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March 9, 2021

Excellence-in-Teaching Citations

Darren Incorvaia

Darren Incorvaia 

Department of Integrative Biology
Center for Integrative Studies in
General Science and 
Program in
Ecology, Evolution and Behavior
College of Natural Science 

Darren Incorvaia has demonstrated unparalleled excellence in teaching. In 2020, he led every aspect of a self-created ecology course on the environment around the Great Lakes. He created the course content and syllabus, and led every aspect of the honors section, including discussions and evaluations. With the goal of providing high-level content, he oriented discussion around an acclaimed book, “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes,” which considers the principles of ecology and how they relate to real-world issues. He added readings about different audiences (privileged and underprivileged, for example) affected by environmental change, seamlessly incorporating topics of diversity, equity and inclusion in a science course. 

During the pandemic, Incorvaia’s teaching exceeded expectations. As one student remarked: “The spring semester faced its fair share of challenges; because of Darren’s creativity and dedication, the challenges had almost zero impact on my ability to learn and enjoy the course. Darren’s adaptability and passion still shined, even through a computer screen.” Over three years teaching nearly 700 students, Incorvaia has received consistent recognition as a top-notch TA. He received the Harlow Mervyn Mork Excellence-in-Teaching Award in 2019.

Additionally, Incorvaia’s research explores how bumblebees adjust their foraging behavior in response to changes they experience in foraging conditions outside the nest and in the nutritional state of the colony. Through his research, he is answering long-standing, and often contentious, questions about the pressures of natural selection that led to the evolution of the famous honeybee dance language. He has completed three summers of fieldwork, has four peer-reviewed publications and has given more than ten presentations — two of which were invited.

Incorvaia has taken on leadership roles in service to integrative biology and the ecology, evolutionary biology, and behavior program and has served the Graduate Employee Union as the IBIO steward and in other official capacities, most recently as chief information officer.

For his commitment to teaching, research and leadership, Darren Incorvaia is most deserving of a Michigan State University Excellence-in-Teaching Citation.

Lauren Elizabeth Reine Johnson

Lauren Elizabeth Reine Johnson

Department of Teacher Education
College of Education

Lauren Elizabeth Reine Johnson is a natural, engaging and exemplary teacher-scholar. She believes in teaching as an opportunity to learn alongside her students, supporting them as she makes space for students to engage in critical discussions and self-reflection about theory and practice at the site of education.

She notes that while at MSU, some of her most memorable and effective moments occurred while in the classroom, where learning became a collaborative and humanizing endeavor with pre-service teachers. 

Johnson came to MSU after teaching in New York City public schools. Her experiences as a literacy and English teacher, primarily of students of color, inform her commitment to prioritizing the needs and desires of youth, affirming and sustaining their humanity through her teaching practices while supporting their teachers. As one recent MSU graduate shared, “Ms. Johnson’s methods were personalized and student-centered. We learned not only from her, but from each other and grew as instructors ourselves.”

A doctoral student in curriculum, instruction and teacher education, Johnson conducts research examining contexts, curriculum and texts at the interplay of race, place, and educational justice. Her paper, “Reading self in the wake: Memorializing New Orleans education,” presented at the 2019 American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting, extended necessary conversations on place-based, affirming and African Diaspora contexts of schooling and teaching into the field of teacher education. Based on the earlier scholarship of C. Sharpe in her text, “In the Wake: On Blackness and Being,” Johnson’s scholarship seeks to affirm and extend experiences, identities and literacy practices, particularly of youth and communities of color.

Johnson strives to be a collaborative member of the teacher preparation program and other education-centered spaces at MSU as a student, instructor, researcher and committee member. In these spaces, she works to listen and be responsive to the experiences of others while advocating for epistemological plurality. 

Lauren Elizabeth Reine Johnson’s passion for teaching and learning, desire to amplify the voices and experiences of youth and communities of color, and commitment to humanizing and responsive practices makes her exceptionally deserving of a Michigan State University Excellence-in-Teaching Citation.

Jill Kochanek

Jill Kochanek 

Department of Kinesiology 
College of Education

Jill Kochanek is an exemplary model of MSU’s land-grant mission embodied in teaching. She works to make even the most complex academic content relevant and meaningful for students’ real-world lives, creating classroom spaces supportive of all students’ diverse backgrounds while simultaneously challenging students to reach beyond their comfort zones. Informed by her research interests on social justice, equity and diversity, she works to foster a classroom culture where every voice is welcome, heard and respected. As noted by one of her students: “Ms. Kochanek is an amazing teacher. She is so passionate about class topics that it makes learning fun. She is very understanding of students’ different learning strategies and tries to accommodate each of us.”

Not only is Kochanek an exceptional teacher, she also devotes her efforts to help improve the teaching of her peers. She has held formal leadership positions responsible for teaching-focused professional development, developed numerous teaching workshops and resources for the department and continues to mentor new graduate teaching assistants. After pilot testing a cultural competence workshop for majors in undergraduate athletic training, Kochanek received an MSU Inclusive Excellence Grant from MSU’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives to develop, implement and systematically evaluate multisession cultural competence workshops for undergraduate majors in athletic training. The workshop’s content focused on teaching participants to check their harmful biases and behaviors to promote cultural competence in practice. This multistage curriculum development and evaluation project culminated in her publication of a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Athletic Training Education.

As a scholar, Kochanek’s research focuses on the psychosocial aspects of sport and physical activity, with her interests cohering around social justice approaches to such programming. In particular, she focuses on coaching and coach education, taking a teaching-the-teachers approach, resulting in four publications in top-tier journals, including Psychology of Sport and Exercise and European Sport Management Quarterly. She has also published two book chapters and has four additional publications under review. 

For exemplary contributions to quality teaching, exceptional scholarship and leadership at MSU, Jill Kochanek is most deserving of the Michigan State University Excellence-in-Teaching Citation. 

Nikki Mcclaran

Nikki McClaran

Department of Advertising and Public Relations
College of Communication Arts and Sciences

Nikki McClaran is the kind of teacher we all wished we had as undergraduates. She excites students, not just with her enthusiasm for the material she presents, but with her deep appreciation for the students themselves and her firm belief that they will be better for knowing what she is teaching them. McClaran enriches her classroom instruction with examples from popular culture and popular media to engage and interest her students, and she finds creative ways to demonstrate complex concepts that illustrate the ideas she presents in new ways. As one student noted, “I absolutely loved this course. Ms. McClaran kept the class extremely engaged and made the topic interesting.” McClaran excels in the classroom by creating a welcoming, stress-free, and engaging culture for students that allows them to explore new ideas freely and helps them to feel comfortable speaking up in class.

As a member of the Behe-Huddleston research team, working on numerous eye-tracking projects to help complete several research manuscripts, McClaran has not only recruited other students to join the research group but also proven to be a wonderful mentor to both master’s and undergraduate students. She has helped them to develop their research skills, including teaching them how to write a literature review and to run data analysis. Her upbeat manner and patience has helped these research team members develop their research skill set.

McClaran’s own research explores the effects of persuasive messages in health and risk communication, focusing on the role of social norms and the educational function of entertainment. She is developing a solid national reputation as an outstanding scholar, with three articles in peer-reviewed journals, including Human Communication Research, Journal of Environmental Management and Health Communication; two invited book chapters; and two additional articles currently under review. She has presented more than 15 papers at national and international conferences. In addition to receiving numerous scholarships, fellowships and awards since coming to MSU, she was a recipient of the highly prestigious University Enrichment Fellowship.

For her excellent teaching, mentoring and research, Nikki McClaran is most deserving of a Michigan State University Excellence-in-Teaching Citation. 

Christopher Warneke

Christopher Warneke

Department of Plant Biology and
Program in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior 
College of Natural Science

Christopher Warneke is a guide for students, assisting their mastery of course material and development as critical thinkers and life-long learners. An extremely knowledgeable plant biologist and ecologist, he is deeply knowledgeable about the material he teaches and is committed to student learning. After participating in a seminar focused on science teaching, he has mindfully implemented such student-centered approaches as minute papers, think-pair-share and other group work in his classes, always integrating course material with a focus on student engagement and professional skill development, such as collaboration, scientific communication and idea synthesis.

Warneke’s teaching goes beyond the material by helping students to improve their own ability to acquire and to evaluate new information, resulting in students who not only master class material but also become lifelong learners. As one of his students noted, Warneke uses class time to focus on the process of learning and engaging with the material, which allows students to continue learning on their own after completing the course.

Additionally, Warneke is an excellent researcher and contributes significantly to the life of his department and program. His carefully conducted, well replicated, and systematic research explores plant recovery following human disturbances and demonstrates excellence in experimental design, field natural history, data analysis and scientific communication. He has given more than a dozen presentations on his research, including five at the Ecological Society of America Annual meeting, and two invited seminars. He has published a paper in Ecological Applications and has submitted a second manuscript for peer review, with two additional papers in preparation.

Active in serving his department, Warneke has been instrumental in instituting a peer-mentoring program to help with retention of plant biology students from underrepresented groups in the sciences. He also mentors undergraduates on their independent research projects, helping them to bridge the gap between the classroom and research.

For his significant impact as an excellent teacher and mentor and his impressive science research, Christopher Warneke is greatly deserving of a Michigan State University Excellence-in-Teaching Citation. 

Emily Wright

Emily M. Wright

Department of Kinesiology 
College of Education

Emily M. Wright is the kind of instructor we want all undergraduate students to experience and our graduate teaching assistants to model. Genuine, caring, supportive and always striving to enhance student learning, Wright’s effectiveness as a teacher stems from promoting a supportive student-centered learning environment, utilizing flexible teaching practices to support diverse learning styles and encouraging student engagement to allow for different expressive styles and personality. She creates a learning community by taking the time to get to know each student, assigning one-minute writing activities that have students identify what they understood most, using small groups to push students to think critically and employing experiential learning strategies focused on performance, process and outcomes. Wright has taught a variety of courses on health and wellness, growth and motor development, sport and exercise psychology, and research methods. 

Wright has mentored several undergraduate research assistants, guest lectured for other courses and programs within the department and served as a judge for the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum. She has given outreach and engagement presentations for the Michigan High School Athletic Association Women in Sport Leadership conference and for MSU summer sport camps. Her service and outreach include aiding as a learning assistant for student-athletes, serving as a graduate representative on departmental committees and helping MSU student athletes learn key mental skills. 

Furthermore, Wright is a productive scholar whose research focuses on understanding how the youth sport experience influences family functioning. Using family systems theory as a guide, she is using a mixed method design to study this issue. She has five peer-reviewed journal articles in publications such as Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, Journal of Sport Behavior and Journal of Youth Development, and four published book chapters. 

For her exemplary teaching, passion and commitment toward her students, and excellent research, Emily M. Wright is most deserving of a Michigan State University Excellence-in-Teaching Citation.

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By: Beth Brauer and Marguerite Halversen

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