Congratulations to all the 2021 College of Arts and Sciences teaching and research awards winners! These teaching recognitions honor faculty whose distinguished performance in classroom teaching is exemplified by their ability to educate and motivate students to develop the full range of their intellectual talents, while the research and creative activity awards recognize graduate faculty for preeminent achievement in research or creative activities that demonstrate originality and distinction.
Learn more about the award recipients:
- Paul Davis—Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award
- Samantha Ammons—Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award
- Robert Darcy—Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award
- Katie Shirazi—Excellence in Teaching Award (Full-time)
- Elisha Novak—Excellence in Teaching Award (Part-time)
- Ryan Wong—Research and Creative Activity Award
- Ramazan Kılınç—Research and Creative Activity Award
Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award
In his teaching philosophy, Dr. Paul Davis writes, “My courses are aimed to be mind-expanding, challenge assumptions, induce critical thinking, and yet be arming students for a successful future in a world that values productivity, outcomes, and competition.” Students write that Davis’ teaching is “infectious and inspiring” and “opens possibilities and instills purpose,” inspiring confidence in them that they carry with them as the proceed with their education and careers. He takes genuine interest in students and the academic development and prepares his courses with thought-provoking material, integrative group work, and challenging exams that require high levels of critical thinking but also help students experience and internalize very difficult material.
As a mentor, Davis not only provides valuable advice on how students can succeed, he gets to know individual students’ abilities, strengths and characteristics. Harim Won writes that his mentorship “goes far beyond just developing students’ skills in the laboratory,” as they were encouraged to publicly present their work and prepared to submit competitive applications to scholarship competitions and leading professional programs in the country. Students who have worked in his lab have earned an amazing number of university and national awards including: 6 students selected as the outstanding major in biology, biotechnology, chemistry; 5 lab members placed at Harvard as the next place of training; 4 Nebraska Academy of Science awardees; 3 Goldwater scholars; 2 commencement speakers; 1 Fulbright recipient; and multiple student award recipients at UNO’s Research and Creative activity Fair.
Dr. Claudia Garcia best sums up Davis’ abilities as a teacher: “Not only is Dr. Davis one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever met, but also his commitment to students springs from a deep calling to serve others. Dr. Davis’ dedication to teaching goes beyond his role as a professor and is integrated into the ethical worldview that permeates his words, attitudes, and actions inside and outside of the classroom.”
Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award
Dr. Samantha Ammons compares her teaching of sociology to “teaching painting,” whereby she provides students with the materials, different lenses or gazes a student can adopt, the challenges and advantages of each lens, and a demonstration of proper technique. The end result, she writes, is that everyone learns together, yet what emerges at the end of the semester is different for every student and she admits that she has changed as well. Nothing is as it was.
Ammons’ department chair, Dr. Daniel Hawkins, wrote that her teaching is characterized by seemingly oppositional values: intentional and passionate. She is intentional in how she “designs her classes to optimize opportunities for her students to become passionate about the material,” which is the source of her inspiration to students. Student letters support this observation. Students write how Ammons teaches them what they need to understand the problem. She challenges students to make connections between course content and everyday life, and that, in the end, how important it is that students learn more than just answers to questions by engaging with the questions to develop their own ideas. Ammons’ students observe that in her classes learning is enjoyable because she has a contagious enthusiasm that inspires excitement.
Ammons cares about her students, recognizes their needs, and helps them achieve their goals. Sometimes we don’t acknowledge enough the teachers who quietly and reliably teach their students exactly what they need to know; who deal with student issues compassionately and effectively without drama; and who empower their students to discover and get to where they need to be in school and in life. Ammons is precisely this kind of teacher.
Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award
Dr. Bob Darcy is an outstanding teacher. He has written two teaching philosophies—one practical, one ethereal—in which his goal to help students both learn and discover. Teaching literature, he writes, “is not about relating data or information per se, but about getting students acquainted with their own ability to ferret out a thought from the briar patches of their own minds,” with his ultimate goal to use literature to prepare students “for all the terrible complexities life will have in store for them.”
He treats students with respect and his student testimonials reflect Darcy’s “passion and professionalism...respect for students...his passion for Shakespeare.” One student wrote that after receiving a C- on her first paper, Darcy worked with her to recognize and address the serious problems with her paper that she admits needed correcting. She explains this experience not only made her a better writer; it helped her understand the importance of visiting a professor’s office, noting that “had he not been the understanding, compassionate, interested, dedicated and kind professor he is” she probably would have withdrawn from the class in a move that would have changed her life (she ended up an English major). Students write that they consider it a privilege to take his class and observe that his classes are among the most memorable.
Perhaps one of Darcy’s colleagues explains the key to his success with students: Bob does an excellent job of responding to, validating, and evaluating students’ observations and orchestrating them (even if he’s not in complete agreement) into an overarching understanding of the text’s richness and complexity. Darcy has a remarkable ability to encourage, respect, and validate students, reflecting an exceptional level student-focused teaching.
Excellence in Teaching Award (Full-time)
Dr. Katie Shirazi joined the Biology Department as a full-time instructor in 2016 shortly after receiving her PhD in Medical Microbiology and Immunology from Creighton University. In her role, Shirazi teaches courses that support UNO's pre-health students, namely Biology I, Human Physiology and Anatomy I and II, and the Biology Department's 2000 level Microbiology class. Chair of UNO's Biology Department, Dr. LaReesa Wolfenbarger, says that Shirazi's teaching and mentoring impacts well over 500 students a year. Even before the current pandemic, Wolfenbarger called Shirazi's teaching "innovative in her use of dynamic, active exercises, including online polls, short skits, [and] supporting video content."
Of her own teaching philosophy, Shirazi states, "I do my best to stay up to date on the most cutting-edge technologies so that I may discuss them in my courses, and when appropriate I have my students utilize web-based and computer-based applications." Furthermore, she says, "I help my students understand the relationship between their coursework and society by including case studies with real life scenarios in my lectures. I also do my best to impress upon them that what they learn in my courses applies to many aspects of their lives such as their health and their impact on society and the environment."
Students agree. Former student Cristina Franco says, "Professor Shirazi wants absolutely nothing but to see her students succeed and will do anything to her fullest ability to achieve that."
This award is just the latest in a series of accolades Shirazi has accumulated here at UNO, including curricular grants and the 2019 Award in appreciation of leadership and collaboration for the UNO and UNMC Building Excellence in Academics through STEM (uBEATS) program.
Excellence in Teaching Award (Part-time)
Elisha Novak teaches both SOC 2800 Major Social Issues and sections of SOC 3300 Sociology of Gender and has since 2015. Novak is a long-time UNO Maverick, having first received her BA in Foreign Languages with a Spanish major and minors in Latino and Latin American Studies and Women’s Studies (now Women’s and Gender Studies). She received her MA in Sociology from UNO in 2012 and has taught at the community college, state college, and regional university levels.
Novak states in her teaching philosophy that “I like to think of myself as an applied sociologist and strive to help my students apply sociology.” After receiving her BA degree, Novak worked for several area non-profits including Justice for Our Neighbors and the Juan Diego Center as well as holding a position as Special Assistant to the Mayor, working with South Omaha Urban Affairs and Community Engagement. She brings these experiences as an applied sociologist into the classroom, and it has a profound effect on students.
One quality great college instructors share is the ability to develop a following, and Novak is no exception to this. One of her student nominators states that she enjoyed Novak’s course on gender, immigration, and employment so much that she sought out Novak the following year to take another course with her. Another student nominator was moved by Novak's energy to pursue a minor in Sociology. Department chair Dr. Daniel Hawkins confirms this by stating in his letter, "I am inevitably contacted by at least one or two students at the end of each semester who are considering majoring or minoring in Sociology because of their experience in her class."
Hawkins continues by saying Novak is a “wonderful departmental citizen,” contributing to the department’s assessment efforts and pedagogical improvements—all above and beyond the service expectations for a part-time instructor. Her teaching is also informed by her ongoing active research interests in immigration, human trafficking, and gender and social inequality.
Most importantly, Novak’s passion for her subject matter is matched by her empathy for students. When one student faced a required work-related trip in the middle of a semester, “she was not only willing to help me make sure I could complete my assignments, but she was also genuinely excited for my opportunity to go on such a trip.” Another student faced with personal issues says, “Ms. Novak made sure I was doing well, not only in the course, but in my personal life as well.” And finally, one student nominator says, “[a]ddled with anxiety during 2020’s tumult, Professor Novak responded to my concerned emails with great rapidity, care, and empathy.”
Research and Creative Activity Award
Dr. Ryan Wong conducts research at the frontier of biology and neuroscience and focuses on what remains elusive to researchers: how the genetic make-up of individuals interacts and causes the variation in individual traits. Wong studies stress and stress coping mechanisms in animals, with two broad themes: 1) identify the neural and molecular mechanisms underlying stress coping styles, and 2) identify the effects of stress coping and stimuli valence on cognitive biases [e.g. learning and memory] and associated neural and molecular mechanisms. The Zebra fish is his research organism.
To this end, his research lab has allowed him to collect behavioral data for research leading to multiple scientific peer-reviewed publications per year. He has multiple grant awards from the most competitive grant agencies, NIH and NSF (including a prestigious NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award) totaling over $1.5 million. Such funding indicates the valuable contributions his research has for society. Wong’s research is internationally recognized and scholars from around the country write how they look forward to seeing the results Wong’s future research.
Dr. LaReesa Wolfenbarger writes: “Dr. Wong is an outstanding researcher who has a distinguished record of excellence. The quality of his work is exceptional and the value of his research significantly increases our fundamental knowledge of the challenging connections and interactions between genetics and observable traits in organisms. The results of his research translate to biomedical applications that will enhance human health and wellbeing.”
Research and Creativity Activity Award
Dr. Ramazan Kılınç, writes that the research questions he engages in are at the intersection of comparative politics and international relations, focusing on the role of religion in politics. Since receiving his Ph.D. in 2008, he has written or co-written two peer-reviewed books published by Cambridge University Press, over 10 peer-reviewed articles (two of which earned awards at outstanding papers at the American Political Science Association), and composed over a dozen review essays and book reviews, among other aspects of scholarship and public engagement.
He is also editor of Siyasa, an on-line form for opinion and background pieces on Middle East politics. In addition, he has received over $450,000 in collaborative research grants and $18,000 in individual research grants. He has reviewed more than 100 article manuscripts and 10 book manuscripts and chaired more than 20 sessions at professional conferences.
His colleague from the University of Washington writes that Kılınç is a leading scholar of religion and politics, in particular on issues related to a state’s relations with minority and religious communities. Clearly Kılınç has accumulated an outstanding record of scholarship that is richly deserving of this award.