MSUToday
Published: Feb. 4, 2014

2014 Teacher-Scholar Awards

Kristen Bieda
Department of Teacher Education
College of Education

Kristen Bieda is passionate about mathematics, about helping her students become outstanding mathematics teachers and researchers, and about conducting research that is innovative, rigorous, and relevant to learners. From work on teaching reasoning and mathematical proofs to middle school students to innovative classroom approaches that provide future teachers with meaningful teaching experiences to engaging graduate students in professional activities, Bieda’s research and teaching are inextricably linked. By combining the scientific, rigorous eye of a researcher with the compassionate and intelligent classroom methods of an outstanding teacher, Bieda succeeds in conveying the value of both types of scholarship.

Bieda’s teaching methods promote equitable, research-based practices using authentic teaching experiences, including
a classroom-based teaching lab in partnership with remedial math classes at MSU and mentor- guided lessons with teachers in local schools. She uses these opportunities to model how to teach mathematics for student understanding and how to be a reflective teacher.

The primary focus of Bieda’s research is mathematical argumentation and proof. Scholars in mathematics education, teachers, and policy makers agree that students need to be able to reason mathematically—and Bieda’s work is advancing how that can be taught effectively in the classroom. In addition to her more than 30 publications and presentations, Bieda has co-authored a best-selling book on the common core standards for mathematical practice for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
In 2013, she earned the Early Career Publication Award from the American Education Research Association Special Interest Group on Research in Mathematics Education.

Ryan Black
Department of Political Science
College of Social Science

Ryan Black’s decision to pursue a career as a teacher and researcher of political science can be directly attributed to his interactions with his own undergraduate mentor, who ignited a love for studying the United States Supreme Court. Since coming to MSU, Black has sought to convey that same spark to his own students through both his research and teaching.

Black believes in social science as a path to understanding and good citizenship. In courses ranging from research design and philosophy of science to quantitative methods, judicial behavior, and constitutional law, he aims not only to teach his students about American political institutions, especially the Supreme Court, but also how we can know what we think we know about American politics. More than a dozen of his undergraduate students have undertaken significant research projects under his supervision. Some of his best students have moved on to excellent Ph.D. programs and law schools, and they carry with them an appreciation of social science as a way of life.

Black’s research interests focus on the U.S. Supreme Court, where he examines justices’ decision-making at various stages during the review of a case. Thematically, he is interested in analyzing how justices pursue their policy preferences in the face of multiple institutional constraints. Apart from the Supreme Court, Black’s research interests focus on institutions and institutional rules, specifically, the political dynamics between the president and senate during the nomination and confirmation process.

Black has published two books, 19 peer- reviewed articles, and 11 editor-reviewed articles or book chapters. His research has been sup- ported by the Law and Social Sciences Program of the National Science Foundation and has been referenced in the New York Times and other media outlets.

Michael Callahan
College of Music 

Michael Callahan is passionate about helping students make the connection between the music theory they study in the classroom and their own musical performances—a formidable task. To accomplish this, he infuses his classes with music making and improvisation. As students perform for one another, the theoretical information they are learning comes to life. In one instance, he had several of the students play a jazz combo for the class. He then had all of them discuss the theoretical constructs exemplified in the performed work, specifically what they meant for the performer and how they affected the listener.

Callahan’s teaching and scholarship are fully intertwined. He actively explores what students know and what they need to learn using such strategies as questioning, obser- vation, and electronic surveys. He then uses this information to design his instruction. As part of his Lilly project, he developed PlayIt activities, in which students learn to play along with a musical example, continue an example, or compose a similar musical piece.

As a result of these experiences, students come to deeply understand and apply course material. Callahan has disseminated his teaching ideas through publications and presentations at prestigious conferences throughout the world. He shares his teaching gifts through preconcert lectures at recitals and other performance events throughout the community. He is even completing a textbook on music theory that incorporates improvisation and performance, concepts that will contribute significantly to teaching and learning in music theory classrooms across the country and abroad. 

Teena Gerhardt
Department of Mathematics
College of Natural Science

Perusing Teena Gerhardt’s teaching evaluations provides an immediate sense of her dedication to students and her enthusiasm for teaching. Her commitment as an educator and skill at making mathematics accessible shine through in comment after comment.

Gerhardt has a wide range of teaching experience, from business calculus to graduate- level algebraic topology, and has taught both large lectures and small upper-division courses. At every level, she is dedicated to making mathematics exciting and approachable to a diverse set of students—and her approach has been unilaterally successful.

Gerhardt’s efforts in education extend beyond the classroom. She co-organizes the Summer Undergraduate Research Institute in Experimental Mathematics program at MSU and has organized two graduate summer schools on Algebraic Topology, one at Stanford University and one at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, California, both of which drew more than 50 graduate students from around the world.

Gerhardt’s research work focuses on algebraic K-theory, a field of mathematics at the intersection of algebraic topology, algebraic geometry, and number theory. Algebra K-groups carry important arithmetic information about rings, and many of the most interesting conjectures in number theory can be described in terms of algebraic K-groups. Their main drawback is that they are extremely difficult to compute. Gerhardt’s work involves computing these groups for a variety of interesting examples and provides machinery to interpret the computations in a broader context. A National Science Foundation CAREER Grant, the most prestigious award that the National Science Foundation bestows upon junior faculty, currently supports Gerhardt’s research.

Wei Peng
Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media
College of Communication Arts and Sciences

Wei Peng is an advocate of student-centered active learning and team-based collaborative learning both inside and outside the classroom; to facilitate these approaches, Peng has designed courses that directly involve students in the learning process and regularly employs new technological tools in the classroom. When iClicker technology first became available, she quickly incorporated it into her teaching style to make the in-class experience more interactive and engaging; this technique was particularly effective in large, introductory classes, where direct student engagement is critical to effective learning but often over- looked due to the sheer number of students.

In her upper-division undergraduate classes, Peng regularly employs MSU’s online platforms to organize students into teams and to facilitate coordination and communication among team members. She also enthusiastically embraces the opportunities for collaboration facilitated by the Rooms for Engaged and Active Learning (REAL).

For graduate students, especially doctoral students, Peng believes that mentoring, advising, and involving students in ongoing research are critical components of the instructional process. Consequently, she is often sought as a committee member by both doctoral and master’s degree students. During her tenure at MSU, she has served on 27 doctoral committees and 16 master’s committees, 11 as director or chair. Aware from personal experience of the challenges U.S. universities pose to international students, she has made a special effort to reach out to them.

Peng’s research focuses on the use of gaming technologies and game techniques to shape behavior in ways that promote improved health and educational outcomes. Her very active research agenda has generated more than 30 publications, many of which have appeared in her field’s leading journals. Her innovative research, often integrating game design and experiments, has earned prestigious awards, including the top paper award at the annual International Communications Conference in 2008 and 2012 and the annual National Communication Convention in 2007.

Benjamin Schmidt
Department of Mathematics
College of Natural Science

Benjamin Schmidt’s teaching incorporates an engaging and enthusiastic lecture style; he has the remarkable ability to select materials that are most conducive to learning a particular concept and then present them from an angle that makes the concept completely—and often surprising—transparent to students. One of his goals is to present mathematics as a lively and colorful subject, full of open problems that remain scandalously unsolved. By sharing these problems with both undergraduate and graduate students as well as in a variety of outreach activities, Schmidt helps students see that mathematics can reach beyond problems on paper to encompass expansive questions on
a variety of subjects. These outreach activities include SpartaNature, the USA/Canada math camp for high school students; a graduate student geometry and topology conference at MSU; an undergraduate exchange program with Beihang University in China; and an ongoing MSU research seminar in geometry.

Schmidt’s research focuses on rigidity theory, which quantifies and illuminates the special role of symmetry in geometry and is highly interdisciplinary, utilizing techniques from such diverse mathematics branches as algebra, analysis, geometry, topology, and dynamics. Schmidt loves concrete problems and models, using them to motivate more obtuse theoretical concepts in both his research and in the classroom. For instance, he motivates a number of modern concepts in dynamical systems with a concrete study of predicting the future location of a billiard ball moving on a frictionless (nonrectangular and sometimes many dimensional) table.