April 13-19, 2001
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Award winners' ideas challenge their students

Five faculty members received the 2001 All-University Outstanding Teaching Awards at a banquet April 11. In addition, for the first time, two professors were
recognized for teaching University Seminars for first-year students. In this issue and next, Inside UVA looks at what makes them award-winning teachers. Last week, we featured the winners of the Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award and the Alumni Board of Trustees Teaching Award. See http://www.virginia.edu/insideuva/awards.html

Glenn Beamer

Glenn Beamer
Rebecca Arrington
Glenn Beamer

Two years ago, government professor Glenn Beamer stood beaming in Dee Jay’s Rib Palace in Weirton, West Virginia. “It was perhaps an odd place to have my proudest teaching moment,” he recalls, “but there it was — two of my students were talking with Weirton Steel’s vice president and a local politician about economic development in the Upper Ohio Valley.”

Beamer followed up on his students’ interest in urban politics by arranging the series of field trips to Weirton for a research project on the economy of a steel town. Their project won a David A. Harrison III Undergraduate Research Award and, since they graduated, other students have continued research based on Weirton.

An assistant professor in Government and Foreign Affairs since 1995, Beamer “inspires students to find out more about the world and about themselves and the interconnection between the two,” said Jeffrey W. Legro, acting department chair.

“He encompasses what Jefferson wanted — close-knit student-faculty relationships,” wrote students Katye Balls and Jason Huffman.

“He is one of those professors that you wish for as a teacher, but you also get as a friend,” they said. “He taught us that an A in a class is worthless if the class did not make you mad a few times and force you out of your comfort zone. But … he does not dictate to students what they should learn. He seeks out what is passionate to the individual student and makes them build upon their passions.”
In their course evaluations, students repeatedly noted his efforts to solicit varied opinions and to challenge their thinking, making classes “more like a dialogue than a lecture.” They listed one of his strengths as “his desire to make us aware of our ability to create change in society.”

Beamer doesn’t shy away from important social issues: he has taught a variety of courses, including Urban Politics, Gender Politics and Public Policy, and the Politics of Poverty and Income Inequality. He also designed an “alternative spring break” service-learning seminar on housing and homelessness, taking students to Yonkers, N.Y. And he just developed a new course for next fall on AIDS Politics and Epidemiology.

His colleague, government professor Larry Sabato, said about Beamer’s teaching: “This is the kind of creativity that enriches the University.”

—Anne Bromley

Claire Lyu
Matt Kelly
Claire Lyu

Claire Lyu

Claire Lyu’s search for simple elegance has taken her from particle physics to French poetry.

Lyu, an assistant professor of French considers the use of language a way to order, analyze and understand the world. When mathematics and theoretical physics could no longer explain what was important in her life — there were no equations for love — Lyu switched languages. She left a graduate program in biophysics at the University of California-Berkeley to pursue a doctorate in French at Johns Hopkins University.

“It was not a drastic jump,” Lyu said. “The goal of particle physics is to find the basic elements of the universe. It’s a language of utmost economy. And getting to the heart of an idea with an economy of elegance, that’s really what poetry does, too.”

Lyu, whose maternal grandmother was a poet in Korea, has brought scientific rigor to the study of French literature and, especially, poetry.

“Poetic experience, as an experience of foreignness, lies at the heart of my teaching,” Lyu said. “I want my students to experience a sense of displacement: to see another side … I try to make them cross their own boundaries, so that they may become more aware of — and therefore more critical toward — their own assumptions, preconceptions, and limits. My goal is not only to make them think but also to make them think about how they think.”

The result has been rave reviews of her teaching by students and colleagues.

In their evaluations of Lyu’s courses, students wrote:

• “My education at U.Va. has been forever touched by this professor, and I will cherish [Baudelaire’s] poetry till the day I die.”

• “It changed the way I think about literature and life.”

• “She constantly made me think and work to my potential and beyond.”

• “The classroom atmosphere was joyous!”

Mary McKinley, former U.Va. French Department chair, in recommending Lyu for the teaching award, wrote: “Claire never rests on her laurels. She often seeks advice from colleagues and has thereby fostered more frequent conversations about teaching among us.”

Added current department chair, Roland Simon: “Claire Lyu’s highly original scholarship enriches her intellectual contact with her students. We love her as much as her students do.”

Charlotte Crystal

Anthony Spearing

Anthony Spearing
Matt Kelly
Anthony Spearing

Return with us now to those golden days of yesteryear…

For English professor Anthony Spearing’s students, this means going to medieval times, exploring the works of Chaucer, Dante, Chretien de Troyes and Bernard of Clarivaux and making them come alive to modern readers.

“Medieval literature is not in most departments of English a crowd pleaser. Its popularity at the University is owing in significant part to Tony Spearing, whose seminars are instantly overenrolled and whose lecture courses attract large numbers,” said Patricia Meyer Spacks, Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English.

Spearing has taught an undergraduate course in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales involving close reading of several of the tales. He varies his teaching methods throughout the course, starting with lecture format to impart of lot of information, then shifting to readings, brief translation exercises, practices in pronouncing the language and group exercises.

Spearing is also noted for his graduate-level course, “Mapping the Middle Ages.” Designed as a required course for medieval specialists, it has become a popular course for students who have a period requirement to satisfy and has drawn students from several disciplines.

“As a basis for teaching, I know of no method that will substitute for knowledge, curiosity and enthusiasm, but I add to these a shameless exploitation of my own Englishness,” said Spearing, who spent 27 years as an Official Fellow at Queens’ College, Cambridge. “I often talk about the institutions with medieval roots that were part of my formation (monarchy, the English Church, Cambridge colleges) and in ‘Mapping the Middle Ages,’ I use photographs and slides of the parts of East Anglia where I live in England to illustrate the material basis and the living history of a strongly regional culture that reached its height in the late Middle Ages.”
Spearing, director of the Master’s program in English and Medieval Studies, has been part of the faculty since 1987. He has written several books and is on the editorial board for “The Chaucer Biographies.”

Spearing also gets high marks from his students.

“Chaucer and Mr. Spearing went hand-in-hand,” said Denis Ferhatovic.

—Matt Kelly

Robert Weikle II
Rebecca Arrington
Robert M. Weikle II

Robert M. Weikle II

Though commonly regarded by his students as one of the best teachers they’ve ever known, Robert M. Weikle II, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, sees himself more as a tour guide for students on a fascinating journey of discovery.

“Our explorations in both classroom and laboratory are a mutual effort where teacher and student challenge each other, teach each other and learn from each other,” he says. “Effective teachers are those who share their enthusiasm for a subject with students while remembering that they are also fellow students.”

Weikle teaches, and therefore studies, electromagnetic field theory and microwave engineering. He takes highly complex material and makes it accessible and interesting to his students through a combination of lectures, discussions, class notes and open office hours. His class notes are so well organized and filled with invaluable information, his students have referred to them as the “Microwaves Bible.” They have even suggested that he publish his notes as a textbook.

“His presentation of the material is so lucid and so well-structured that students can see exactly how concepts build from basic principles into a new and different approach for attacking problems and finally into real world applications,” said Todd Summers, a former Weikle student. “He truly rekindled my thrill for learning and his courses are the ones that I remember most fondly.”

Known as Bobby to his students, Weikle has open-door office hours, allowing students to drop in at almost any time to discuss the complexities of their studies. He is known as a highly demanding teacher, but personally dedicated to helping his students accomplish their best work. His own best w

rk has included two Young Faculty Teaching Awards from his department.
“Bobby consistently achieves an instructor rating that is one to two standard deviations above the mean in any level course that he teaches,” says James H. Aylor, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “He is, without question, the best and most consistently highly-rated instructor currently in our department. Bobby’s dedication and sincere interest in teaching has touched and affected not only numbers of students but research collaborators and other colleagues. His teaching skills and dedication should be a model for all of us.”

—Fariss Samarrai

Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson
Rebecca Arrington
Tim Wilson

The week word leaked out that psychology professor Tim Wilson had been nominated for a teaching award, several students a day stopped by chair Peter Brunjes’ office, offering to write recommendations.

"In Wilson’s classes, I came to view human behavior as a mystery to be solved," wrote former student Dawn Moeller. "His love of psychology was absolutely contagious."

"The courses he so magically orchestrates encourage students to become totally absorbed in learning and thinking," wrote Toni Wegner, former director of undergraduate studies in Psychology. "It just doesn’t get any better than that!"

For introductory courses, Wilson said he prepares detailed outlines for each lecture, illustrates each topic with video clips and demonstrations, and uses concrete examples to make course material relevant to students’ lives.

He also encourages discussion, proffering his students a rare gift, "absolute respect for their ideas," commented former student Dana Dunn. "He has a quiet way of encouraging students to speak and, when necessary, gently guiding them to consider other possible ideas or interpretations."

In smaller classes, Wilson assigns projects in which students attempt to apply what they have learned to improving their own self-knowledge, including analyzing their dreams and tracking their moods over several weeks, trying to identify how factors such as sleep, exercise and weather affect them.

"He encouraged us to explore our own actions and feelings in light of the principles we were learning; and he supported us in the process," wrote Moeller.
Several expressed appreciation regarding Wilson’s efforts on behalf of his department.
"A very moral and upright person [who] inspires trust," as director of graduate studies, Wilson "changed the position forever," coming up with guidelines that all TAs, graders and faculty could abide, Brunjes wrote.

Wilson is also a first-rate scholar, having enjoyed continuous support of his social psychology research program from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health for more than 20 years.

The author of Social Psychology, a popular textbook currently in its third edition, and the forthcoming Strangers to Ourselves: Self-Insight and the Adaptive Unconscious, he has also published over 50 articles.

—Nancy Hurrelbrinck


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