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Honoring Teaching, Leadership in Trinity College

Faculty awards showcase excellence, creativity in and outside the classroom

Some Duke teachers enjoy the challenge of introducing students to new fields of study. Language instructor JoAnne Van Tuyl once taught a class in Russian to French teaching assistants to help them understand what it’s like to be a student in a class teaching a language they didn’t know.

Others excel in getting students to think in new ways about subjects they already think they know. Mark Goodacre of Religious Studies has earned praise for teaching the New Testament to students who often bring fairly set ideas to the classroom discussion.

These are portraits of excellence in teaching and leadership, and for their efforts, Van Tuyl and Goodacre were among the faculty members honored last week at the annual Trinity College Teaching, Advising, Diversity and Leadership Awards. 

“This is one of my favorite events of the year,” said Lee Baker, Trinity College dean of academic affairs. “In these awards, we get to highlight the important values of the university -- teaching, leadership and diversity -- as well as honor some of the best teachers and scholars at Duke University.”

Here are this year’s winners:

Henry Greenside, David & Janet Vaughn Brooks Teaching Award

When the departments of physics and biology decided to take on a new major in biophysics, Henry Greenside stepped up to make it happen.

“Henry is one of the pillars on which this new program was built,” said physics professor Steffen Bass.  “Henry has been the key faculty member on the physics side for developing its curriculum and the first one to teach each of the new courses that we developed for this major. Without Henry, we would not have been able to create this highly visible and extraordinarily successful new program.”

This teaching focus reflects his recent interest in theoretical neurobiology, after a distinguished research career in nonlinear dynamics. Recent studies include an exploration into the neurobiology of how birds learn to sing.

Not only has Greenside helped develop classes built around these new biophysical topics, he’s also promoted adaption of new pedagogies in these classrooms, Bass said.  Greenside is a department pioneer in developing class blogs and using new technologies such as interactive clickers in the classroom, he said.

“We’re very proud of having teachers of Henry’s accomplishments in our department,” Bass said.


Harris Solomon, Robert B. Cox Teaching Award

When he conducts his research, medical anthropologist Harris Solomon always keeps his classroom students in mind, says cultural anthropology department chair Charles Piot.

Currently conducting research on traffic accidents and trauma from accidents, Solomon, an assistant professor, has collected research while riding along with first responders in ambulances and working in ER. As part of the National Science Foundation grant funding the project, he built into part of the grant a study component so that students will join him in the ambulances and ER.

“He is someone who thinks teaching and research together, enabling the one to inform the other,” Piot wrote in nominating Solomon. “Another example of this is that he has students read entries from a popular medical anthropology website, of which he was a founding member, then create their own single-term entries for class which place these objects in larger social and cultural perspective.”

Duke University Press will publish Solomon’s first book, “Metabolic Living: Food, Fat, and the Absorption of Illness in India,” in May. Calling him a “gem in every way,” Piot said that while teaching often requires years of experience to master, Solomon developed a connection to students right away at Duke.


JoAnne Van Tuyl, Richard K. Lublin Teaching Award

Creative in the classroom and open to new technologies from “flipped classrooms” to multimedia textbooks, JoAnne Van Tuyl is strong in “new school” teaching ideas. But Slavic languages professor Edna Andrews said her strengths are in traditional notions of collegiality and listening to students.

In her first-year Russian language classes, Van Tuyl, an associate professor of the practice, is a “major contributor to developing innovative technologies in the classroom,” Andrews said. Chair of the university’s Information Technology Advisory Council, she has consistently looked to find new ways to help students learn a new language. 

In her second-year classes, Van Tuyl led the revision of a textbook many Slavic language instructors considered “simplistic” and ineffective, Andrews said. That work has had an effect at universities teaching Russian across the country.

But Van Tuyl also knows that learning about culture is a key element of learning a language, and has developed collaborations with Russian visitors. This work leads to student evaluations that praised her for inspiring “thought-provoking discussions” in “fast-paced courses with intensive learning.”

“She consistently worked with visiting exchange professors from St. Petersburg,” Andrews said, “and incorporated them into first-year courses in a way we have never seen before at Duke. She has worked with more faculty in close quarters in full harmony. This benefits not just the department but all of her students. Her marks for collegiality are off the chart.”


Mark Goodacre, Howard D. Johnson Teaching Award

When Department of Religious Studies Chair David Morgan needs to describe best practices of teaching in the department, the easy choice for him is to point to Mark Goodacre.

A specialist on the origins of Christianity, Goodacre’s classes on the New Testament regularly receive high marks from students, even when those students find aspects of their own religious beliefs challenged by the study. 

“By patient construction of historical evidence and the biblical texts themselves, Mark has been consistently able to engage students in the fascination of interpreting the New Testament documents in a critically informed way that invites and rewards student inquiry rather than alienate or shut it down,” Morgan said.

“This owes no small debt to his even-handed approach, ability at storytelling, and his skill at constructing historical cases of interpretation.”

Students praised Goodacre for the attention he brings every day to classroom lectures. “Goodacre is extremely passionate about the course material,” said one student evaluating him. “His enthusiasm is evident during each and every class lecture.”


Elizabeth Bucholz, Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award

In her biomedical engineering (BME) classroom, Elizabeth Bucholz’s toolbox is ever expanding. 

Recently, she started having classes play an adapted version of the word-guessing party game Taboo -- “MRI Taboo,” as she describes it. The goal? Help her students understand nuanced terms (i.e. “transducer”) by relating them to other key concepts covered in class.

“It’s sort of my philosophy, I think. I want to create connections to the material and make sure the students care about it,” says Bucholz, associate director of undergraduate studies in BME. “That’s my goal, to make them excited and interested. And, hopefully, that will help retention.”

Creativity has always permeated her teaching. When Bucholz first shared with other faculty her idea to explain CTs using flashlights, she received a lot of questioning looks.

Bucholz went through with her plan and found it made class engaging for students and herself. Now, whenever she sees or brainstorms a relatable demonstration, she doesn’t hesitate to use it. Which explains the bike tire she borrows from the physics department each year, rotating it to mimic an MR signal for her students.

“Some kids are like, ‘Why are you bringing your (bicycle tire) in?’” she says. “And then I show them, and they say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s really cool.’”

For more about the award, which is the only Trinity College teaching award determined by students, click here.


Matthew Whitt, Excellence in Teaching Writing

First-year students come to Duke filled with ideas. The Thompson Writing Program is designed to help them express those ideas.  Program director Kristen Neuschel says few instructors do it as well as philosopher Matthew Whitt.

His most recent first-year course used discussions of mass incarceration to explore tensions between American ideals and practices. In all Thompson courses, students share ideas and discuss readings, but Neuschel said Whitt found extra ways for student engagement.

Whitt received a Humanities Writ Large grant to organize a lecture series in which legal and prison researchers discussed their work with the students, allowing the students to “try out their research ideas with recognized experts in the field,” Neuschel said.

“Effective writing,” he reminds students, “demands that we clarify our thoughts, evaluate our commitments and genuinely consider opposing views,” Neuschel said.  “The course requires students to tackle contentious problems with rigorous disciplinary thinking through writing.”


Calvin Howell, Diversity Award

Before she came to Duke, Trinity College Dean Valerie Ashby knew physics professor Calvin Howell as a leader not just in nuclear physics, but also in attracting minorities to physics. To her, Ashby said, Howell’s work in both areas is truly connected.

“We see how diversity drives excellence in teaching, research, mentoring and advising,” Ashby said. 

Director of the Triangle Universities Nuclear Lab (TUNL), Howell has been a leader in the Mellon Mays program at Duke, a cornerstone STEM effort that provides summer science research opportunities for undergraduate students from underrepresented minority groups.

His efforts go beyond higher education, Ashby added, noting a lifetime of work “encouraging students from K-12 to enter the STEM fields.”


Sherryl Broverman, Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

Sherryl Broverman, associate professor of the practice of biology, received the university’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for community service. Broverman established a Duke partnership with the WISER project in Kenya, in which Duke students empower underprivileged girls in rural parts of the African nation through improvements in education and health.

Broverman will receive the award at a ceremony on May 4.

Lucas Hubbard contributed reporting on Elizabeth Bucholz.