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Jan. 18, 2018

2018 Excellence-in-Teaching Citations


Teresa J. Clark

Teresa J. Clark

College of Natural Science

A PhD student dual-majoring in plant biology and quantitative biology, Teresa J. Clark has been a teaching assistant at MSU for three years—five semesters for “Cells and Molecules in Introductory Biology” and one in “Plant Physiology.” Both the professors leading these courses and the students enrolled in them praised Clark for her commitment to the course, with one of the lead instructors identifying her a “teaching partner, not just an assistant” and another lauding her “exceptional organizational skills, realism about scheduling and determination to help students succeed.” Several instructors were so impressed with her knowledge of the material and engagement with the students that they invited her to give several class lectures, which they appreciated as “both informative and inspirational.” In 2016, she received the Department of Plant Biology Field Award for Outstanding Teaching.

Clark’s student evaluations expressed this same level of appreciation, particularly for her willingness to help them understand difficult material outside of class and office hours. As one student stated, “Ms. Clark’s thoughtfulness and selflessness towards her students, along with her extreme concern for their conceptual learning, is what propelled me to achieve in class.”

Clark holds great promise as a computational biologist and scholar. She uses mathematical models to predict how plants utilize carbon for oils and other biomass products, and how plants and soil microbes interact in the natural environment. She has presented her research at international computational biology meetings and was invited to give a seminar at Oxford University. She recently wrote a review article to describe how empirical data has been or could be integrated with plant–microbe mutualism models, which was published in Ecology Letters, a leading peer-reviewed journal. Attesting to her scholarly promise, she is the 2017-2018 recipient of the prestigious Barnett Rosenberg Research Assistantship.

Clark is a remarkable example for service and outreach. She has been a coordinator for a symposium session on scientific outreach to Africa, co-organized the MSU Women’s Forum, serves as vice-chair of the CNS Council on Diversity and Community and is a member of the Science Festival Advisory Committee.

An exceptional teacher, researcher and community leader, Clark is a most deserving recipient of the Michigan State University Excellence-in-Teaching Citation.


Sarah KlandermanSarah Klanderman

College of Natural Science

Sarah Klanderman, a graduate student studying mathematics, has received extraordinary feedback on her undergraduate teaching, not only through excellent student ratings but also directly from students, who regularly speak highly of her to advisors and recommend her to fellow students. Behind the scenes, Sarah has tirelessly sought to improve her teaching practices through participation in teaching seminars, graduate coursework on teaching college mathematics and completion of the Certification in College Teaching offered through the Graduate School.

Most of Klanderman’s teaching has been in gateway undergraduate mathematics courses, particularly Calculus 1, for which her department appointed her Lead TA. Her additional responsibilities include leading exam reviews for 100-300 students and developing teaching guides, which have proven to be an excellent resource for new instructors. Because of her exemplary teaching, the mathematics department recently selected Klanderman as a mentor to new instructors.

One of Klanderman’s students conveyed her admiration with these words: “When I heard about her nomination, I could not write this letter fast enough. Klanderman was an exceptional teacher, so great that I purposely took an elective math class when I saw she would be the class TA.” Not many students enroll in elective math classes, but Klanderman’s teaching inspired this response. Another student noted, “Her lectures were interesting, engaging and clear. She made complex mathematical concepts seem simple. For this alone, she stands out as one of the best teachers I've ever had.”

Klanderman’s excellence in the classroom is in close competition for her excellence as a researcher. Her field of study is algebraic topology, for which she uses tools of abstract algebra to study shapes and spaces in arbitrarily high dimension, with a specific emphasis on working with connections between homotopy theory and algebraic K-theory. She recently attended a conference in Germany to present her research work.

For her commitment to excellent teaching, support for the teaching of others and her innovative research work, Klanderman fully deserves the honor inherent in the Michigan State University Excellence-in-Teaching Citation.


Matthew KolpMatthew Kolp

College of Natural Science

Matthew Kolp, a teaching assistant in the Department of Plant Biology and in Biological Science, regularly evaluates student understanding of course material so he can adapt his instruction to ensure greater student comprehension. During his first year as a TA, for example, the course instructor mentioned that ensuring student preparedness for labs was a constant challenge, resulting in wasted lab time reviewing each lab’s learning objectives. After a little brainstorming, Kolb, postulating that students might respond better to visual versus written lab information, volunteered to develop short videos outlining the lab objectives. These videos were so successful that the instructor is still using them, very appreciative of Kolp’s creative solution to an ongoing problem.

Because archiving student understanding organizes his teaching, Kolp considers understanding his students’ knowledge base as his first objective in the class. He then builds on that base, ending with an assessment of their learning progress. In this way, he is most effective at helping his students learn the class material. Although Kolp wants his students to feel comfortable asking questions about the class material, he wants them to apply their own intellect to obtaining the answers. He thus uses the Socratic method of teaching, turning questions back to the student in such a way that they rethink their approach and ultimately answer the question independently; in other instances, he leads them to a resource where they can find the answers.

Kolp’s research lies in the complex interactions of the many types of organisms involved in the cankers of chestnut blight which decimated North American chestnut trees in the first half of the twentieth century. Specifically, he is investigating how the microbiome influences disease symptom expression and is assessing how saprophytes can invade blight cankers and influence the severity of blight on infected trees. Kolp’s ultimate goal is to find a way to mediate the effects of chestnut blight and restore native chestnut trees to North American forests.

Kolp is a Future Academic Scholars in Teaching Fellow (twice) and has won the Plant Biology Fields Award for Outstanding Teaching and the College of Natural Science Excellence-in-Teaching Citation.

For his commitment to teaching that enhances student learning and enthusiasm for challenging research, Kolp is a most deserving recipient of the Michigan State University Excellence-in-Teaching Citation.


Becky MarshBecky Marsh

College of Music

Becky Marsh was an outstanding choral music teacher in North Carolina Public Schools before coming to Michigan State University to further her studies, where she has made significant contributions to Music Education as a doctoral student. Marsh’s approach to teaching involves building such communities through relationships with her students while helping them form meaningful relationships with one another. Within these communities, she enables her students to find their voices as teachers by modeling how to listen, to question and to disrupt in ways that encourage them to think deeply about what they bring to the classroom and how that affects what they do as teachers.

Marsh’s teaching experiences include “Choral Pedagogy,” full teaching responsibility for the entry-level “Introduction to Music Education” course and the MSU Women's Chamber Ensemble, where she served as assistant conductor. While her advisors know that it would be easy to focus on her exceptional organizational skills, her clear-sighted goals for student learning and her deft approach to classroom instruction, they believe her ability to connect with undergraduates sets her apart from her peers. Marsh’s students feel seen and acknowledged. She comes to know them as individuals and provides useful feedback using a supportive, honest process.

A student in her “Methods and Materials of Elementary Music” class explains the value of this approach: “Ms. Marsh had every student combine their main subject interest with music. To help us prepare, she offered resources and ideas on how to combine two normally different topics. As an example, she played a song about nucleotides (yes, you read that correctly, nucleotides,) which incorporated the base pair sequences as ukulele chords. The result was a creative presentation that helped clarify a complicated topic in an entertaining way.”

Marsh’s scholarship further demonstrates her commitment to teaching. Her doctoral work, which developed from an interest in undergraduate preservice music teacher education, focuses on preservice teachers’ field experiences, particularly the role identity plays in what they observe and notice in the classroom. Her work will serve as a guide to music education programs working to shape their initial field experiences with preservice teachers.

For superb teaching and research aimed at making a difference in the lives of music teachers and students, Becky Marsh is a most deserving recipient of the Michigan State University Excellence-in-Teaching Citation.


Perry ParksPerry Parks

School of Journalism

Perry Parks' former students are reporters, editors, producers and designers at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Adweek, NPR and CNN. They are investigators, storytellers, visual artists and community connectors. Their work, collectively, helps shape the consciousness and consciences of millions of citizens from coast to coast. And while each of their jobs and daily obligations are different, they share a sense of empowerment and efficacy instilled by Parks as their journalism instructor and adviser. "Mr. Parks’ class was never about a predetermined answer, or making sure you were right," one student says. "It was about each of us learning that we had what it took to work through really tough issues. He didn't teach us what to think. He taught us how to question, probe and consider."

In teaching basic and advanced journalism courses; serving as professional editorial adviser to MSU's student newspaper, The State News; and later serving as president of The State News' Board of Directors, Parks has drawn on a professional journalism career as a reporter and editor at both traditional daily newspapers and online-only community startups. He even combined lessons from his professional and teaching experience to write “Making Important News Interesting,” a reporting text used in classrooms across the country.

As one of his students noted, “Mr. Parks's class directly reflected the kind of up-to-date, technologically-enhanced journalism he taught us. Mr. Parks was always helpful and upbeat, and I have learned about a completely new side of journalism. I can take everything I've learned in this class and use it in the real world.”

As a doctoral researcher, Parks is building his expertise toward improving science communication and environmental news. His dissertation explores the pedagogy of journalism education and how it has changed throughout the years. Parks’s research has been published in such journals as Journalism, Journalism Studies, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly and Science Communication.

Parks' commitment to student growth, his linking of theory and practice and his relentless efforts to make journalism a stronger tool of democracy make him a most worthy recipient of the Michigan State University Excellence-in-Teaching Citation.


David A. WatsonDavid A. Watson

College of Arts and Letters

In his research, David A. Watson explores how we create an understanding of the world we live in through the books that we read, and how moving between worlds, imaginative and otherwise, gives us the ability to examine new heuristic and political possibilities. He takes this same approach to his teaching.

Watson has taught nine semesters at MSU, and his effectiveness is evident in all of his evaluations. Phrases such as, "best instructor I've ever had," and "he doesn't just teach you to read, he teaches you to be a better person," are abundant. Many students have followed Watson from class to class, even when a particular offering did not precisely fit their degree plan.

These evaluations reflect Watson's inspired approach to teaching. His specific practices and innovations include small group work, attention toward digital humanities, randomly assigned discussion leadership and innovative evaluation structures. He sometimes uses a "15-word assignment" in which students must completely analyze a text in just one sentence. Often, he will assign more texts than students are required to read, so that students can select for themselves the particular texts that will make up their version of the course. In addition, every semester students are tasked with finding at least one primary source to add to the course materials that they will be responsible for in the final paper or exam. This increased level of autonomy with text selections helps students feel like they are curating their own course experience.

Watson's Ph.D. work, “Brooding on the Vast Abyss: The History, Theory and Consequence of Alternative Fictional Worlds,” focuses on the last 150 years of fantasy literature in order to explore the problem of world building. In summary, Watson argues that the very concept of world in relation to consciousness has always been misunderstood, that "the more clearly one defines either of these two terms, the less it is possible to adequately define the other." In his thorough rethinking of the very idea of fantasy worlds, Watson explores its necessary preconditions in the domains of science, economy, history and aesthetics.

For his innovative approach to teaching, his excellent scholarship and his commitment to writing, David A. Watson is a most deserving recipient of the Michigan State University Excellence-in-Teaching Citation.

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