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Ten to receive Distinguished Teaching Awards

May 1, 2014

Anja Wanner in class

Professor Anja Wanner holds a discussion in her English syntax class. Wanner is one of 10 faculty members chosen to receive Distinguished Teaching Awards.


Ten 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 will present the awards at a ceremony to be held in conjunction with the Teaching and Learning Symposium from 4:30 to 6 p.m. May 19 at Union South in Varsity Hall. The event is sponsored by the Wisconsin Alumni Association in conjunction with the Office of the Secretary of the Faculty.

This year’s recipients are:

Sigurd Angenent, professor of mathematics, Chancellor’s Award

Sigurd Angenent

Sigurd Angenent

A champion of mathematics education for students of all levels, Angenent is the director of the Undergraduate Mathematics Program.

His many curricular reforms include overseeing the streamlining of the calculus sequence to better serve the more than 3,000 undergraduate students — including many from non-math disciplines — who complete the sequence each semester.

Angenent has also demonstrated a deep commitment to student accessibility. He grew so frustrated with the price and quality of current textbooks that he decided to write his own notes for all of his classes and to make those notes available to students for free.

“Professor Angenent is a perfect example of what the UW needs during this time of change — a highly respected scholar with a deep dedication to teaching, coupled with a good balance between innovative practices and quality, and with great concern for students,” says Leslie Smith, mathematics professor and department chair.

Chelcy Bowles, professor of music, Van Hise Outreach Teaching Award

Chelcy Bowles

Chelcy Bowles

 Bowles is nationally and internationally renowned as one of the foremost experts on lifelong learning and engagement in music and the arts.

She has developed and taught a variety of non-credit courses for adult learners and has been instrumental in the founding of music outreach programs at the state, national and international levels.

Among the many initiatives she has spearheaded is the Madison Early Music Festival, which is approaching its 15th year and draws artists from around the world to showcase medieval and Renaissance music.

“Professor Bowles is an enthusiastic and committed teacher who transmits that enthusiasm to diverse and multi-generational audiences,” says Narra Smith Cox, liberal studies and the arts professor and chair. “She epitomizes a public humanities scholar devoted to the conscientious and enthusiastic implementation of the Wisconsin Idea.”

Alta Charo, Warren P. Knowles professor of law, Chancellor’s Award

Alta Charo

Alta Charo

Charo has had an exceptional career as a law professor, scholar and public intellectual.

She has been named associate dean of the Law School twice and has served in a variety of national commission roles, including as a member of President Barack Obama’s transition team and as a senior policy adviser in the Office of the Commissioner of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

Charo brings this vast experience into the classroom to provide students with a rich understanding of how science, law and ethics intersect — especially in the context of contentious policy issues.

“Professor Charo’s service commitments, both on our campus and beyond, have been extraordinary,” says Margaret Raymond, dean of the Law School. “The Law School is privileged to have such a fine teacher.”

Stephen C. Gammie, professor of zoology, Chancellor’s Award

Stephen C. Gammie

Stephen C. Gammie

Gammie is an energetic, high-quality teacher who constantly rises to the challenge of innovating new courses — and reinventing old ones.

One example is his dramatic reorientation of the animal physiology sequence to embrace the evolutionary aspects of physiology and the diversity of animal physiological adaptations.

This shift in course content has been immensely popular with undergraduate students.

In addition to his zoology curricular improvements, Gammie also serves on the Letters and Science committee that is responsible for reviewing course content and evaluating how courses and programs interrelate.

“Professor Gammie is a dedicated and devoted teacher, both in the classroom and as a mentor,” zoology Professor and Chair Jeff Hardin. “It is faculty such as Stephen who set our campus apart in providing outstanding education for our students at all levels.”

John Hall, assistant professor of history, William H. Kiekhofer Award

John Hall

John Hall

An expert in American military and Native American history, Hall sets expectations for his teaching as high as he sets his expectations for students.

He develops beautifully crafted lectures that are exemplars of organizational, oratory and intellectual sophistication. Students often label faculty members who take this approach as “too difficult,” but Hall maintains remarkably high evaluation scores from students.

He is also committed to improving his teaching by experimenting with “smart” classrooms and interactivity, and to improving the undergraduate experience beyond the classroom. For example, the Undergraduate History Association has been revived and reinvigorated under his tutelage.

“In an era when students often expect ironic detachment or crass theatrics in the classroom, Professor Hall’s deep seriousness of purpose and sincerity of engagement inspire sustained commitment,” says Vilas Jartz Distinguished Professor of History James H. Sweet.

Michael Plesha, professor of engineering physics, Chancellor’s Award

Michael Plesha

Michael Plesha

Through his efforts to modernize course materials and teaching techniques, Professor Plesha has made a substantial and lasting impact on the College of Engineering.

Specifically, he has radically overhauled the UW’s statics course, which is normally the first quantitative course taken by engineering undergraduate students.

He shifted the course from a “dreary” requirement that negatively affected enrollment in engineering mechanics to a blended-learning course that incorporates videos, animations and creative assignments to help students get a taste for real-world engineering work. Plesha also wrote a new textbook about the topic, which is now used by institutions across the country.

“Professor Plesha epitomizes the concept of outstanding excellence in classroom teaching and is making a huge impact around the world with his textbooks,” says Engineering Physics Professor and Chair Jake Blanchard.

Karthikeyan Sankaralingam, associate professor of computer sciences, Emil H. Steiger Award

Karthikeyan Sankaralingam

Karthikeyan Sankaralingam

Sankaralingam is an educational innovator who has enacted transformative changes in courses for students of all levels — and he is so committed to teaching excellence that he regularly makes his materials publicly available to other instructors.

One of his key achievements has been the revamping of a Computer Sciences 252. Sankaralingam redesigned the introductory course to focus on hands-on activities such as building a computer and designing robots.

This past spring, 50 percent of students enrolled in the course were female — an amazing ratio for computer sciences. Similarly, Sankaralingam has added innovative microprocessor-design activities to a course designed for senior undergraduates.

“Professor Sankaralingamis absolutely fearless, whether it is challenging the orthodoxy in computer architecture or taking a radical, new approach in teaching a popular and well-established undergraduate course,” says John P. Morgridge Professor of Computer Sciences and Chair Jeffrey Naughton. “Karu is a passionate, effective and extraordinarily inspiring teacher.”

Sissel Schroeder, professor of anthropology, Chancellor’s Award

Sissel Schroeder

Sissel Schroeder

Schroeder is the supervisor of the Archeology Certificate Program and the director of the Letters and Science Honors College.

Schroeder spearheaded the development of Anthropology 112, which has become the most popular UW archeology course offering. The class incorporates field-research projects and analyses — concepts that are typically reserved for smaller classes.

In addition to creating a wide array of opportunities for students to participate in major research projects, she is also a champion of diversity and respect in the classroom. Many students, including Native American students, have expressed appreciation for her willingness to explore multiple sides of controversial topics.

“Professor Schroeder continually challenges herself to improve the experiences of students in her courses and to innovate new approaches toward teaching,” says anthropology Professor and Chair Maria Lepowsky. “She is one of the Department of Anthropology’s most extraordinary scholar-teachers.”

Anja Wanner, professor of English, Chancellor’s Award

Anja Wanner

Anja Wanner

Wanner regularly inspires her students to fall in love with syntax.

She has elevated English 324 from a dreaded grammar requirement for TESOL and ESL certification to an undergraduate favorite.

Wanner meticulously scaffolds her assignments to help students build upon their skills and knowledge, and she regularly incorporates new media technologies in inventive ways.

She has created blended-learning environments that include podcasts, visual quizzes and other elements to help students to grasp course concepts at their own pace. Her technology-enhanced courses are accessible to full-time secondary school teachers and other distance learners.

“Professor Wanner is an extraordinary teacher, communicating infectious enthusiasm, a strong sense of the value of her subject and an unrivaled clarity, while generating ever new innovations to smooth and speed the process of learning,” says English Professor and Chair Caroline Levine.

Douglas Weibel, associate professor of biochemistry, Class of 1955 Award

Douglas Weibel

Douglas Weibel

Just as he does with his research, Weibel takes an interdisciplinary approach to teaching.

He has made critical contributions to several biochemistry courses, including a complete reorganization of Biochemistry 651, a capstone for the major that now interweaves physics, engineering, chemistry and biology concepts, and also includes hands-on opportunities for students to dissemble instruments and study their design.

Moreover, Weibel has improved undergraduate education through nontraditional mechanisms. For example, he co-founded the UW–Madison International Genetically Engineered Machines team, which brings undergraduate students in biological science and engineering together to work on projects in synthetic biology.

“As an experimentalist at heart, Professor Weibel uses a wide arsenal of teaching methods to tailor courses for students, and he constantly alters and optimizes content to maximize engagement and impact,” says Elizabeth Cavert Miller Professor of Biochemistry and Chair Elizabeth Craig.