President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching goes to 11

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Eleven in the university community will be honored with the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching during the annual Faculty Awards Convocation at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 10 at the UAB Alumni House.

Other faculty to be honored during the ceremonies are Larry DeLucas, O.D., Ph.D., professor of optometry and director of UAB’s Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering, with the 2013 Odessa Woolfolk Community Service Award, and Alan Eberhardt, Ph.D., biomedical engineering professor, with the 2012 Ellen Gregg Ingalls/UAB National Alumni Society Award for Lifetime Achievement in Teaching.

The 2013 honorees for the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching represent each school, the College of Arts & Sciences and the Joint Health Sciences departments.


kim_emfinger_webKay Emfinger, Education

Emfinger, associate professor of education, is recognized by her students and colleagues as the effective educator of effective educators. She imparts her extensive knowledge of the teaching profession not just through lecture but also through modeling best practices, innovative teaching methods, and engagement with her students. Having created community programs to benefit underprivileged youth, Emfinger also uses the programs as “unique, innovative, and transformational” real-world experiences for her students, as one colleague puts it. Former students recall personal connections, one-on-one interaction, and “the smell of hot soup in a crockpot coming from Emfinger’s classroom” on a cold night at the end of a long workday. Students laud her for “ethical and professional values like fairness and open-mindedness” and her “celebration of diversity, acceptance, creativity, and divergent ways of thinking.” Says one former student, “Anyone can be a leader in her classroom.”


chad_epps_2Chad Epps, Health Professions

Epps, associate professor and director of simulation, is “committed to promoting teaching excellence with the use of innovative teaching techniques” and technologies, a colleague says. He uses everything from face-to-face interaction to blended classes to Twitter in the classroom to engage with his students and effectively communicate hard-to-teach material. Epps also is renowned for his use of clinical simulations — not just for the benefit of his students, but also to share techniques with instructors at UAB and around the country.

“The instructors who have learned from him have made significant improvements in their teaching techniques,” says one colleague. “Not only are the instructors benefitting, but students all over the country really appreciate it — and it shows in their ability to learn difficult concepts in difficult courses.”


catherine_fuller_webCatherine Fuller, Joint Health Sciences

Fuller, associate professor of cell, developmental and integrative biology, has been described by one colleague as “a gifted educator with an outstanding commitment to medical education.” Her passion for teaching benefits her students, who learn from her lectures, small groups, and one-on-one attention; as well as other faculty members, who learn effective teaching and testing methods through instruction and example. Another colleague reports that “while she may be considered one of the most demanding of module directors, she is very well-respected and appreciated by students and faculty alike.” Fuller makes herself available to students and faculty for questions, concerns, and guidance, and the challenges she places on her students are “not to be difficult,” the colleague says, “but to push them to work hard and exceed their own expectations.”


timothy_gawne_webTimothy Gawne, Optometry

Gawne, associate professor of vision sciences, “makes class fun, and he clearly enjoys it,” says one former student. “I don’t say this lightly, but Dr. Gawne is the best speaker/teacher I’ve ever had.” Colleagues praise him for his thorough knowledge of his field and for his ability to communicate it as comprehensible concepts. “We instructors know how difficult it can be to back off the complexity of a subject to impart the big picture on our students,” says one colleague. “He gauges the level of student understanding and rewords difficult concepts as necessary.” Gawne’s effectiveness is reflected in his student evaluations — universally, students appreciate his enthusiastic and creative teaching style, fair grading and dry sense of humor. As numerous students said in their evaluations, he is a “brilliant teacher.”


daniel_givan_webDaniel Givan, Dentistry

Givan, associate professor of prosthodontics and biomaterials, has done it all, according to colleagues, serving as an instructor and an example for students, residents and faculty members alike. Givan has developed courses and curricula in new and exciting areas of dentistry, mentored master’s students, presented numerous continuing medical education courses for practicing dentists and supported students in research and enrichment long after the workday is over. “He has excelled in the classroom, in the supervising of patient care, and in the nurturing of students in areas of research and the dissemination of knowledge,” says a colleague. “It is obvious why so many students attribute their knowledge and enthusiasm to Dr. Givan.”


kevin_leon_webKevin Leon, Medicine

Leon, professor of pulmonary, allergy and critical care medicine, has been recognized on a national level for excellence in pulmonology. He has received awards for clinical excellence by his peers on three separate occasions. His students, however, find him even more exceptional, having given him awards as best basic science instructor and best clinical instructor. “How does one person have the combination of skills to produce that recognition?” says one colleague. “That is truly remarkable”—as are the 13 Argus Awards for which he has been nominated by students. Those students call him “a wonderful mentor and leader,” credit him with creating a comfortable learning environment, and recall him knowing every student by name and hometown on the first day of class. “As students, we are surrounded by role models, and we have to choose those people whom we wish to emulate as clinicians,” says one student. For his clinical skills and bedside manner, “Dr. Leon is certainly one such physician.”


emily_levitan_webEmily Levitan, Public Health

Levitan, assistant professor of epidemiology, has “set the bar very high” early in her career as a mentor of students and a model of best teaching practices, says her department chair. She has established herself across campus as an expert in her field, accepting leadership roles and taking the initiative in developing courses and curricula. Throughout, she has remained available to all students via email or open door. “Dr. Levitan has a real fervor for research and learning. I aspire to her level of knowledge in the field and her ability to impart that knowledge,” one student says. “She has no doubt left an indelible mark on me as a student,” says another. “I’m comfortable saying that Dr. Levitan is one of the greatest teachers and mentors known to me.”


Cynthia_Ryan_webCynthia Ryan, Arts & Sciences

Ryan, associate professor of English, “stands out among her colleagues for her devotion to students, to the department and to the community,” says her department chair. Students describe her as “inspiring” for her energy, her professionalism and the breadth and depth of her knowledge. Colleagues praise her for “getting engaged” and keeping students engaged as well, bridging the gap between the academic world and the “real world,” says one fellow professor, with activities that bring her students together with issues in the community and around the world. The Study Abroad trips she’s led to Nepal, Zambia and India are “clear testament to her eagerness to show students peoples and cultures that are new to them,” says the professor, calling Ryan both “an incredibly innovative teacher” and “a powerful model of commitment and integrity.”


uday_vaidya_webUday Vaidya, Engineering

Vaidya, professor of materials science and engineering, “sets a teaching standard that serves as an aspiration for others in the school,” says the dean of the school. “Saying he has a ‘thorough knowledge of the subject’ and that he is ‘remaining abreast of current theory and technology’ would be an understatement,” adds a colleague, noting that the real-world challenges Vaidya brings into the classroom universally serve to prepare, motivate, and inspire his students. “As a future engineer, Dr. Vaidya’s teachings will be the most valuable learning experience I’ll take with me,” says one former student, who describes him as a “master of materials” and a “superior picture of professor performance.” Another student describes him as “brilliant and extremely knowledgeable in every area — the best materials engineering professor in the entire department.”


penni_watts_webPenni Watts, Nursing

Watts, as director of the Learning Resource Center Simulation Laboratories, “has contributed to the enhancement of teaching and learning in the schools of Nursing and Health Professions,” says a colleague. Watts’ leadership has furthered the use of simulation as a teaching method for faculty on campus and as far away as Zambia and Malawi. Students and colleagues praise her for her “infectious enthusiasm, goodwill and collaborative approach,” whether helping an undergraduate student master a basic skill, a graduate student complete a project, a faculty member develop an experiential learning technique or a researcher complete a study. Says one colleague and “fellow simulation aficionado”: “Her teaching style and leadership have led to the development of an environment in the Simulation Laboratories that is student-centered, supportive and fun.”


james_worell_webJames Worrell, Business

Worrell, assistant professor of accounting and finance, shares his expertise with students and faculty alike with an open door and the insights born of real-world experience, say colleagues. By bringing into the classroom skills, methods and projects faced by practicing accounting professionals, he keeps students motivated and inspired — “Finally, at age 37, I know what I want to do when I grow up!” one student says — and his active participation in professional organizations helps him better anticipate the needs of the industry and of his students, “making UAB graduates more marketable and qualified,” says a former student. Students praise Worrell’s fairness, openness, professional yet personable demeanor and approachability. Says another student, “His teaching style, knowledge of the material, caring for students is the best I’ve seen or been around.”