MSUToday
Published: Jan. 27, 2017

2017 Teacher-Scholar Awards

Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai
College of Arts and Letters
College of Communication Arts and Sciences

Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai, an associate professor in both the Department of English and the Department of Media and Information, is an accomplished film producer and scholar. With a range of expertise from documentary production and history of film to Hollywood and Hindi genre cinema, Pillai brings his many skills to both his teaching and his scholarship.

Having taught more than a dozen different classes at MSU—from introduction to film and film technologies to film history and even a capstone seminar on the digital documentary — Eswaran Pillai’s ability to combine the scholarly with the creative has propelled his success in the classroom. For example, in the Film in Britain Program, Pillai designed several production-oriented classes on documentary technologies and screenwriting, and embedded them in the specific context of the British cinematic tradition, where documentary has played an especially vital cinematic role. In this way, he combined historical analysis of the British documentary with production of documentaries situated in Britain, allowing students to apply their newly acquired historical understanding to their own creations.

As a scholar, Eswaran Pillai focuses on the history, theory and production of documentaries; some of his specific work examines Tamil cinema and its complex relationship with Hollywood. His 2015 book, “Madras Studios: Narrative, Genre, and Ideology in Tamil Cinema,” a meticulously researched history of Madras Studios and Tamil films, has been hailed as the first sustained and scholarly study of Tamil cinema to date. The study received the prestigious Tamil Literary Garden Award, which recognizes annual significant achievements in Tamil in a number of genres and fields.

Eswaran Pillai’s work as a producer has been equally acclaimed. His 2012 documentary, “Unfinished Journey: A City in Transition,” was selected from more than 200 entries by the African World Documentary Film Festival for screening at the iRepesent Film Festival in Lagos, Nigeria, and at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. 

Jennifer Goett
James Madison College

Jennifer Goett is an exceptionally passionate educator committed to engaging her students in critical learning processes and to supporting community engagement in her research and scholarship. Her teaching, research and work in the community encompass the key tenets of MSU’s land-grant mission of global engagement, service and transformative research.

Through her critical and collaborative teaching methods, Goett continuously challenges her students to explore such salient issues as minority legal rights, political violence and the intersections of race, gender and power. Students praise her expertise in navigating these highly contested issues with both nuance and detailed understanding. They admire her ability to achieve and receive students’ respect while also conveying respect to them. They are especially appreciative that she draws upon her own research experiences when she helps them incorporate ethnographic research methods into their own independent research assignments.

Beyond the classroom, students note that Goett has made an enormous impact on their intellectual, personal and professional development. Specifically, they express that her enthusiastic support of their scholarly advancement makes them well prepared as well as highly motivated to pursue their own professional paths.

Goett’s research focuses on the indigenous and Afro-descendant mobilization for territorial rights in Nicaragua. Trained as a cultural anthropologist, Goett’s research builds on interdisciplinary scholarship on the state, race, gender, political violence, social movements, Latin America and the African Diaspora. She has published in some of the most relevant peer-reviewed journals in her discipline (“American Ethnologist” and “Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology”) and has won intramural grants through the HARP and WaterCube Programs. Her recent book, “Black Autonomy: Race, Gender and Afro-Nicaraguan Activism,” published by Stanford University Press, documents how race and patriarchy affect the experiences of marginalized populations in Nicaragua and their struggle for autonomous territorial rights. Reviewers have praised her book as among the very best in this generation of scholarship.

Daniel Menchik
College of Social Science
Lyman Briggs College

Daniel Menchik, a medical sociologist specializing in the social organization of health and medicine, holds a joint appointment in Lyman Briggs College and the Department of Sociology. In the classroom, Menchik brings theoretical and historical concepts of science and technology to life by assigning both primary and secondary literature for his students to read. Rather than just reading about technological advances in medicine, they explore patent applications and magazine advertisements for early medicines and medical devices. In his upper division courses, he involves students in ethnographic research in Sparrow Hospital, helping them to analyze complex organizations and institutions to deepen their understanding of the social structure of hospital medicine. As a result, Menchik’s students learn to advance knowledge and information as they advance their own understanding.

Menchik’s scholarship probes two main areas of investigation: status and professional authority in medical practice; and organizations, networks and medical knowledge. His research is characterized by well-developed theories and the use of sophisticated, diverse research methods, including social network analysis, content analysis, ethnographic observations, interviews and archival research. He has developed an international scholarly reputation in the field of social organization of health and medicine, having published numerous, well-cited articles in prestigious peer-reviewed journals, including the “American Journal of Sociology,” “Journal of Health and Social Behavior” and “Social Science Research.”

Menchik’s research on physicians’ decision-making about knowledge in medical practice introduced the idea of temporal features of physicians’ duties, an area mostly unexplored in prior sociology research. Using ethnographic methods, he argued successfully that decision making is largely contingent on critically time-dependent factors.

Menchik has demonstrated excellence in both teaching and research, with his research informing his teaching and his teaching informing his research. His pedagogical pursuits at the interface of sociology and medicine are both innovative and effective, with students praising his classroom methods as effective and inspiring.

Nathan Moore
College of Social Science
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Nathan Moore is an associate professor in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences. A physical geographer who studies the linkages between land use, agriculture and climate at different spatial scales, Moore uses regional climate models to explore the relationships between agriculture and weather in developing countries. The goal of his research is to better understand how long-term trends in climate change will affect agricultural productivity and water availability. He has published 34 peer-reviewed journal articles to date and has worked on collaborative teams that have been awarded more than $30 million in grants.

Moore is a committed teacher at both the undergraduate and graduate levels who routinely involves students in his research. He has taught a wide range of classes that includes conventional classroom settings at MSU, study-abroad experiences in Australia and small courses at Zhejiang University (ZJU) in China. Along with an ability to explicate complex topics simply, Moore practices an open door policy that students readily embrace — frequently meeting with him to talk about research possibilities or to ask for clarification of a complicated topic — knowing that Moore is committed to their scholarly development and learning, whatever their level of knowledge and need.

In short, Moore exemplifies the well-rounded professor who performs at a high level across the research, teaching and service spectrum. In an era of increasing concern over environmental change and global food security, it is essential that universities employ scientists who can generate both scientific knowledge in this discipline and inspire students toward greater engagement. Nathan Moore is such a scientist. He has a growing reputation in the critical area of agricultural climatology and land-use change that has implications for food security and human-environment interactions across many scales, and his classroom practices have inspired his students to think critically about these issues and to work toward solutions.

Rabindra Ratan
College of Communications Arts and Sciences

Rabindra (“Robby”) Ratan is a social scientist who asks innovative and challenging questions and explores them in experimental and nonexperimental settings. His research is breaking new ground on avatars, presence and self in virtual and immersive communication environments; the role of gender in digital communication environments, including games and online collaboration and on autonomous and semi¬-autonomous vehicles, a field he has dubbed AVACAR. Much of his research is based on experimental methods in which Ratan has pioneered the use of fMRI and psychophysical measurement techniques in his field. The increasing impact of Ratan’s scholarship is reflected in its growing recognition by colleagues, evidenced in more than 500 citations on Google Scholar. With twenty-three publications in peer¬-reviewed journals and proceedings and an active research program, Ratan will continue to shape the future and direction of his field.

Ratan teaches a portfolio of courses ranging from freshman introductory lectures to doctoral seminars, thriving in large and small in-class settings as well as online courses. In large classes, Ratan manages to engage students in original ways, often entering a large auditorium on a skateboard and using it strategically to underline his enthusiasm for certain topics. His courses fully integrate and use technology, whether in the use of text-based, real-time communications projected on a screen, Top Hat or the use of avatar-based forums in which students interact after class. A recipient of a Lilly Teaching Fellowship, Ratan translates his enthusiasm and seemingly boundless energy into tireless mentorship of undergraduate and graduate students.

A great departmental colleague, Ratan facilitates the department’s Strong Educator initiative. He has also served on the departmental Ph.D. Committee, the MIS Ph.D. Program Executive Committee and the ad hoc task force on revising the undergraduate curriculum. For the past three years, he has also co-organized a workshop on User Experience of Autonomous Driving at the ACM International Conference on Automotive User Interfaces and Interactive Vehicular Applications.

Gretel Van Wieren
College of Arts and Letters

From the moment she arrived at Michigan State from Yale University, Gretel Van Wieren has thrived as an exemplar of the land-grant mission through her multidisciplinary, cross-college work on religion, ethics and the environment. Her research spans many areas, including environmental ethics, religion and nature, agricultural and food ethics, children and nature, religion and nonprofit organizations. Her multiple articles and book, “Restored to Earth: Christianity, Environmental Ethics, and Ecological Restoration,” all speak to environmental ethics and restoration — the ideal of a future in which human impact on the natural world is not destructive but restorative.

Van Wieren recently received the high-profile Humanities Without Walls grant from the Mellon Foundation for her project The New Ethics of Food. She is a contributor to the Center for Humans and Nature City Creatures Blog (www.humansandnature.org/blog) and Planet Experts (www.planetexperts.com). Her current book projects include a monograph on religious responses to key issues in food ethics, an edited anthology on the ethics of ecological restoration and a collection of narrative essays on children’s experiences of nature through hunting and fishing. Van Wieren was the 2015 recipient of the spring Writers-in-Residency program at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest of Oregon State University.

Van Wieren’s teaching includes a wide variety of courses, from Exploring World Religions, an introductory course that often attracts potential majors, to Religion and Nonprofits and Religion and Nonprofit Leadership, two courses that helped the department offer a Nonprofit Leadership concentration that Van Wieren was instrumental in creating. Her additional curricular work reflects additional aspects of her scholarly interests. “Religion and the Environment” and “Human Culture, Ethics, and Nature,” explore religious perspectives on humanity’s relationship with nature. Van Wieren has been lauded for maintaining a respectful rapport with undergraduates while challenging their underlying assumptions and pushing them to think more deeply about the subject under study. Students have extolled her courses as formative for their intellectual lives and for their careers.

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