Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 19, 1997

A Teacher Affects

This year, 17 Hopkins faculty members have been singled out by the undergraduate Student Council and the university Alumni Association for excellence in teaching.

A varied group of educators with hundreds of years collective teaching experience, the award winners were chosen by representatives of the student body, past and present.

The Student Council
Distinguished Faculty

Vernon Lidtke, professor
History, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Vernon Lidtke's arrival at the head of a classroom was the result of a sort of spiritual journey begun when he was a student.

"There were certain things I was trying to answer as an undergraduate," Lidtke said. "The main question I was trying to answer was 'How do I relate to the religious faith in which I was raised?'"

As a Mennonite in Oregon, Lidtke took a variety of courses at the University of Oregon, where he received his bachelor's and master's degrees. But it was the study of history, he said, that offered him concrete ideas and information on his search.

"Philosophy didn't address the kinds of questions I wanted to address. Psychology didn't help me. Political Science didn't seem to have answers to questions that had questions," he said. "History was a discipline that offered me a rich variety of evidence, contexts, theories and source material, all of which I could later digest and relate to."

Eventually, Lidtke said, "I found answers, though I'm not sure they were the ones I was looking for."

Lidtke, who specializes in modern European history, first walked into a Hopkins classroom as a teacher in 1968. At that time, he said, some of the students were passive learners. Today's students are more eager to get involved in discussions.

"One of the things I learned was that I didn't have to talk all the time to be a good teacher," he said. "That was the first big lesson: listening to students is important. On that basis I can build something of a dialogue."

He still learns from his students, who often challenge him into exploring areas he hadn't thought about before. Lidtke was inspired and influenced, he said, by his own teachers who were "both organized and spirited about teaching." He has attempted to follow their examples.

"I try to create a course in which students have a high degree of participation," he said. "If you give students the obligation to be active participants in the process, they become more stimulating."

Despite the nod of appreciation from students, Lidtke will not go so far as to admit that he is, in fact, an excellent teacher.

"Awards like this are an honor. They should not be understood to mean that these are the people who do it well and other people don't," he said graciously. "I think there are many teachers who are probably much better than I am."

Eric Fyrberg, professor
Biology, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Eric Fyrberg believes that teaching is every bit as important as research, and he does not take his award from the Student Council lightly.

"I consider it an honor, especially because the nomination and voting were by the students," he said. "I am delighted."

Fyrberg, who has been teaching at Hopkins for 16 years, specializes in cellular and developmental biology. His research has focused on tiny structures called myofibrils, which are involved in muscular function, and using genetics to better understand muscles and the roles of the cytoskeleton, a network of tubules and filaments responsible for a cell's shape and movement.

With biology professor Victor Corces, he teaches an undergraduate course in developmental biology each spring, and each fall he teaches a freshman seminar on the biology of the cardiovascular system.

"Good teaching is the keystone of a great research university," said Fyrberg, who served on a committee working to improve the premedical curriculum.

"In the course of that work I channeled information and opinions from students to the committee. I think that the students appreciated having a direct line to the committee."

But a good teacher's work is never done. Fyrberg is planning to improve his cardiovascular biology seminar, collaborating with fellow honoree, biomedical engineering professor Artin A. Shoukas, biomedical engineering graduate student Tara Riemer, and undergraduate Parsia Vagefi.

"We are trying to weave together the biology and physics in an intelligent and intelligible manner," he said.

Artin Shoukas, professor
Biomedical Engineering, G. W. C. Whiting School of Engineering

Shoukas may be the only Hopkins professor who brings his plastic pet to class as a teaching aid. Years ago, he invented a transparent golden retriever-size plastic canine to help his students see how fluids move through the body. Under Shoukas' supervision, students have added more synthetic organs and blood vessels to the animal, enhancing its value as a teaching tool.

But Shoukas, a faculty member since 1972, brings more than mechanical props to his classroom.

"My teaching method is totally different than most faculty members," he said. "I use a Socratic method. I ask questions and get a response from the students. Then I give them the answer. It helps them to verbalize what they're thinking about. But it also helps me find out what they don't understand or what background material they need. I'm not just looking for the right answer. I'm looking at the process they used to arrive at the answer."

Shoukas, who earned his doctorate at Case Western Reserve University, is director of Hopkins' undergraduate biomedical engineering program and an advisor to students planning to attend medical school. But he finds classroom work particularly rewarding.

"There's no greater honor than to receive this kind of an award from the students themselves," he said.

The Alumni Association
Excellence in Teaching

Each year the Alumni Association offers a cash award to each academic division of Hopkins to name recipients of the Alumni Association's Excellence in Teaching Awards. Some divisions use the funds for existing awards, others create new ones each year.

School of Continuing Studies

Nancy Norris, director of Continuing Studies' Master of Liberal Arts program, recruited RAY SPRENKLE to teach a few years after she briefly sang in his choir at the First Presbyterian Church.

"I respected him as a conductor and composer, first in the choir and later when I heard his musical interpretation of Emily Dickinson's poems," Norris said. "I thought his work was extraordinary."

Sprenkle, a full-time faculty member in Music History and Theory at the Peabody Conservatory, has taught a wide variety of M.L.A. seminars since 1988, including Bach and His Age, Romanticism in Music, and The Evolution of Modern Music. During nearly a decade of his affiliation with SCS, students have consistently paid tribute to his quality of instruction.

His teaching has been characterized as "dedicated" and "gifted," because of not only his passion for his subject, but also his ability to inspire his students to love it as well.

One student praised his courses for being the "hardest but most enjoyable in the M.L.A. Program."

A faculty member in the finance department of SCS' Division of Business and Management since 1992, MATTHEW WILL is president and owner of Matrix Services, a corporation specializing in market and business research, financial consulting, and systems analysis.

"Matt demonstrates dedication and motivation to both the design and quality of class instruction," said Pam Williams, senior program director in the division's Department of Finance and Technology. "He has a sincere interest in student learning, focusing on the practical side of finance as well as providing a theoretical overview."

Will's students agree. In their end-of-semester evaluations, some included statements such as "well-versed" and "responsive and thoughtful," and noted that Will "provides good theory and exposure for the real world."

BETH KOBETT, who coordinates and co-teaches the Math, Science and Aesthetics course in the Master of Arts in Teaching program, creates a classroom environment where even "mathematically phobic students" feel comfortable, according to Toni Ungaretti, chair of the M.A.T. program. "She is always accessible to her students."

"Beth's enthusiasm, creativity, and willingness to try new techniques all contribute to her breadth and depth of teaching," said Lenore Cohen, assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Development and Leadership. "She can easily adapt her lessons to meet the individual needs of her graduate students. And, she has an ability to articulate the connections between theory and practice as she helps students understand how children think mathematically."

Kobett is a mathematics resource teacher in the Howard County Public School System, and began teaching at Hopkins in 1993.

Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

ANTOINETTE BURTON, who was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award for the School of Arts and Sciences, arrived at Hopkins in the departments of History and Women's Studies in 1993. Prior to that, she was an assistant professor of History and a member of the Women's Studies faculty at Indiana State University.

Concentrating on her specialty of modern British history, Burton has published numerous articles and chapters on gender issues and women in history. She is the author of Burden of History: British Feminists, Indian Women and Imperial Culture and the forthcoming At the Heart of the Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian Britain, to be published in January, 1998.

Though she was one of several nominees from Arts and Sciences, Burton was an "easy choice" to receive the award, according to Stuart Leslie, assistant dean of undergraduate studies.

"There is no greater honor in our profession," Burton wrote in response to the award, "than to be recognized by one's peers and one's students for one's teaching."

School of Medicine

NANCY CRAIG, recipient of the award in the School of Medicine, is a professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics. Her research focuses on the basic mechanisms of DNA rearrangement. Craig, who has been a faculty member since 1991, was named an American Cancer Society Scholar in 1990.

G.W.C. Whiting School of Engineering

The School of Engineering awards went to one Hopkins veteran with nearly 20 years at the university and a relative newcomer who arrived in 1995.

WILSON J. RUGH, a member of the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering since 1969, was awarded the William H. Huggins Excellence in Teaching Award, "in recognition of outstanding faculty teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate level."

Though Hopkins is known for its cutting-edge research, Rugh doesn't neglect the other part of his job--educating students.

"I've been teaching a long time, and I take my teaching very seriously," said Rugh, the Edward J. Schaefer Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Rugh's class in "Signals and Systems" provides important basic instruction for future electrical and biomedical engineers. He supplements his classroom teaching by referring students to the Internet.

"In the past few years, I have been making extensive use of the World Wide Web, helping students to develop interactive demonstrations and exercises that are being used around the world," he said.

Before joining the Hopkins faculty, Rugh earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering at Penn State and Northwestern universities.

Assistant professor in the department of Chemical Engineering JOHN VAN ZANTEN has been a Hopkins faculty member only since the fall of 1995, but his teaching skills have already received high marks from students. He earned the Robert B. Pond Sr. Excellence in Teaching Award "for commitment and excellence in instruction, success in instilling the desire to learn, and dedication to undergraduate students."

"I was pretty surprised to receive an award this early in my teaching career, but I've always had a favorable interaction with my students," van Zanten said. "The main thing is involving the students. There's no secret. I have an open-door policy. They can come by and see me whenever they want."

Van Zanten, who was recognized for teaching a course in chemical kinetics and reaction engineering, earned his degrees in chemical engineering at UCLA. Before joining the Hopkins faculty, he spent three years at a federal lab in Gaithersburg.

"I've always enjoyed doing research," he said. "I knew I would enjoy teaching, too. But I've enjoyed it more than I expected."

School of Public Health

One Excellence in Teaching Award recipient from the School of Public Health recently found himself in the news with none other than Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates, who last week granted $2.25 million to the school to assist family planning in developing nations.

W. HENRY MOSLEY has been chairman of the department of Population Dynamics at Public Health since 1985, but his affiliation with Hopkins goes back much further.

Mosley first arrived at Hopkins in 1971. After six years he left to do research and work in Bangladesh, Kenya and Indonesia. He has also been a consultant for the World Health Organization, the U.S. Senate, Planned Parenthood and the American Public Health Association.

Born in China, Mosley received his medical degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1959 and completed his internship and residency at Hopkins Hospital in 1964. The next year he earned his master's in public health at Hopkins.

MARIE DEINER-WEST is also an Excellence in Teaching Award recipient with longstanding Hopkins ties. In the late 1970s she served as a research and teaching assistant in Biostatistics and Epidemiology. She earned her Ph.D. in Biostatistics at Hopkins in 1984 and joined the department of Ophthalmology after a stint as an adjunct lecturer at Temple University in Philadelphia.

In addition to having worked with the Save the Children Federation and being a member of several committees research- ing ocular melanoma, Deiner-West received outstanding teaching awards in 1991, 1993 and 1994 at Hopkins.


When the committee that chose the Excellence in Teaching Award winner from the Peabody Conservatory looked at potential nominees, they considered the length of time, the ability to teach effectively and the quality of contributions, said Lisa Baumann, assistant director of alumni relations at Peabody. They chose DONALD SUTHERLAND.

Sutherland is an internationally known organist, conductor, church musician and teacher who has performed at the Kennedy Center and on National Public Radio and the BBC-London. He is also the director of music ministries at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda.

Sutherland does not limit his time, energy or loyalty to one faction of the student body at Peabody; though he coordinates the organ faculty at the school, he may often be seen supporting a variety of students at recitals.

"He touches the entire Peabody student majority," Baumann said. "He has a big presence here. And he's a great guy."


The two Excellence in Teaching Awards winners at the School for Advanced International Studies both specialize in the study of economics.

ENZO R. GRILLI, a professorial lecturer in International Economics and European Studies, is a former secretary general for economic planning in the Italian Government Service.

DAVID G. FERNANDEZ, an assistant professor of Economics at SAIS, is the author of various articles including "Breaking Trends in the Money-Output Correlation" and "Waiter, There Are No Choices in My Menu! Shrinking Set of Options for Reforming the International Monetary System."

The names of Excellence in Teaching Award recipients from the School of Nursing will be announced next week.

Gazette writers Christine A. Rowett, Karen Fay, Phil Sneiderman and Emil Venere contributed to this report.

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