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Ten faculty selected for Distinguished Teaching Awards

March 12, 2013 By Käri Knutson

Photo: Tehshik Yoon and students in lab

Tehshik Yoon (right), associate professor of chemistry, holds a discussion with graduate research assistant Travis Blum (left) and research associate Dani Schultz (center), both members of Yoon’s research group, in his lab in the Chemistry Building. Yoon is one of ten recipients of a 2013 Distinguished Teaching Award.

Photo: Bryce Richter

Ten faculty members have been chosen to receive this year’s Distinguished Teaching Awards. Interim Chancellor David Ward presented the awards at a ceremony on March 19 at the Pyle Center, with a reception hosted by the Wisconsin Alumni Association following.

The awards, chosen by a committee, honor “faculty members whose teaching is of such quality that it merits recognition and award.” The recipients, along with excerpts from their acceptance speeches, are:

William Aylward, professor of classics, Chancellor’s Award

William Aylward says the opportunities for international fieldwork he received as a student compelled him to extend similar research experiences to the students he now teaches at UW–Madison.

Photo: William Aylward


“Most rewarding is the chance to witness the transformation of students into professionals and to share in this effort with distinguished colleagues at a world-class university,” Aylward says.

Aylward joined the Department of Classics as an assistant professor in 2000 upon receiving his Ph.D. in classical archaeology from the University of Cincinnati. He was promoted to associate professor in 2006 and then to full professor in 2011. Aylward has made invaluable contributions to the education of undergraduate students in a broad range of venues, from large lecture courses to hands-on archaeological field training abroad.

This summer, 11 graduate and undergraduate students will accompany him to Troy as part of the next UW–Madison expedition to study the site.

The success of his former students is one mark of success as a teacher, says Laura McClure, professor and chair of classics. Aylward’s research collaborations with undergraduates have resulted in several Hilldale Undergraduate Research Awards, with many of his former students going on to attend graduate programs at Columbia, Brown, Harvard and Stanford.

“Professor Aylward is an exceptional teacher who has created exceptional opportunities for Wisconsin students, as well as introduced a large number of our undergraduates to the mysteries, and the thrills, of ancient civilizations,” McClure says.

VIDEO: William Aylward acceptance speech

Seth Blair, professor of zoology, Chancellor’s Award

Seth Blair follows in the teaching footsteps of his parents — his father was a physics professor and his mother was a substitute teacher. His sister now teaches high school students.

Photo: Seth Blair


“There must be some family predilection for the job. We certainly loved our learning,” Blair says. “Once you start teaching, though, it is really the students that make you want to be a better teacher.”  

Blair came to the UW in 1989 and has been a full professor since 2001. He is the director for Biology 151/153-152, the biggest of introductory biology classes on campus.

He demonstrates a dedication to both undergraduate and graduate students by teaching introductory courses and upper-level classes, and leading graduate seminars on advanced topics in developmental biology and genetics.

“Seth’s courses get excellent reviews, and his evaluations demonstrate that Seth can clearly connect to students,” says professor Jeff Hardin, chair of zoology.

Being an innovative teacher has been key to Blair’s classes. He demonstrates experiments upon which the science is based, teaching students not only the techniques of modern biology, but also the experimental support upon which science depends, Hardin says.

For several years, Blair has served as the co-chair of the biology major, currently the single largest major on campus.

He also has maintained his important role in undergraduate education while continuing to run a very active and productive research lab. He is an internationally recognized leader in research into the genetics and molecular biology of embryonic development, using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. He also continues to mentor undergraduate research.

VIDEO: Seth Blair acceptance speech

Stefania Buccini, professor of French and Italian, Chancellor’s Award

As a child, Stefania Buccini’s father used to call her “professor,” a title that would later be quite fitting.

“I never had a flash of enlightenment concerning vocation, nor did I decide to be a teacher. Becoming a teacher wasn’t a rational choice,” Buccini says. “It was the natural progression of an instinct that I felt very early in life.”

Photo: Stefania Buccini


Buccini has taught at the UW for 24 years, becoming a full professor in 1999. During the past two decades, she has taught subjects ranging from Italian language courses through graduate seminars with phenomenal success. She has earned a reputation as an outstanding professor for her dynamic, inspiring interactions with students in the classroom and for the extraordinary time and attention she devotes to responding to students’ work and engaging students in didactic activities outside of the classroom.

She also has developed and sustained important educational opportunities for both undergraduates and graduate students in international settings, through her leadership in study-abroad programs; her contributions to the UW’s Italian language immersion program “Piazza Italia,” housed in the campus’s International Learning Community; and her innovations for international seminars.

“Professor Buccini is profoundly Italian, while at the same time an American citizen fascinated by this, her second country and culture,” says Patrick Rumble, professor and chair of French and Italian. “The result is an enlightening body of work revealing a deep understanding of the intersection of the two.”

VIDEO: Stefania Buccini acceptance speech

Peter Muir, professor of small animal orthopaedic surgery, Chancellor’s Award

Peter Muir is a tenured professor in the Department of Surgical Sciences and serves as a mentor for students in his research laboratory. He also teaches veterinary medical students and clinical postdoctoral trainees in the specialty of veterinary orthopaedic surgery. Muir is active in continuing education teaching for graduate veterinarians.

Photo: Peter Muir


“One of my educational responsibilities involves teaching veterinary students to be clinicians,” Muir says. “My main motivation in teaching is to improve the clinical care of veterinary patients by encouraging veterinary students to practice evidence-based medicine.”

He was the first faculty member within the surgery section and one of the first in the school to begin to use web-based tools to leverage the learning experience.

Recently, in collaboration with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) and Wiley Blackwell, Muir has helped establish a new book series, “Advances in Veterinary Surgery,” sponsored by the ACVS Foundation. The goal for the book series is publishing a book per year on a rapidly evolving topic of relevance to the organization’s members.

“Dr. Muir has been instrumental in changing the way orthopaedic surgery is taught to veterinary students,” says Jonathan McAnulty, professor of surgery and chair of surgical sciences. “His efforts have also led to advancement in teaching in other disciplines as faculty have become aware of his efforts and the impact that they have made on student instruction.”

VIDEO: Peter Muir acceptance speech

Rajiv Rao, assistant professor Spanish and Portuguese, Emil Steiger Award

Rajiv Rao joined UW–Madison in 2009. His research focuses on the study of phonetics and phonology (the sound system of language). Within these fields of linguistics, he does research in the specific areas of intonation and prosody in varieties of Spanish.

Photo: Rajiv Rao


“I’ve always been fascinated by languages, and I realized teaching would be one way of extending my knowledge and passion to others,” Rao says. “Another one of the main reasons I got into teaching is that I realized that the transfer of knowledge is a two-way street. It would give me the opportunity to provide students with knowledge I have acquired, while learning something from them at the same time.”

Since 2010, Rao has been closely engaged with the International Learning Community as faculty coordinator of the Spanish-speaking floor, Residencia de Estudiantes, a high-impact immersion program. The initiative seeks to create opportunities for students to practice their language skills, gain critical understanding of world cultures outside the conventional setting of the classroom and interact with faculty in a less-formal environment.

“Professor Rao’s teaching and teaching-related activities continue to enrich the learning, research and lives of his students in the classroom and beyond,” says Rubén Medina, professor and chair of Spanish and Portuguese. “He inspires students by bringing his research into the graduate and undergraduate classrooms and providing opportunities for intellectual discoveries in collaborative projects.”

VIDEO: Rajiv Rao acceptance speech

James Rawlings, professor of chemical and biological engineering, Chancellor’s Award

James Rawlings, who has been with UW–Madison for 19 years, decided to become a teacher while studying at the university.

“The entire knowledge culture presented to young people at a university was so exciting to me at that stage in my life,” Rawlings says. “I fell in love with university life, and I knew I wanted to be part of that. Helping someone move from a state of confusion to a state of clarity is often a powerful experience — for the teacher as well as the student.”

Photo: James Rawlings


He balances research excellence with teaching excellence. His Ph.D. graduates and postdoctoral students — and a voluminous list of research publications — are a testament to his research productivity.

Rawlings has written two textbooks and is in part responsible for the Octave computational software tool used in chemical engineering education and research. These contributions have had a far-reaching influence on chemical engineering curriculum and pedagogy.

Most recently, Rawlings received the John R. Raggazzini award in controls engineering education from the American Automatic Control Council. The Technical University of Denmark bestowed a doctor technices honoris causa in recognition of his scholarship.

“Professor James Rawlings is everything a research university professor should be,” says Professor Gregory Moses. “He sets very high expectations for himself and for his students. And then he finds ways to assist students to reach the high expectations.”

VIDEO: James Rawlings acceptance speech

Karyn Riddle, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication, Class of 1955 Award

Karyn Riddle joined the faculty in 2007 after completing her Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Students soon gave her high ratings in their teacher evaluations, ranking her first in the department among full-time faculty and instructional staff.

Photo: Karyn Riddle


“Both of my parents are retired teachers; my father taught high school math and my mother taught pre-K children. My brother is a principal in Las Vegas, and my other brother is currently getting his master’s in elementary education. So I guess we have education in our blood,” Riddle says. “I’d say my family motivated me to become a teacher.”

During class, she’ll often stop mid-lecture to ask students if they agree with an industry trend or communication theory she has described, encouraging her students to be critical thinkers.

Riddle also excels in her research, which has largely focused on the effects of media and media violence, especially on children, and how long-term exposure to television effects viewers’ conceptions of social reality.

“She uses new media in exciting and critical ways, and forces students to engage analytically with what might otherwise be seen as professional training,” says Greg Downey, professor and director of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication. “Hers is the kind of careful and creative classroom performance that is well worth rewarding — and we hope to keep her on our faculty for a very long time.”

VIDEO: Karyn Riddle acceptance speech

Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg, professor of history, Department of Liberal Studies and the Arts, Continuing Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Medieval Studies, Van Hise Outreach Award

Jane Schulenburg, who has been at the UW for more than 40 years, has proven to be an exceptional teacher and scholar.

She credits history professor Bill Chaney with inspiring a love of teaching and learning while she was an undergraduate.

Photo: Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg


“I took a number of courses and tutorials with him, and he passed his love of the Middle Ages on to me. He was a brilliant, exciting teacher and a great storyteller,” Schulenburg says. “He encouraged me in my work and in my career decisions.”

Schulenburg has used many methods to connect with nontraditional students, serving as a pioneer in teaching adult students and in distance learning. Using early technology, she taught Educational Telephone Network (ETN) courses on medieval topics out of Old Radio Hall, scanning visuals so students throughout Wisconsin could participate in the lectures and discussions by phone. She has taught standard classroom credit courses on the Madison campus, as well as courses at the Columbia Correctional Institution at Portage.

Her most enduring and popular programs have been medieval study tours to Europe and evening classes on various topics in medieval and women’s history.

“Professor Jane Schulenburg is an enthusiastic and committed teacher who communicates that enthusiasm to all with whom she comes in contact,” says Narra Smith Cox, professor and chair of the Department of Liberal Studies and the Arts. “She is truly the epitome of the Wisconsin Idea and is that rare combination of someone who does amazing research while also doing substantive scholarship.”

VIDEO: Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg acceptance speech

Edwin Sibert, professor of chemistry, Chancellor’s Award

While Edwin Sibert came to UW–Madison to pursue research, he discovered a love of teaching.

“I quickly realized how much I enjoyed working with both graduate and undergraduate students and how rewarding it was to assist students to make new connections and to see the world in a new light,” Sibert says.

Photo: Edwin Sibert


Sibert has been a faculty member in the chemistry department since 1986, becoming a professor in 1997. For much of his career, he has dedicated himself to improving the education of all undergraduates who enroll in general chemistry.

In 2000, he became chair of the undergraduate curriculum committee. During the next two years, he supervised efforts to recreate the chemistry major and to institute widespread changes in the introductory chemistry courses. The result created new pathways for undergraduates to become chemistry majors and offered students with different interests choices and clear ideas about how to proceed. An honors program in the major also was created, greatly increasing the number of undergraduates doing research in their early years.

Sibert was named chair of the general chemistry division in 2007, a position he held until 2011.

“No one during the last decade has had a greater influence than Ned on undergraduates enrolling in general chemistry,” write award nominators James Weisshaar, professor and chair of chemistry, and Gilbert Nathanson, professor of chemistry and chair of the general chemistry division.

VIDEO: Edwin Sibert acceptance speech

Tehshik Yoon, associate professor of chemistry, William Kiekhofer Award

Tehshik Yoon has made extraordinary contributions to curricular development and pedagogical innovation at both the graduate and undergraduate levels in the chemistry department since joining it seven years ago.

Photo: Tehshik Yoon


“I couldn’t have anticipated that the pleasure I get from teaching would be so much like the satisfaction I get in the laboratory,” Yoon says. “I’m always experimenting to figure out how to deliver a concept better, to better motivate my students and to make the case to them that science is fantastically beautiful.”

He regularly earns some of the strongest teaching evaluations in the department; multiple students have described him as the best teacher they’ve ever had.

Yoon has introduced valuable innovations in the undergraduate curriculum, focusing largely on novel uses of technology. He has pioneered the use of social media in the classroom, and he experiments with strategies to harness the community-building and real-time feedback capabilities of social-media platforms, such as blogs and Facebook, to engage students and construct virtual “learning communities” in his classes.

He also has made a unique contribution to the graduate curriculum in the department.

“Tehshik’s contributions to teaching are even more remarkable in light of his success as a scholar,” says James Weisshaar, professor and chair of chemistry. “The same creative, interdisciplinary spirit that Tehshik brings to his teaching innovations is also reflected in his success as a researcher.”

VIDEO: Tehshik Yoon acceptance speech

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