MSUToday
Published: Jan. 30, 2017

2017 Excellence-in-Teaching Citations

Steven Ambrose
College of Arts and Letters

Steven Ambrose strives to make learning accessible and gratifying, which does not mean, however, easy. Ambrose constantly challenges students to imagine the succeeding question, the further consequence or the next horizon; in short, he invites them to think beyond what they have known. Whether recruiting a student to study in Amsterdam who has never left the country or prodding another to sharpen a thesis claim into a more trenchant argument, Ambrose acknowledges that the risk of learning can prove uncomfortable or discomfiting to students—and then he makes those next steps less intimidating. He frequently uses what seem to be low-stakes assignments: a video blog, a short in-class response, a quick tweet of an example of sexism or homo corporatism or some other complex concept from a student’s everyday life. Low-stakes assessment does not mean students aren’t learning significantly or challenging their skills or knowledge; it just means that many of Ambrose’s modes of determining how well students are learning are designed to not stress them unnecessarily.

Time and again, students who accept his challenges flourish beyond their expectations, overcoming self-imposed limitations that they do not, initially, even see as problematic. More importantly, students often impress Ambrose by how they not only master a skill or technique but turn it to an unanticipated creative advantage, like the quiet student whose vlogs evolved from stilted talking head to artful, cinematic meditations. Ambrose is open to wherever students may take their learning as long as it is rigorous, curious and self-directed.

In the Amsterdam-based study-abroad course he led, Ambrose became known for responding in detail to student work, his persistence in challenging students to own their learning process, and his sincere investment in students coming to understand matters of social justice and other modes of inequality.

Ambrose is an immensely promising and talented educator who deftly fosters a learning community that is respectful, resilient and builds student confidence alongside knowledge—and he does so without compromising his high expectations for students. Steven Ambrose offers an inspiring example of not just how to teach in the humanities but how to teach through human connection.

Anthony Delli Paoli
College of Education

Anthony Delli Paoli’s effectiveness as a teacher stems from his deep concern for the intellectual and personal development of his students. He expresses this concern through meticulous course design and in helping students apply knowledge from the interdisciplinary field of kinesiology to their future aspirations. His primary objective is to develop informed and critical appraisers of knowledge by structuring course content in line with cognitive science principles of learning, framing learning as a collaborative enterprise and challenging students to communicate their understanding of how course content can be applied.

Delli Paoli teaches courses on research methods and sport psychology, using a variety of teaching methods to enhance student learning and development, including collaborative learning, free recall, integrative assignments and feedback to reinforce both process and outcome. Most notably, he uses think, pair and share activities in which students think independently about appropriate answers and then pair with a nearby classmate to share answers. Students then lead whole-class discussion based on their answers, giving them full ownership of their learning experience.

As one student noted, “His enthusiasm and attention to detail made the course very enjoyable. His dedication to his students is what sets him apart as an educator. I felt like he truly cared about my understanding and performance in the course.”

Outside the classroom, Delli Paoli has lectured to undergraduate student organizations about graduate student life and has performed extensive service, including evaluating undergraduate research, acting as president of the Kinesiology Graduate Student Organization and serving on department and college committees.

Delli Paoli’s research examines the psychosocial aspects of sport and physical activity, specifically physical activity as a way to manage negative emotional and cognitive responses to social exclusion. His work includes a sequence of experiments that involve application of mild social exclusion and then exploring how physical activity might enable the preservation of executive functioning and regulation of emotion. He is especially interested in the benefits of physical activity for children with social challenges, such as ADHD.

Matthew Forte
College of Music

Matthew Forte’s accomplishments as a music director and conductor in the College of Music have been transformative for the Concert Orchestra, which was desperately in need of revitalization when Forte was asked to lead the charge in its rebuilding in 2012. Forte saw the potential of the group and set about the task of making it better by being a great teacher, a great leader and a great role model—and it worked. The orchestra has grown by more than 30 percent, and audience attendance has more than doubled.

Forte increased orchestra participation and enthusiasm by opening membership to MSU faculty and staff as well as select high school students from the region. He then initiated several collaborations between the Concert Orchestra, composers and singers in the College of Music. Specifically, he teamed up with the voice department to create feature performances for its top singers; he oversaw the development of an ongoing annual project that now commissions three new works written specifically for the Concert Orchestra to premiere. Most recently, he collaborated with the Capital City Ballet Theatre to create a semi-staged version of The Nutcracker, the first theatrical dance production of any kind with the Concert Orchestra. By building a collaborative culture of trust, pride and joy in the orchestra across the College of Music and the East Lansing community, Forte has created an orchestra that is fun, rewarding, culture-building, inclusive, participatory and driven.

Forte is completing his doctoral work in orchestral conducting. He has been invited to attend the prestigious Aspen Festival of Music as a conducting fellow on two occasions and has subsequently been invited back to work with honor groups on two additional occasions. Forte has chosen to complete his dissertation on a large scholarly project involving the development of a collaborative website designed for scholars around the world to share interpretive ideas—work that will have lifelong relevance for performers and educators alike. As a result of his outstanding teaching and creative work, Forte was awarded the prestigious Rasmussen Fellowship.

Davena Jackson
College of Education

Davena Jackson is a natural teacher, comfortable and confident in leading class discussions, planning innovative lessons and activities and nurturing students to become independent learners. She is not afraid to ask students to question the status quo and to talk about such difficult topics as race, religion and gender in her classes; further, she is always deliberate and attentive in ensuring that these discussions are opportunities for students to share their opinions respectfully and to learn from one another’s life experiences. It is the how behind Jackson’s teaching as much as the content of her classes that makes her shine as she brings teaching topics to life for her students.

During 2015-2016, Jackson taught two sections of Human Diversity, Power, and Opportunity in Social Institutions in addition to co-teaching an upper level English methods class. She adapted the syllabus for the Human Diversity course in ways that demonstrated her ability to plan course themes and readings with an ongoing commitment to finding relevant and engaging material. She ensured that students were assigned the most rigorous and relevant materials to learn fully about the topic, interweaving multimodal texts with traditional readings and making good use of film, podcasts, music and news media to enhance students’ learning experiences and help them connect course content to the world outside MSU’s walls.

Jackson’s scholarship furthermore extends her teaching and research experiences. She co-authored a proposal with two graduate students for a peer-reviewed paper presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention. She will co-present the paper, “Planning for Criticality: Re-imagining the Curriculum of a Secondary English Teacher Education Program,” on the panel Promoting and Sustaining Critical and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy with Pre-Service Teachers in Urban Settings.

Jackson has demonstrated excellence as an important voice across scholarly conversations on culturally and linguistically diverse language, literacy education and teaching and learning toward equality.

Juan Mundel
College of Communication Arts and Sciences

From the day he stepped foot on campus, Juan Mundel has been a man on a mission, seizing opportunities to grow and develop as a teacher and a scholar. As a teacher, Mundel inspires his students to work hard by developing unique and challenging assignments and maintaining frequent communication, whether teaching in-person or online.

Mundel began as a teaching assistant for a large lecture course, Principles of Public Relations. In this role, he was responsible for grading assignments and coordinating and communicating course logistics with students. Because of his success with this class, he was invited to develop the first online version for summer semester 2015. Students liked the discussion forum posts and appreciated Mundel’s level of engagement. As one student noted, “I was impressed by the level of detail and interaction with students that Mundel put into his online course. He never let the barriers of an online course stop him from building relationships with us.”

Mundel was a pioneer in the development of a study abroad program: Advertising and Society in Europe. The program spanned three countries: The Netherlands, Germany, and France. During the program, students attended the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and rubbed shoulders with the best and brightest advertising industry professionals, an unparalleled opportunity to explore the creative process and learn the requisites for developing successful advertising campaigns.

Mundel has immersed himself in research and is one of the most connected Ph.D. students in the Information and Media program. In his first year, he created a long-term research agenda to investigate the interventions that would best help prevent risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex, among a high-risk target audience, LGBT young adults. Because of his excellent research and promise, the Department of Advertising and Public Relations honored him as Outstanding Doctoral Student for 2015-2016.

Mundel has established himself as an effective, engaging and respected teacher, a promising scholar and a young professional dedicated to serving the university and the profession.

Julie Wolfe Turner
College of Natural Sciences

Decades ago, H.G. Wells warned, “Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.” Many teachers recognize the truth behind the caveat; Julie Wolfe Turner lives it. As a biologist, conservationist and educator, Turner understands that if we hope to leave our children and grandchildren a living, breathing, nourishing planet, education is the key, which is why she has devoted her research career to understanding how nature works, focusing her dissertation on the functional consequences of the intricate social interactions among hyenas. Julie isn’t, however, solely content with the noble but difficult art of scientific discovery; she also takes to heart Baba Dioum’s powerful insight that “in the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” Turner has devoted her life to understanding nature and to infectiously sharing her knowledge with others. It is this passion that makes Turner such an amazing teacher, mentor and scholar.

Two qualities stand out among Turner’s many talents as an educator. First, she isn’t a pushover. Saving the planet requires a scientifically literate citizenry and learning to appreciate science as a way of knowing is not easy. Moreover, no one is well served, especially students, if courses don’t sharpen the critical thinking skills they will need in an increasingly complicated world. Turner, thus, sets very high standards. As a student mentioned in one of their many letters in support of her nomination, “[Turner] pushes you to your limits to get you out of your comfort zone.” Turner’s second quality, compassion, lets students know they have a caring and knowledgeable guide as they rekindle their curiosity to learn, grow and achieve. She genuinely cares about her charges, whether they are students in a formal class, undergraduate volunteers working in the hyena lab or third graders benefitting from an outreach program she developed to bring the marvels of Africa’s wildlife to a public school in Michigan.