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ASU New College professors earn accolades for teaching excellence

Teaching award winners
April 21, 2014

When Bonnie Wentzel received the 2013-2014 Centennial Professorship Award from the Associated Students of Arizona State University, it was just the latest in a series of recent awards recognizing the outstanding teaching of faculty members in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

Wentzel joins New College colleagues Breanne Fahs, Douglas Kelley, Bertha Alvarez Manninen and Stephen Wirkus in receiving an award based on their dedication to excellence in classroom instruction. New College is the core college on ASU’s West campus.

“These honors speak to the outstanding student experience New College offers, with our combination of a small college atmosphere and the resources of a major research university,” said Marlene Tromp, the college’s dean. “Some professors are content to ‘hide out’ in their labs or offices. New College specifically recruits faculty members who are committed not only to exploring the boundaries of scholarship in their fields, but also to reaching out to students as teachers and mentors.”

New College’s recent award recipients span a wide range of academic subjects and all three of the college’s schools. Wentzel is a lecturer who teaches communication courses and serves as faculty director of New College’s Communication Assessment and Learning Lab (CALL). She said that the financial award associated with the Centennial Professorship will enable CALL to expand its service to even more students.

“To be honored for teaching is not so much a recognition of my abilities as much as it is an acknowledgment that we have students who are willing to participate in the conversation of learning,” Wentzel said. “They take risk, allow me to guide them and apply their learning from across the disciplines. What an amazing thing to be their mentor!”

Stephen Wirkus, a professor of mathematics, is also known for mentoring students both in West campus classrooms and during the summer through his work at the Tempe campus in the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute as co-executive program director for a summer program that focuses on underrepresented minorities. Several undergraduate students contributed letters of support for Wirkus’ nomination as ASU’s 2013 Professor of the Year, which he received from the Sun Devil Family Association.

“I’m happy to have been able to make a difference in the lives of my students, and thankful for the supportive environment that ASU has provided for me as faculty to grow as a teacher and mentor, and thereby serve and impact our communities,” Wirkus said. “This award is particularly meaningful because it is a true testament to ASU’s commitment to access, excellence and impact on our communities, and the value that the Sun Devil Family Association puts on this.”

The ASU Alumni Association is another organization that recognizes the value of great teaching. The Association chose Bertha Alvarez Manninen as the 2014 recipient of its Faculty Achievement Teaching Award. Manninen is a scholar and teacher in the field of philosophy, with a specialty in applied ethics and biomedical ethics.

“For me, winning this award makes the years of study, student loan debt and late night grading worthwhile,” Manninen said. “It helps me to see that, even if in some small way, I am making a lifelong impact in some students’ lives. I had a few college teachers who forever shaped the person I am today. I hope I can do that for at least one person.”

Breanne Fahs, meanwhile, is known for making what she describes as “semi-crazy” assignments in her classes. One extra-credit project involves female students agreeing to stop shaving their legs and underarms for ten weeks during the semester while keeping a journal to document their experiences. For male students, the assignment is to shave all body hair from the neck down.

Fahs, an associate professor who teaches courses in women and gender studies, received the Mary Roth Walsh Teaching the Psychology of Women Award from the American Psychological Association in 2012 for the pedagogic value of this exercise.

“This award signifies the importance of consciousness-raising in the classroom, and recognizes the important role that feminist pedagogical tactics make in students’ lives,” Fahs said. “The seemingly simple terrain of body hair actually opens up conversation about much more complicated and difficult subjects like homophobia and patriarchal oppression.”

Douglas Kelley’s teaching style has been described as focusing on creating an environment in which “students and professor experience openness, connection and, to some extent, a vulnerability that creates a deep desire to learn, a willingness to explore change and motivation to engage others.”

Like Wentzel, Kelley teaches communication courses for New College, and also like Wentzel, he is a Centennial Professorship Award recipient. Kelley was selected for the award a year ago. So the award wheel has come full circle; Kelley was one of the professors who influenced Wentzel as she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication from New College.

“Dr. Kelley was one of the professors who modeled the power of great classroom communication,” Wentzel said. “His style really opened my eyes to the fact that there is room for all kinds of teaching and learning in a university setting.”