it, ‘so safe and welcomed’ in Enke’s classes is a particularly remarkable feat,” says Judith A. Houck, chair of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies.

Jonathan Gray, professor of communication arts, Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Photo: Jonathan Gray

Jonathan Gray

A scholar of global media and the impact and influence of television, Jonathan Gray balances high expectations of students with an energetic approach to teaching. He is recognized for revitalizing his department through an innovative, fresh curriculum, and he is a prized mentor for students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Gray is a recipient of a Romnes Faculty Fellowship and is often invited to speak in national venues. In 2009, he led the development of Antenna, a department blog now used by media students and scholars worldwide.

“What we have observed by having him here on campus is a consummate teacher full of intense energy and creativity. … Professor Gray not only loves his subject and excels at presenting it, but he also genuinely cares about his students’ experience and growth, ” says Susan Zaeske,
 professor of rhetoric, politics, and culture in the Department of Communication Arts and associate dean of advancement, arts and humanities in the College of Letters & Science.

John J. Parrish, professor of animal science, Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Photo: John Parrish

John Parrish

For more than two decades — from PowerPoint to podcasts to Google Glass — John Parrish has been a leader in using technology to teach the reproductive physiology of livestock. His early innovations created one of the first “flipped classrooms,” allowing more students to have hands-on experiences with animals. Parrish emphasizes the importance of a global education, teaching his students the how and why of technology to develop the critical thinking, language, and literacy skills they’ll need as global leaders in agriculture and the economy. Parrish has also developed and taught a first-year interest group about biology, and led the development of a U.S. Department of Agriculture website that influenced how reproductive physiology is taught around the world.

“I can say that I have never truly learned until I took his course. …. He has a deep desire for students to learn in a way that will not only teach them book knowledge, but moreover, he desires for us to immerse ourselves in our future learning opportunities and to think one step above and beyond what we often perceive as maximal performance,” says 2012 graduate Miki Hirano.

Barry Van Veen, professor of electrical and computer engineering, Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Photo: Barry Van Veen

Barry Van Veen

Barry Van Veen says that “flipping” his classes has been the most transformative experience of his career. His may be the first U.S. course in signal processing to deliver introductory material via short, online videos instead of traditional lectures, allowing students more time to practice the discipline. Van Veen published the results of this innovation — most notably, dramatic improvements in student learning and test scores — and generously shares his expertise and online AllSignalsProcessing content with scholars around the world. A fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Van Veen received the Harvey Spangler Award for Technology-Enhanced Instruction in 2014.

“Every student lucky enough to have Barry Van Veen as a professor witnesses the power behind his personal and seamless integration of technology and learning. … He is not restricted by the current technology because his approach is centered on humanity and what it means to truly learn,” says Graham Johnson, a student of Van Veen’s.

Photo: Barry Van Veen

Barry Van Veen, professor of computer and electrical engineering, works with students in his ECE 330: Signals and Systems class in the Wisconsin Collaboratory for Enhanced Learning (WisCEL) on the fourth floor of Wendt Library.

Jill H. Casid, professor of art history, Chancellor’s Inclusive Excellence Award

Photo: Jill Casid

Jill Casid

Jill Casid approaches visual studies as a transdisciplinary field, connecting history, theory and creative production. She is a cofounder of the UW’s Center for Visual Cultures and serves as her department’s director of graduate studies. For her colleagues, she’s an inspiration who brings a deeply ethical approach to teaching; for her students, she’s an invaluable personal and professional mentor. By all accounts, Casid is widely respected for her commitment to creating transformative intellectual experiences.

“Jill Casid’s scholarship, teaching, and guidance require me — require all of us — to develop a second nervous system; to be that much more alive, attuned, and acutely reactionary to the world. We should all do well to emulate her rare combination of personal passion and intellectual rigor, all while insisting that the most productive questions are the ones we are least comfortable asking,” says Matthew Rarey MA’08, PhD’14.

Eric Matthew Wilcots, professor of astronomy, Chancellor’s Inclusive Excellence Award

Photo: Eric Wilcots

Eric Wilcots

Eric Wilcots is a collegial adviser who opens doors for graduate students, and an innovative teacher who engages undergraduates in research. His teaching through storytelling draws non-science majors to popular astronomy courses, and he created the concept for Universe in the Park, an outreach program that introduces the general public to astronomy under the dark skies in Wisconsin state parks. Wilcots brings interdisciplinary innovation to his service as an associate dean in the College of Letters & Science. An active member of the National Society of Black Physicists, he is one of the most highly placed African-American astrophysicists in the country and a force for inclusiveness on campus.

“Many of the qualities that make Eric Wilcots a great professor make him a wonderful human being. From the moment I met Professor Wilcots, he has always been friendly, approachable, and ready to catalyze the curiosity of his students,” says student Leah Fulmer.

Alicia Cerezo Paredes, assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, Class of 1955 Teaching Excellence Award

Photo: Alicia Cerezo Paredes

Alicia Cerezo Paredes

Bringing her gift for teaching to a broad range of courses, Alicia Cerezo Paredes is recognized for her versatility and impressively high marks from students. She is a lively instructor, an accomplished scholar of Spanish literature, and a generous colleague and mentor. Cerezo has mentored international students during their early adjustments to life in the U.S., and she is the faculty coordinator for the Residencia de Estudiantes, the Spanish-language floor of the International Learning Community. In 2012, she invited several graduate students to take part in a professional language conference, providing them with extra support and memorable professional development.

“Professor Cerezo is as good as it gets. I cannot think of a kinder, more dedicated professor. … When you take a class with her, you want to do better, and do more,” says Deneille Erikson MS’08.

Jenny A. Higgins, assistant professor of gender and women’s studies, Emil Steiger Teaching Award

Photo: Jenny Higgins

Jenny Higgins

In teaching the department’s oldest and much-beloved course, Women and Their Bodies in Health and Disease, Jenny Higgins is earning rave reviews for her invigorating approach to new online and analytical components, yet respecting the course’s campus legacy. From playwriting to “participation valentines,” students appreciate how Higgins brings passion and compassion to courses that heighten active listening and learning. She is respected for her enthusiastic academic exchange, for encouraging creativity among her colleagues, and for actively integrating feedback into her own teaching.

“She is humble, never drawing attention to her own strengths and accomplishments, and earns the respect of her students through her actions and the enthusiasm she exudes. Her warm, positive demeanor and genuine passion for the information she teaches is a constant source of inspiration to her students and colleagues,” says Laura Gregor ’13.

Jordan Zweck, assistant professor of English, William H. Kiekhofer Teaching Award

Photo: Jordan Zweck

Jordan Zweck

Thanks to Jordan Zweck, students no longer dread British literature. It’s said that her lively teaching wakes student enthusiasm for early medieval England. The department’s only scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature and culture, Zweck mentors undergraduate and graduate students alike, and has become the “heart and soul” of the UW’s decades-old Beowulf Club — a Friday-night gathering of Old English appreciation. Zweck is also respected for taking care to improve students’ critical-thinking and writing skills, which will serve them well in any career.

“Professor Zweck was able to foster my interest in both literature and medicine. I am greatly beholden to her not only for supporting my academic interest, but also for helping me to grow as a writer and thinker. Without having studied under her, I would not be the student — or person — that I am today,” says Kristen Prewitt ’13.

Craig Werner, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Afro-American Studies, Van Hise Outreach Teaching Award

Photo: Craig Werner

Craig Werner

In every aspect of his storied career, Craig Werner shares his gifts, scholarship and commitment to social justice far beyond the borders of campus. An accomplished author, mentor, and former chair of the UW’s Departments of Integrated Liberal Studies and Afro-American Studies, he’s also a member of the nominating committee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a contributor to National Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Radio. Through his personal and scholarly outreach, Werner shares insights with diverse communities, including minorities, the underprivileged, K–12 teachers and veterans. And through his call-and-response teaching approach, Werner brings “downright magic” to any classroom.

“Craig Werner is the personification of the Wisconsin Idea and the university’s historic commitment to outreach. He lives it, he breathes it, and he practices it,” says Doug Bradley, a lecturer in the Department of Integrated Liberal Studies.

Awards are selected by a faculty and student committee.