The Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 20, 2002
May 20, 2002
VOL. 31, NO. 35


University Salutes Outstanding Teachers

Annual awards recognize excellence of faculty in all academic divisions

Contributing Writers
All Divisions

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Felicity Northcott knew that Suzy Bacon was trying to track her down to give her an important letter, but Northcott assumed that the coordinator of academic programs for the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences would be handing her a missive regarding one of the Woodrow Wilson fellows under Northcott's care.

It turned out that the urgent correspondence was a congratulatory letter for Northcott, informing the senior lecturer in the Anthropology Department that she is this year's outstanding teacher in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

"I was completely caught off guard," Northcott says.

The Johns Hopkins Alumni Association has been pleasantly surprising university faculty for 10 years with its Excellence in Teaching Awards. Since 1992, the awards have recognized those who excel in the art of instruction. The award allows each academic division of the university to publicly recognize the critical importance of teaching.

"Because of the strong research orientation at the university, there was some feeling about a decade ago that the importance of teaching was underestimated," says Rashid Chotani, chairman of the Alumni Association's awards committee and an assistant professor and director of the Global Infectious Diseases Surveillance and Alert System, Center for International Emergency, Disaster and Refugee Studies at the School of Medicine. "The executive committee of the Alumni Council recognized this and, since 1992, has supported the Excellence in Teaching Award."

The Alumni Association annually provides funds to each school--this year the amount was $2,000--that can be given to one winner, shared by up to four or attached to another, divisional teaching award. The nomination and selection process differs by school, but students must be involved in the selection process.

"In the words of Henry Adams, 'A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops,'" Chotani says. "Thus, the most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage is good teaching."

The following faculty members are recipients of the 2002 Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Awards.

Bloomberg School of Public Health

Scott Zeger, large class size

While some instructors prefer the intimacy of lecturing to a small group, Scott Zeger also enjoys the challenge of keeping a class of 150 students interested in biostatistics.

"It's motivational," explains Zeger, who is chair of the Department of Biostatistics and winner of this year's Alumni Association award--known in the Bloomberg School of Public Health as a Golden Apple--for a large class. "There has to be a component of entertainment to stimulate them to think in new ways."

Scott Zeger, Public Health

Zeger jointly teaches the four-term sequence Statistical Methods in Public Health with Marie Diener-West and James Tonascia. Zeger and Diener-West teach terms 1-3 and Tonascia, term 4. The course is a basic introduction to biostatistics that attracts students from all degree programs.

To keep the diverse group stimulated, the instructors offer incentives such the Nacho Mama Award: Students are required to complete a problem set and take a quiz or exam every 10 days; the two with the best analyses of the featured statistical problem win a free lunch to the Canton eatery. In term 4, Tonascia features a Student of the Day--the so-called "winner" is honored by having his or her photo posted on the Internet, usually in some modified fashion. The day Zeger learned of his Golden Apple Award, students posted an animated cartoon of him skillfully juggling apples.

Of course, Statistical Methods in Public Health is not all fun and games. The class offers practical, hands-on experience with problem solving, which Zeger believes is an aspect many students find attractive. "It's a challenging course and forces students to think and develop new, useful skills," he adds.

Zeger says that teaching a large class takes organization, preparation and support. He is quick to give credit for the course's success to Diener-West and Tonascia, as well as to his 12 teaching assistants and the course's Webmaster, Michele Donithan, who manages the online portions of the class.
--Tim Parsons

Haroutune Armenian, medium class size

Haroutune Armenian says he is pleased to be awarded this year's Golden Apple for a medium class. "For someone who has spent his entire career teaching, it is an important recognition since it comes from the students," he explains.

Armenian, a professor of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, has been teaching Design and Applications of Case-Control Studies since he developed the course in its current format in 1986. Since that time, Armenian says it has evolved into a very "hands-on" course. "I am a strong believer in experiential learning," he explains.

Haroutine Armenian, Public Health

Following this philosophy, Armenian says that one of his objectives is to develop confidence in students so that by the end of the course they will be able to conduct a case-control study. Students must select their own epidemiological problem to solve, define a hypothesis and carry out a case-control study using the school's extensive health database collected from Washington County. "Once you have done it, you are more confident the next time faced with a similar situation," he adds. These projects also foster class discussion and interaction among students.

An anonymous midterm exam is another novelty in this course. The students get regular feedback without the pressure of failure. Armenian feels the process allows students to receive a learning experience as valuable as a regular exam; they also provide feedback to the faculty about what they have learned.
--Tim Parsons

Homayoon Farzadegan

Homayoon Farzadegan is fascinated with viruses. He's spent his career studying HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne pathogens, but it's teaching others about these diseases that he finds especially rewarding.

"I enjoy teaching. I think it is a very important aspect of our activities here," explains Farzadegan, who is a research professor of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and this year's Golden Apple Award winner for a small class.

Homayoon Farzadegan, Public Health

His course, Natural History and Epidemiology of Human Viral Infections, covers the basic structure of viruses and the body's response to the important viral infections affecting human beings. Farzadegan says he tries to focus the class on the transmission and control of diseases rather than the microbiology of organisms. The course covers everything from HIV to hepatitis to West Nile, but it is the viruses associated with cancer that Farzadegan feels the students find most interesting. He believes the diverse subject matter is a real key to the course's success.

Farzadegan says that another highlight of the course is student-led group discussions. Two students are assigned to come up with discussion questions to follow each lecture. "The course is quite interactive, more student-to-student talk," Farzadegan says. "I learn myself when I teach."

Natural History and Epidemiology of Human Viral Infections will be offered as a distance-learning course in the fall--but the Internet version won't feature the accompanying coffee and cookies Farzadegan says his classroom students are so fond of.
--Tim Parsons

Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Felicity Northcott

Don't let anyone tell you that today's college students are oblivious to the world outside their dorms, Felicity Northcott says.

"Students are really interested in what is going on in the world, and JHU is a wonderful campus where students are taught that it's good to know what is going on," says the senior lecturer in the Anthropology Department and assistant director of the crossdisciplinary Institute for Global Studies in Culture, Power and History. "It gives me a lot of leverage in deciding what to teach."

Felicity Northcott, Arts and Sciences

Northcott's students will tell you that her classroom is a place to "open themselves to new ideas and express themselves effectively," says Dorit Radzin, one of those who nominated Northcott for the award.

The next step, Northcott says, is inspiring students to take their opened minds into the world and change it for the better.

"It's great to see them realize that there is a whole different world out there beyond the four walls of JHU," says Northcott, who has been affiliated with Johns Hopkins since undertaking her graduate degree studies in 1987.

Encouraging students to participate in field studies--whether they are planning to be lawyers, doctors, market analysts or anthropology professors themselves--puts course work into practice and gives students a new way to look at the world once they are steeped in their chosen profession. And nonmajors are always welcome in her courses; she loves to see students with different viewpoints hash through difficult social issues.

"Although I am a student in the political science/international relations department, I find that her anthropological viewpoint constantly challenges me to look outside the box and take on questions which political theory often leaves unanswered," says Brandon Yoder, a senior whom Northcott coached through his independent study in Ecuador last summer. Northcott was also Yoder's adviser for his honors thesis. He was one of the few nonanthropology students in her class, he said, and "she constantly encouraged me and challenged me and other students in my position to speak out, questioning the arguments of students with more background in the subject."

"She guided me without forcing her views on me," says Dan Redman, a junior majoring in international studies and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. "She prodded me along without being a meddler or a nag. She has always given her honest opinion of my ideas, and expects the same from me for her ideas. She serves as an example of focused effort and determination, and has helped me to realize my academic potential."
--Amy Cowles

Nitze School of Advanced International Studies

To be announced at commencement.

Peabody Conservatory

Thomas Benjamin

He has been quoted as saying that "the purpose of school is to become interesting to talk to." Around Peabody, few would dispute that Tom Benjamin is definitely interesting to talk to.

Perhaps it is because of his famous list of books that he considers essential for an educated person to have read. Or perhaps because he writes books himself, performs on clarinet, has made his mark as a choral conductor and composes in such a wide spectrum of genres--opera, sacred and secular vocal and choral settings, children's songs and, of course, instrumental music from chamber ensembles to symphonies. Definitely a role model for Peabody students who see him as a complete musician.

Thomas Benjamin, Peabody

So it is little surprise that Benjamin will be presented with the Excellence in Teaching Award. As one student puts it: "It just confirms what we already know."

Benjamin has been a member of Peabody's Music Theory and Composition faculties since 1987. A native of Vermont, he holds a bachelor's degree from Bard College, a master of arts in musicology from Harvard University, a master's in fine arts in theory and composition from Brandeis University and a doctorate in composition from the Eastman School of Music. His textbooks are nationally recognized as standards in music theory and counterpoint, and he has won numerous prizes and honors.
--Anne Garside

School of Medicine

Thomas Koenig

Thomas Koenig says that the best part of teaching medical students is watching them interact with patients.

Koenig, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine, is course director of the four-week basic clerkship in psychiatry, which combines formal lectures and training in the clinic and for many students is the first opportunity to interview patients.

"Preparing the students for this interaction, and watching their enthusiasm shine through, is amazing. It's a good shot in the arm," he says. "One of my goals is to show students that to be a good psychiatrist, you have to be a good physician," Koenig says.

Thomas Koenig, School of Medicine

Many students begin training in psychiatry with preconceived notions about what the field is and what it can accomplish, he says. Koenig's challenge is to demonstrate--through lectures, discussions and bedside teaching--that psychiatry is a rigorous medical discipline and a critical part of patient care.

"Teaching is hands down the best part of my job. To get students interested in the field of psychiatry, and to watch that interest grow as they talk to different patients, reinforces for me why I came into this field," he says.

Koenig seeks to provide a total educational experience for the student. He wants the clerkship to be more than an exposure to psychiatric disorders and their treatments. This is accomplished in part by scrutinizing the different ways mental disorders are defined, and by providing an intellectual framework on which to hang clinical details.

"At first these are seen as abstract principles, more intellectual than useful, but with time the students realize that this approach really makes a difference in how we care for our patients," he says.

In addition to teaching first-year psychiatry, Koenig directs the clinical clerkship in psychiatry and trains psychiatry residents.

Many students are surprised by what they learn, Koenig says. They see a rigorous, coherent approach, and they are exposed to a tremendous range of patients and problems. "It's not just the range of mental disorders a student sees but the range of individuals with a given disorder that makes medical education at Hopkins so special," he says.

And medical students agree that one of the best parts of learning at Hopkins is exceptional teachers like Thomas Koenig.
--Trent Stockton

School of Nursing

Karen Leonard, undergraduate award

Karen Leonard, a pediatric nurse, is a 1987 graduate of the School of Nursing and teaches Nursing for Child Health, Pharmacology, Leadership and Continuing Care courses.

"I want my students to be passionate about the care they provide for their patients," Leonard says. "I want them to listen carefully to and respect the families of the children they are caring for; parents know their children better than we do."

Karen Leonard, School of Nursing

Nursing students at Hopkins say Leonard is energetic and passionate about nursing. One student says Leonard "handled our clinical group with extreme grace, dignity and humor. She encouraged open debate and allowed for disagreement." Another student says it was a pleasure to watch Leonard work and to observe "her tender touch with the kids, her helping hands with her nervous clinical group, her confidence in dealing with other health professionals and her deep knowledge and enduring love of pediatric nursing."

Leonard says successful educators should strive to be role models for their students.

"The students are the reason we are in a superior educational setting," she says. "Students require excellent role models to demonstrate the qualities possessed by professional nurses. Enthusiasm and a love of nursing are qualities that are recognized and embraced by students."
--Kate Pipkin

Janet Selway, graduate award

Clinical instructor and nurse practitioner Janet Selway teaches several advanced practice nursing courses, among them Health Assessment, Roles and Systems in Advanced Practice Nursing, and Diagnosis and Symptom Management. She says she tries to teach her students that skill and compassion make a stellar nurse.

"The combination of excellent clinical skills and a listening ear can change many people's lives for the better, and this is an awesome privilege," Selway says. "It's rewarding to know that my students will improve people's lives and health."

Janet Selway, School of Nursing

Selway's students refer to her as an outstanding teacher and professional mentor. One student says Selway "always has a kind word of encouragement and can inevitably find a positive strength in each and every one of her students." Another says Selway's "compassion toward her patients combined with her extensive clinical skills make her an excellent role model for novice nurse practitioners." Yet another student says Selway is heavily involved in the advancement of nursing practice and is "a local and national leader in the struggle to continue to expand the role of the nurse practitioner."

Selway received her bachelor's degree in nursing from the College of Notre Dame and a master's degree from the University of Maryland.

When asked what advice Selway would give other educators, her answer was simple and to the point:

"Students will blossom if you focus on their positive strengths," Selway says.
--Kate Pipkin

School of Professional Studies in Business and Education

Sean Keller, Undergraduate Division

Even an immediate call to Air National Guard duty in the wake of Sept. 11 hasn't prevented Sean Keller from being an exemplary teacher of information technology in the Undergraduate Division of SPSBE.

Keller, the principal member of the Technology Center at Northrop Grumman's Information Technology, teaches Management Information Systems to SPSBE students at Homewood, in Columbia, Md., and in Washington, D.C. His sudden call-up following the terrorist attacks on America "brought [the reality of his other life] home to the students," he says, prompting some of them to send him supportive e-mails while he served four months at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. His primary duties included intelligence gathering and top-level briefings in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Sean Keller, SPSBE

The admiration has been mutual. "I'm in awe of the students we have," Keller says. "The best I can do is to impart my experience in the business world to them. I love this arrangement," he says, "because I learn from the students, too. I've got a couple of pieces of paper on my wall that say I know more than they do, but there is much give-and-take in the relationship. It's a pretty neat situation."

Keller enlisted in the Navy right out of Baltimore's Calvert Hall High School in 1984 and spent four years in the service. He then joined the Air National Guard and spends six to eight weeks a year on reserve activities and in reserve training. He was called to active duty twice in 2001--in September for two weeks and in December for five months. He says he "had to place some students on their own" in order to go on active duty, but he left an indelible impression.

Students have described him as "a breath of fresh air" in the classroom, "clear and concise" in his presentations.

Keller, who received a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland in 1991 and a master of science in information technology systems from SPSBE in 1999, says he is "flattered and honored to receive this award."
--Neil A. Grauer

William Agresti, Graduate Division of Business and Management

Information security has become a key priority for institutions with computer information systems that may be vulnerable to security breaches and virus attacks. "Globally, companies have lost trillions of dollars in revenue due to downtime resulting from security breaches and virus attacks," explains James Novitzki, chair of SPSBE's Department of Information Technology. "Finding staff resources for information security will be a key priority for every business, government agency and hospital that has a computerized information system."

William Agresti, SPSBE

SPSBE addressed that growing demand in 2001 by bringing on board William W. Agresti, former director of the Software Engineering and Economic Analysis Center at Mitretek Systems. A onetime program director for experimental software systems research at the National Science Foundation, Agresti was appointed an associate professor in the Department of Information Technology and has been overseeing SPSBE's new graduate education and research initiatives in information security.

His students are glad he is here. "Great professor," one wrote in an evaluation of Agresti's skills. "[His] focus on how things work gives students a better appreciation of the nature of information systems." Another student observed, "This course caused me to realize the 'big picture' of information systems."

Agresti says that a "strength of our SPSBE courses is the chance to build upon the professional experiences of our students. Every semester, each class offers a new and different opportunity. I thrive on integrating that range of experiences and adding the latest advances in information technology, so we all improve our understanding of what it means to be a successful organization in the 21st century," Agresti says.

Agresti has taught in Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering, the University of Maryland's University College and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where he was associate dean of engineering. He has held senior management, scientific and research positions at Mitretek Systems, MITRE Corp. and Computer Sciences Corp. He is especially proud of work done by his CSC-NASA team, which won a NASA group achievement award for pioneering the use of the object-oriented design for flight dynamics mission support.

Agresti holds a doctorate in computer science and a master's degree in industrial engineering from New York University and a bachelor's degree in operations research from Case Western Reserve University.
--Neil A. Grauer

Maurice Howard, Graduate Division of Education

Maurice B. Howard has had a multifaceted career, including distinguished service for the Harford County School System, the Baltimore City Public School System, the Maryland Department of Education and the federal Department of Defense. He's also an accomplished organist, serving as the accompanist to the Cor Rehoboth Welsh choir at the wedding of actors Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Since the summer of 1997, Howard has been teaching in SPSBE's Graduate Division of Education and garnering praise for his enthusiasm and dedication. Now conducting courses on Advanced Instructional Strategies and Effective Schools and Effective Instruction, Howard has earned accolades from students as "one of the best professors at Hopkins," "an inspiration" as a teacher and an "expert of high standards."

Maurice Howard, SPSBE

Edward Pajak, chairman of the Department of Teacher Development and Leadership, recalls, "One evening last semester, before my own class began, a group of students was talking excitedly about another class they were taking. I couldn't resist asking what they found so interesting and stimulating. Not surprisingly, it turned out that they were discussing the Advanced Instructional Strategies course they were taking with Dr. Howard. I honestly know of no one who is more deserving of the Excellence in Teaching Award," Pajak says.

Howard's "innovative techniques"--such as discussing the lesson plans and instructional materials his grandmother used while teaching in the Baltimore area in the 1920s--"consistently receive the highest student ratings" in surveys, Pajak notes.

"There was never a dull moment in this course," one student wrote in an evaluation. "Dr. Howard modeled several instructional strategies that were highly effective."

"I have learned more in this course than any other I have ever taken," wrote another student.

Says Howard, "I teach these courses the way I would want to be taught as a graduate student. We have fun. We work very hard together. I could not ask for a better group of committed students willing to go the extra mile," he says.

Praising the "dynamic leadership" of SPSBE, Howard cites the great value to the students of having practitioner faculty who "come straight from the classrooms or central offices" of local schools to impart their real-life knowledge of teaching today. "They provide strength to the offerings," he says.

Howard holds a bachelor's degree in secondary education from Salisbury State College, a master's in history of the English language and comparative literature from Columbia, an M.L.A. in the History of Ideas from Hopkins and a doctorate from the University of Maryland in educational development and program analysis, administration and supervision, and in-depth research in school scheduling.
--Neil A. Grauer

Whiting School of Engineering

Lori Graham

In one of her first Theory of Structures classes last fall, Lori L. Graham, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, talked about how nuclear power plants are built to withstand the impact of a crashing commercial passenger jet. The next day, Sept. 11, two hijacked jets slammed into the World Trade Center, causing the towering structures to collapse.

"It was a bizarre experience," she recalls. "My students had a lot of questions about why the twin towers fell and the challenges of cleaning up the site. It was a difficult time, trying to teach after that. It was tough to strike the right balance. You had to be able to steer through the sensitive political and emotional elements and focus on what happened and how we can prevent it from happening again."

Lori Graham, Engineering

Graham appears to have struck just the right balance with her students. She was one of two Whiting School of Engineering instructors who recently received an Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award.

"Her lectures are well-thought-out and complete," wrote one of the students who nominated Graham for the honor. "She cares that we students learn the material."

Having just completed only her second year as a Hopkins faculty member, Graham was not expecting such recognition. "What a surprise," she says. "But it's very rewarding to get awards from students. They tend to be very honest in their critiques."

Graham describes herself as "an accidental Ph.D. and an accidental professor." After earning an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Dartmouth in 1990, she went to work as a nuclear engineer. To prepare herself for a management post, she went to graduate school, where she instead discovered she enjoyed doing research. After obtaining her doctorate in civil engineering at Princeton, she thought about returning to private industry. Instead, she wound up teaching for four years at the University of Virginia before moving to Hopkins.

"I found out that it's a great job overall being a faculty member," she says. "College students are such a great population. They're funny and bright and open to a lot of different points of view. Who wouldn't want to work with people this age? Being able to pass on my knowledge is also very appealing to me. Teaching is a big part of what brought me into the university environment."
--Phil Sneiderman

Joshua Reiter

As a part-time lecturer in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, Joshua Reiter didn't even know he was in the running for a teaching award. But when the results were announced recently, Reiter learned he was one of two Whiting School educators to receive this year's Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Awards.

Reiter, who has earned two degrees himself from Johns Hopkins, says that even though he is not on campus full time, he goes out of his way to make time for students who want to talk about class material as well as about their resumes, job-hunting strategies and corporate contacts. He also speaks to student groups about business and career topics.

Joshua Reiter, Engineering

"My only responsibility is to the students," he says. "I teach because I love to teach, and I enjoy the interaction with students. It's a nice feeling to know the people you're doing this for really appreciate it."

Since 2000, he has taught classes in business and information technology as part of a new program that allows undergraduates to work toward a minor in entrepreneurship and management.

Reiter earned his own undergraduate degree, in economics, at Hopkins; completed an MBA program at New York University; then returned to Baltimore to work for IBM. While employed at that company, he returned to Hopkins part time to earn his doctorate in education. Currently, when he is not teaching, Reiter runs a management consulting business. He also has launched a software development company that puts college admission forms on the Web and allows students to submit them online.

"My real-life experience helps me as a teacher, but I get something back from the students, too," he says. "My students can learn from someone who's out there in the field working in a business. And the students keep me on my toes by asking me questions and challenging me on some things."

Reiter says he encourages his students to be creative and thoughtful in his class and not just repeat what they've read in a textbook.

Apparently, his students approve of his classroom approach. In nominating Reiter for the teaching award, one wrote, "I have never encountered a professor who puts as much time and effort into accommodating all the students' needs and making the lectures engaging and informative." Another wrote, "His charisma and naturally joyful disposition make [going to] class a true delight."