UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Six Penn State faculty members have received the 2017 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching.
They are John Beale, senior lecturer of journalism in the College of Communications; Theresa Clemente, instructor of business at Penn State Wilkes-Barre; Brian Crosby, lecturer of psychology in the College of the Liberal Arts; James Lyon, professor of music in the College of Arts and Architecture; Denise Ogden, professor marketing at Penn State Lehigh Valley and JoAnne Pumariega, instructor of mathematics and Spanish at Penn State Berks.
The award, named after Penn State’s seventh president, honors excellence in teaching at the undergraduate level.
Because many of Beale’s students will go on to work in the 24-hour news cycle, he knows many academic exercises are fruitless. That’s why instead he teaches his students to think quickly on their feet, and helps them adapt to an environment that’s in constant change.
“To be competitive in the job market, student must be able to adapt by being competent with multiple skills while maintaining rock-solid ethics,” said Beale. “My teaching philosophy is focused on training students to embrace constant change, become proficient in their journalistic skills and adopt good ethical standards they will rely on throughout their careers.”
Beale works closely with local and national media, completing projects that frequently appear in University and regional publications. Among the assignments covered by his students include Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C., the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the historic baseball game when Penn State traveled to Cuba.
Throwing students into a variety of assignments, he says, helps them understand the “real-world problems” that occur during assignments including inclement weather, equipment problems and uncooperative subjects.
“One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in the professional world is that the best way to learn something is to do it,” said a former student. “Beale did a great job of bridging the gap between text and action and puts his students in a position to achieve technical mastery as well as in-the-field creative vision.”
Another praised Beale’s commitment to practicing what he preaches, Beale's photography has been published on the national stage for news outlets such as The Associated Press, The Washington Post and ESPN.com.
“Beale is constantly learning and developing his own skills as a journalist and as a photographer,” said another former student. “He pushes his own boundaries and skills and helps his students do the same.”
Clemente says she likes to “bring the classroom and the community together.” She links her students to community leaders through service learning projects, entrepreneurial events, internships and other partnerships.
“Students conduct research, enhance technology skills, develop critical thinking skills, learn to communicate better and become leaders and team-players,” said Clemente. “Most importantly, students learn how to network with community stakeholders and develop an awareness of the needs and opportunities of the community and their role of civic responsibility and active citizenship.”
“Passion” describes Clemente’s teaching philosophy. She hopes that eye-opening experiences in the classroom push students to become passionate in their business careers.
“I hope they live their career with passion, understand that hard work pays off, are intrapreneurial and relationship focused and pass on their personal and professional integrity instilled in them during their time at Penn State,” said Clemente.
Clemente is committed to helping other teachers succeed through her efforts to improve campus and online courses. She was instrumental in launching an intercampus pilot program that allowed instructors to share courses. She also prepared some of these courses for online learning.
Colleagues praised her efforts to improve the Honors Program after she became co-adviser.
“Under her leadership, our honors group continues to grow and improve the academic experience for these students,” said a colleague and nominator.
Crosby says students learn best when material is personally meaningful, and he tasks himself with helping students apply their own experiences to lessons in psychology. For example, his lessons on how the mind learns and memorizes can help students better study for tests.
To highlight the connection between sleep and mood, he asks students to track their own mood and sleep over several weeks and attempt to identify patterns that may help to change behavior and improve their own functioning.
He wants learning to be challenging and stimulating for his students, regardless of their ability and preferred style of learning. He enhances his lectures with video clips, demonstrations, class discussions and case reviews.
“This approach stems from my understanding that not all students demonstrate their learning in similar ways,” said Crosby.
“Crosby excels at fostering an encouraging and interactive learning environment, always engaging with his students and instilling in them a genuine interest in his courses,” said a former student. “Though I am typically shy, I found myself enthusiastically participating and sharing published information that was relevant to the material.”
Crosby expanded his duties, becoming an adviser to the World Campus chapter of Psi Chi, the psychology honors society. He also introduced an innovative way to improve his introductory course, enlisting two former students to critique the course material and lectures.
Crosby developed an upper-level course on child psychopathology, which he teaches, for Penn State’s World Campus.
Lyon said he encourages his students to acquire technical mastery of the violin by observing the “great violinists who have graced our concert halls through the centuries” while giving an appreciation that their idiosyncrasies aren’t necessarily cornerstones for the art.
In short, he wants them to develop their own styles.
“Some students will inevitably rely more on instinct than intellect, while for others the reverse will be true,” said Lyon. “My job is to expose them to various possibilities, guide them through the process of developing their own interpretation, and ultimately to help each student find his or her unique voice.”
Lyon’s students have been national prizewinners in both the Young Artists Division of the Music Teachers National Association Competition and the American String Teachers Association Solo Competition, as well as numerous local and regional competitions. They have performed across the nation in such venues as the U.S. Army Strings, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony and the Pittsburgh Opera.
Lyon has had an outstanding career with numerous accomplishments, inspiring both colleagues and students. His soloist performances in Carnegie Hall were highly acclaimed by critics, and he has performed as a soloist with orchestras in China, Vienna, Prague and Munich. He received the American String Teacher’s Association Teacher of the Award in 2016.
“As an ideal, my perfect music interpretation will always remain just out of reach,” said Lyon. “But the journey is just as important as the destination, and it is the approach that I hope informs every lesson that I teach and every performance that I give.”
A student said no “stereotypical cutthroat-competitive violinists” exist in Lyon’s studio because he fosters an environment that celebrates growth over talent and criticizing without accusing, which creates an environment where all students can grow and succeed.
“I enjoyed being in a studio that felt like a family,” said the student. “I have gained far more than violin technique and musical knowledge: I now know what a positive learning environment looks and feels like and have experienced the impact one person can make by actively caring and valuing others.”
Ogden wants to make her course challenging yet rewarding. She uses an experiential learning and student-centered approach, combining lectures and activities to stimulate students’ motivation and desire to learn. Concepts are further clarified by sharing her personal, business and research experiences.
“It is easy to motivate the overachiever but not so easy to motivate the average or below-average student,” said Ogden. “I strive to develop materials that engage all students. When students are interested, they put forth more effort.”
One concept she uses is allowing students to choose from a range of assignments. This allows them to pick materials that most interest them.
Ogden reinforces in-class experiences with out-of-class opportunities. By combining theory with real-world business experiences, she forces students to practically apply what they’ve learned.
In her classes, students have designed marketing materials for nonprofit organizations, suggested customer service strategies for retailers and proposed product ideas for businesses. Ogden said students often use projects from her classes in their job-search activities as examples of professional work.
“I strive to be the teacher that students remember as not only teaching them but also impacting their lives in a positive manner,” said Ogden. “One of the joys of teaching is to witness a student develop from a shy, insecure student to a confident, knowledgeable and mature graduate.”
In addition to excelling in the classroom, Ogden took the lead on developing and teaching online courses for Penn State’s World Campus. She is also campus coordinator for the Smeal College of Business.
Pumariega has made teaching mathematics — especially to nonmath majors — her lifelong passion. Keeping in mind some students feel ambivalent about the subject, she is always thinking of ways to approach the subject creatively.
“One of my strong beliefs is that nonmajors can gain mathematical concepts and skills in the classroom and achieve success through learning the relevance and importance of math in their daily lives,” said Pumariega. “Through the teaching of probability and statistics, I have realized the importance of real-world examples and relating mathematics in the classroom to current events.”
She shows students how math is intertwined with disciplines such as psychology, sociology, business and health. She makes use of multiple sensory modalities including auditory, visual and hands-on group experiences in the classroom. Her goal is to make classroom learning engaging and entertaining, bucking the stereotype that mathematics instruction is too technical for the average person.
To make two entry-level math course more accessible to nontraditional students and those with disabilities, Pumariega obtained a grant to create online versions. She worked with math colleagues and web and media designers to develop hybrid and fully online versions. Her goal is to develop an individualized online teaching presence that matches that of her live teaching experience.
“Pumariega is a shining example of inclusive, collaborative learning in which she incorporates multiple learning styles in order to reach a diverse population,” said a colleague. “Her approachable, down-to-earth style has been an asset to all of the students she has reached over her illustrious career and has also touched the people who have been lucky enough to have worked alongside her.”