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UW-Madison announces 2007 Distinguished Teaching Award winners

April 17, 2007 By Barbara Wolff

Teaching faculty provide a laboratory for the Wisconsin Idea and a conduit for the knowledge, experiences and skills produced on campus to reach the rest of Wisconsin, the nation and the world.

Whatever paths they employ, teaching faculty are instrumental in spreading knowledge to their students at the university, as well as around Wisconsin and around the world.

Every year UW–Madison Teaching Awards Committee honors an ensemble of faculty for teaching excellence. The 2007 Teaching Awards winners are:

Photo of CookMarshall Cook, professor of liberal studies and the arts, Van Hise Outreach Award

“Let’s see who will be the first to design a paper airplane actually can fly.”

Students in this class in creativity dutifully fold the usual suspects that roughly resemble actual airplanes, but Cook wads up his own piece of paper like a ball and throws it out before anyone else.

“Who says a paper airplane has to look like a paper airplane?” he asks his students, most of whom are communications professionals.

Cook continues to nurture the Wisconsin Idea seeds that the late Robert Gard planted in community theater in the state.

“We think that people should not just consume the arts but produce them,” he says.

Cook has endeavored to do that since he arrived on the UW–Madison faculty in 1982. His specialty has become nontraditional students in settings that are not the usual classroom: newspapers editors in both small towns and cities, retirees, low-income adults, incarcerated individuals, members of services clubs, church groups, at the university’s Rhinelander School of the Arts, online.

Cook also is writing coach to the Odyssey Project (, which brings a free-of-charge humanities course to adults living near the poverty level.

Cook is no slouch himself as a published writer. His literary credentials include the forthcoming novel “Twin Killing,” “Murder at Midnight,” “Murder Over Easy” — all featuring the detective Mo Quinn, a former Chicago Tribune columnist who moves to “Mitchell,” Wis.

Other books in Cook’s canon deal with how-to writing subjects, motivational topics and baseball, a special favorite.

“I do what I teach,” he says. “Writing keeps me honest as a teacher, and teaching energizes and inspires me as a writer.”

Photo of DesanSuzanne M. Desan, professor of history, Chancellor’s Award

According to Desan, the study of history is the study of the complexity of the human condition.

“When I teach, above all I want to show how men and women in all kind of situations reinvent themselves in creative ways,” she says.

Her scholarly specialty in early modern Europe has taken her from the Italian Renaissance to the French Revolution. In addition to undergraduate and graduate courses on Europe in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries she also teaches undergraduate research seminars on a variety of topics.

David McDonald, who chairs the Department of History, notes that Desan combines tremendous stage presence with a master’s ability to explain difficult concepts. He calls her re-enactment of the 16th century version of Little Red Riding Hood “mesmerizing.” Desan says she includes the performance to help students understand the point of view that French peasants of that time may have held.

“The 16th-century version is very different from the story we know,” she says. “The original conveys the extreme food scarcity and hardship that the French peasantry suffered then.” To put their lives in context, she juxtaposes them with a vivid description of a typical table at Versailles.

“History inevitably involves power struggles that can be brutal, but it also offers vibrant lessons about human resilience. During the Renaissance people spoke of a ‘usable past’ and believed that history could teach them about universal human characteristics. I also think history is important for recognizing just how different various cultures and peoples can be. It’s endlessly intriguing and thought-provoking. For the students, I hope that studying history cultivates curiosity and critical thinking,” she says.

Photo of DowneyGregory J. Downey, associate professor of library and information studies and journalism and mass communication, William H. Kiekhofer Award

Downey’s academic specialty is information technology: how people have engaged in past and present with it.

“As a teacher, one of the ways I see my work reaching beyond the university classroom is by inspiring students to see themselves not only as consumers of communications gadgets and corporate media content, but also as active producers of information, ideas and values. All of these go on to circulate not only throughout the state of Wisconsin, but potentially throughout the nation and around the world,” he says.

Downey’s innovative use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in both library and journalism courses, for example, has allowed communications students to develop a stronger sense of community in their professional work and library students an expanded sense of the spatial and geographic implications of libraries.

Still, “introducing my students to a wide variety of collaborative, digital and networked communication tools like blogs, wikis and podcasts are only part of the challenge,” he says. “It’s more difficult — but more interesting — to help students learn how to represent themselves and their ideas using more traditional tools, ranging from community mapping to academic writing.”

Downey has worked with undergraduates well-versed in the use of blogs in wartime, the role that libraries can play in opposing government censorship and the potential of community radio in developing countries.

“The enthusiasm that our students bring to such important issues constantly surprises and delights me,” he says. “In the end, I see my role both in and out of the classroom as helping them master basic techniques of critical inquiry and argumentation that they will need to take their dreams out into the world, in Wisconsin and beyond.”

Photo of GlenbergArthur M. Glenberg, professor of psychology, Chancellor’s Award

One of Glenberg’s teaching assignments is introductory statistics. “An important goal in this course is to show students how statistical thinking can impact many areas of their lives, not just this class and not just psychology. To that end, I include assignments that require students to examine reports in the media and to criticize the statistics used on the reports,” he says.

However, Glenberg does not confine his teaching to classroom settings. Some of his research-oriented undergraduate classes and independent studies have included testing a novel intervention project in the public school districts of Madison, Verona and Sun Prairie. This semester, the team is working in several Milwaukee charter schools.

Language comprehension is the subject of these excursions. His and his students’ work seeks answers to the mystery of why so many children hate to — or can’t — read when they are skilled in verbal communication.

Glenberg concludes that imagination and experience are key pieces of the reading comprehension puzzle.

“To understand language, people bring to bear memories of related interactions with objects in their world and with other people. It is as though they imagine, although not necessarily consciously, the situations described within a conversation or text. Successful understanding is more closely tied to this type of imagination than to grammatical analysis,” says Glenberg.

His proposed solution has the children read a text about activities in a particular situation, such as on a farm. Then the team asks the children to manipulate toys, a tractor, barn, animals and so on, to reflect the story that the children are reading. The result has been significant improvements in reading scores, as well as in solving mathematical story problems.

Photo of HarrowerMark A. Harrower, assistant professor of geography, Chancellor’s Award

Maps in the 21st century have a lot of potential to live up to. In Harrower’s and his students’ hands, maps provide not only directional help, but also historical reference, environmental grids, context to other areas and much more.

A key to Harrower’s work is making Geographical Information Systems (GIS) more accessible to the general public by integrating interpretive and aesthetic aspects of traditional cartography into digital mapmaking. His Web map of UW–Madison’s Lakeshore Preserve and Picnic Point (, a project of students in Harrower’s animated and Web-based mapping class, allows its visitors access natural and historical information about each specific location in the preserve. Another project revamped the campus map ( The last edition appeared in 1977.

According to Harrower, the overarching idea is to enrich and enhance visitors’ on-the-ground experiences with the added context available from the interactive map. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Lakeshore Preserve map and its architects have won the American Congress for Survey and Mapping’s Cartography and Geographical Information Systems Map Design Competition.

Harrower carries his zeal for mapmaking and for making cartography more useful and accessible to the general public into his classrooms as well as beyond them. His courses routinely incorporate learning techniques designed to engage his students: active learning exercises, random quizzes, spontaneous evaluations of his effectiveness as a teacher and more.

Photo of LehenyDavid Leheny, associate professor of political science, Chancellor’s Award

Politics and cultures offer excellent forums for teaching critical-thinking skills.

“They require students to think creatively and productively about how to evaluate evidence and to think outside of what we normally take for granted,” says Leheny.

He adds that his research area — Japanese politics and popular culture — makes this easier than it might otherwise be.

“In a lot of ways, Japan is similar to the United States. It’s an advanced, industrialized democracy, the governments get along quite well and young people share a common cultural vocabulary, from the Americans who watch Japanese anime or kids who play with Pokemon cards to the Japanese who watch ‘24’ on television and follow the NBA,” he says.

However, Leheny quickly adds that in other ways the two nations are worlds apart.

“Especially the way in which political fights take place and the ways in which we relate to our governments. The differences are pretty startling. For example, ROTC students here routinely show up to class in uniform. That would be unthinkable and even alarming in Japan. On the other hand, Americans likely would be just as surprised at the extent to which teachers’ unions and even student organizations in Japan have resisted playing the national anthem or showing the national flag,” he says.

To minimize the culture shock to his students, Leheny says he tries to “normalize” the experience of life in Japan “by showing bits of Japanese films, playing Japanese pop music before class, clips from Japanese television and so on. I want the students to reflect on why our lives are the way they are, and what options or alternatives exist that we might never have considered. That’s a big reason why I myself love studying Japan — I actually feel that the more I know about the country and its people, the better I understand myself as an American and the world I inhabit back here at home,” he says.

Photo of PattersonSara E. Patterson, assistant professor of horticulture, Emil H. Steiger Award

“One night I dreamed that my lecture was so boring that I fell asleep while writing on the chalkboard. The good news was that when I dreamed I woke up the entire class was asleep, so no one knew!”

But in waking life Patterson has nothing to fear in that regard; her students consistently report that her lectures are far removed from the “I-talk-you-listen” variety. For instance, a session on genetic variety brought homemade granola bars made of orange and purple carrots to class. “While I enjoyed eating Sara’s delicious treats, I also began thinking about the reasons for and causes and effects of genetic variation,” says Susie Drahos, an undergraduate horticulture major. Later, her class visited the Eagle Heights community garden and harvested vegetables, extracted seeds and planted them.

Many of Patterson’s students apply the knowledge they learn from her by volunteering at Allen Centennial Gardens and in other community gardens across the region.

“My philosophy of teaching primarily revolves around the belief that I am sharing with others how to learn, to access data and retrieve it later in life,” she says. “I have always loved to learn about new things. If I can share a fraction of that enthusiasm with students, whether undergraduates, graduates, K-12 students and teacher, community gardeners or the elderly, then I feel that much of my job as an educator is done.”

Photo of RumblePatrick A. Rumble, professor of French and Italian, Chancellor’s Award

Film is both a mirror of and a window on a culture, and it is, perhaps, a gross understatement to say that Rumble loves it, both as an art to be experienced and as an opportunity for instruction.

Since joining the faculty in 1991, Rumble has taken the instructional potential of cinema to new levels:

  • For the last few years he has served as a consultant to the Wisconsin Film Festival.
  • He helped establish the student-run film society Cinematheque. Its programming is designed to integrate into classes offered across the campus.
  • Rumble was a founding member of UW–Madison’s interdisciplinary Visual Cultural Studies Program, in which film is a major component. His courses on Italian and European film have been integrated into the visual culture core curriculum.

However, cinema is just one instructional avenue that Rumble has taken to acquaint students with the study of culture in general, and of the Italian culture in particular.

As director of Center for European Studies, he was instrumental in opening an Italian language floor and a Scandinavian language floor in Adams Hall, home of the university’s International Learning Community. He currently is developing new options in European studies for interdisciplinary training for students in the humanities, the social sciences and the professional schools. He also was one of the founders of Wisconsin’s International Scholars Program, an honors-style undergraduate choice for students intending to pursue international careers.

His innovative courses — ranging from the broad, such as European Cinema and Society, to the highly specific, such as his seminar on Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini — have made him in demand by learners at all levels.

Photo of StrettonAntony O. Stretton, professor of zoology, Chancellor’s Award

Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail, all 1,000 miles of it, beckoned Stretton about four years ago.

“Last April I completed hiking the trail, and boy, was it beautiful!” he says. “To my amazement it turns out that I was only the 27th person to have finished the trail since it opened in the 1950s. I also have the dubious distinction of being the oldest person to have done it — I finished on my 70th birthday!”

And what did Stretton think about during his trek through the woods?

“How to improve my teaching, of course,” he says.

Whether teaching introductory biology or a graduate seminar, Stretton seems to be doing an admirable job. For example, he sends close-to-verbatim e-mail transcripts of his lectures to his students.

“I never would have considered this earlier in my career, thinking it to be too much spoon-feeding,” he says. “I originally began the practice to help non-native English speakers in class. A further rationale is that only about 5 percent of the lecture material is directly parallel to the text readings.”

His innovative teaching techniques are not limited to the computer. For example, he uses such visual aids as climbing tape slings to illustrate the recombination of DNA that leads to antibody diversity, a dance ensemble to bring to life cellular secretion of macromolecules and a reading from “Macbeth” to show the exact amount of blood a human contains.

Much of what Stretton teaches today draws from his own research. Between 1958 and 1966, he and colleagues discovered that the gene and the protein it encodes are colinear, arranged in the same linear sequence. Intrigued by systems of structural information, Stretton turned to neurobiology, eventually becoming a neuroanatomist to work out the wiring diagram of a simple nervous system. His most recent work focuses on neuropeptides.

As one of the faculty instrumental in forming the Neuroscience Training Program at UW–Madison in 1971, Stretton has helped shape it into a cohesive campus community of scholars working in the field.

Photo of WuChin H. Wu, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, Class of 1955 Award

Wu had just arrived in Madison for his job interview at the university, and, as part of the screening process was having dinner with Kenneth Potter, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

“After my first conversation with Chin I knew he had thought a lot about undergraduate teaching. He was convinced that fluid mechanics could be taught much more effectively than it usually was. The key, he said, was to build the physical intuition before presenting the mathematics. I was shocked by this pronouncement. Not that the idea was shocking — in fact, I completely agreed. I was shocked that such a young, mathematically brilliant scholar would hold such an idea!” Potter recalls.

Fluid mechanics is one of the oldest engineering disciplines, and it has served as the foundation upon which much of applied mathematics evolved. Fluid mechanics has a reputation for difficulty — it requires students to be able to “read” equations like a language. And this is described as just the first step; they must then apply this “syntax” to actual occurrences in the real world.

Although his official field of inquiry and teaching is fluid mechanics, Wu is equally interested in the mechanics of learning. He is systematically discovering how students learn, employing active and interactive techniques in the process.

Sometimes his spirit of discovery has taken him down some rather unorthodox teaching routes. For example, for the past three years he has provided technical assistance and advice to UW–Madison’s famed concrete canoe team. Wu is also the author of a hands-on wave-maker flume to improve the understanding of oceanography, coastal engineering and coastal geomorphology students.

In addition to these faculty honored by UW–Madison, Virginia Sapiro, professor of political science and women’s studies, and Harold Scheub, professor of African languages and literature, have been nominated for teaching awards by the UW System, which will announce winners later this year.

Each of UW–Madison’s winners will receive $5,000, funded by the university and private donors. The Wisconsin Alumni Association will host a free reception to honor the winners at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24, at he Fluno Center.