They can stimulate the mind, awaken the researcher hidden inside, or, sometimes, just take extra time to make sure a student is connecting with the subject. They are terrific teachers, a sometimes underappreciated segment of the population.
Recognizing this, the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association since 1992, has sponsored the Excellence in Teaching Awards so that each academic division of the university might publicly recognize the critical importance of teaching.
Each year the Alumni Council provides funds to each school--this year the amount was $2,000--which can be given to one winner, shared by up to four or attached to another, divisional teaching award. The nomination and selection process differs by school, but students must be involved in the selection process.
Rashid Chotani, chair of the Alumni Council's teaching awards committee and a research fellow in microbiology epidemiology at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, says the award recipients are not necessarily those who win the popular vote but are teachers who demonstrate the noblest qualities of an educator:
"That is, first, to train the minds of students, not only to learn but to be able to apply what is being taught," he says, "and, second, to prepare the students to teach others to think, to question and to learn."
Arts and Sciences
When Victor Corces joined the Biology Department faculty 16 years ago, he taught classes with little or no preparation and considered his obligations to teaching a distraction from research. Students, he says, despised him in the classroom.
This year, he won an Excellence in Teaching Award.
The remarkable transformation of Victor Corces happened, he says, simply because he learned to care.
As the current chairman of the Biology Department, Corces speaks readily about his early failure in the classroom. It serves as an object lesson for others and as a reminder to himself to maintain the right priorities as a professor.
"When I came here, I had a lot of pressure to do research. Right before I arrived, five people in the department did not get tenure because they didn't publish enough or they weren't publishing enough high-quality work. So the very first time I taught, it was a disaster.
"That year the students published a review of courses called Oraculum. They chose examples of the worst classes on campus, and that was where they talked about me. I was shocked, even though it was completely deserved. That made a huge difference to me. And since then I have tried harder and harder to be a good teacher."
The key to success as a teacher, he has discovered, is simple. In a word, "care."
"Even if you aren't very good at explaining things in the classroom, you can be a good teacher," Corces observes. "If you care about your students, that will be expressed in many ways outside the classroom--by how you prepare to teach, by being available to see your students outside of class, by encouraging them, by talking directly with them to see if they understand what you are teaching and if they need help. You have to make the conscious decision that you will be available to them."
Although he denies that his teaching style is unique or exceptional, one thing Corces does that students say is unusual is that he never relies on lecture notes. He speaks extemporaneously and encourages an exchange with students.
"If you forgo the notes, you're forced to think always about what you're going to say next. And then you check to see if everyone understands. And if they don't, you go back and explain again. It's like going to your mother to tell her about your research: You have to be organized, and as you go along, you have to respond to questions."
Adam Falk is the pitchman of modern physics, building his case day to day that physics makes a proper profession and an excellent foundation for everyone from Wall Street analysts to patent lawyers.
"The motives are different from 30 years ago, when it was a badge of honor for students to study a subject based on its own merits," observes Falk, an associate professor. "Today you have to convince them that it's OK to major in physics. Students are very focused on the questions, Why should I study this? If I'm going to invest in this kind of education, what kind of return will I see?'
"They take whatever they're doing very seriously ... which is part of their charm. But I tell them they are worried in a short-term way. When they come into my office concerned about whether they'll get a job as a physics student, I say, OK, if you want to take courses in computer programming, that's fine as long as it excites you. But don't take them only because it will lead to employment.
"Because if you want a job as soon as you walk off with your diploma, that specific training as a computer programmer will make the process a little easier. But it's a transient effect. If you really want to be a success, you need to learn how to fearlessly attack new concepts and general principles; you need to know how to think abstractly and precisely and generally. And if you come here and train in physics, you will learn those lessons extremely well."
Although he has just won an Excellence in Teaching Award, Falk claims to be "an old fuddy-duddy" about what goes on in a classroom. He's not so interested in innovation or technological advances as in simple, daily, personal contact.
"I'm not particularly innovative," he says. "I lecture. I answer questions. I listen hard to what my students say and to what they are learning and not learning. Sometimes I do it well and, sometimes, not so well. But in the end, a computer will never replace that process. You need a person to guide you. Eventually you will learn to guide yourself, but at least initially, it's about an interaction between a student and a teacher. And in the end, teaching is about human interaction."
When undergraduates in the Physics and Astronomy Department gathered a few years ago to criticize the kind of education they were receiving in the classroom, Falk and a few colleagues responded by restructuring the curriculum to make it more flexible for students' needs. He serves as an adviser to the Society of Physics Students. He is part of a national conference of young chemistry and physics professors charged with improving college curriculum for their respective disciplines.
And in his five years on the Hopkins faculty, he has seen the students' level of satisfaction with the program get significantly higher.
Despite the gains and accolades, Falk acknowledges a love for teaching that is far more personal than professional.
"Every year I have a few students who suddenly realize they
can really learn at a level beyond what they imagined possible
and it's exciting--and it's something they will own long after
they've taken the class. It's an awakening. And that's what makes
me feel the best."
If anyone could be described as a walking encyclopedia of his subject, it is Frank R. Shivers Jr., winner of the Excellence in Teaching Award in the Undergraduate Division. He created the enormously popular lecture series on local history and architecture, "Baltimore Walks and Talks"; has taught English literature, he notes wryly, "from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf"; and now is marking his 50th year as a teacher. He has spent the last 15 years in the Undergraduate Division and in the Odyssey Program of the School of Continuing Studies, offering a remarkably eclectic mix of courses on writing, literature, architecture and the history of Baltimore and the region.
Head of the English Department at Baltimore's Friends School for a quarter century, he began teaching "on and off" at Hopkins in 1951, when all the undergraduates were males "in ties and jackets." When he directed the writing program at the School of Nursing in the 1960s, it was not uncommon for his female students to attend class wearing hats and dresses.
"It was a much more stratified and formal classroom atmosphere then," Shivers says. "Now I'm doing continuing studies for adults, and that's pure fun.
"I have very good vibes from the present students," adds Shivers, whose books have included Maryland Wits and Baltimore Bards, Walking In Baltimore: An Intimate Guide to the Old City and Chesapeake Waters. "My first students--well, their parents were paying for them. The students I have now are people who are really serious about learning. They're paying to be educated."
One student, a retired federal government employee who graduates this month after nine years of part-time study, praises Shivers as a "very good writer" whose courses on essay composition and famous Maryland authors "stood me well" over the years. "The courses I've had under him were among the most enjoyable I ever had--and that helps in the learning process; you'll learn more if you're having fun. When--or if--Frank Shivers retires, they ought to try to clone him."
When Robert Kargon joined the Hopkins faculty as an assistant professor in 1965, he immediately began to teach seminars in the Master of Liberal Arts program. He still is doing so 34 years later--longer than any other member of the faculty in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, where he now is the Willis K. Shepard Professor of the History of Science.
"Although he has continuously taught in the MLA longer than any other professor, Bob Kargon never rests on his record," says Nancy R. Norris, director of the MLA program. "He has taught more than 10 different courses, from The Scientific Revolution to The Artificial Human in Science, Myth and Literature. And he constantly is designing new courses."
Students consistently praise the exciting, interactive, interdisciplinary nature of Kargon's courses, as well as the broad, in-depth knowledge of literature and film that he brings to his courses in the history of science. One student wrote in an evaluation: "All teachers should be as energetic and stimulating as Dr. Kargon."
"He is an exemplary colleague, always meeting deadlines, supporting the program and serving as the faculty adviser for countless MLA graduate projects," says Norris. "It is especially appropriate that his invaluable contribution to the students, curriculum and vision of the Master of Liberal Arts program should be honored with this award," Norris adds, "given the fact that the MLA is transferring to the Krieger School this fall, and Bob Kargon is the A&S faculty member who has been with us the longest."
As for Kargon's philosophy of teaching, he believes academic researchers have an obligation to reach out to larger audiences in many ways.
"My involvement in lifelong learning enterprises like the MLA reflects this belief. My long time in service, I do admit, reflects more on the enjoyment I get out of interacting with this particular group than any philosophical commitment," Kargon says. "Personally, I am very gratified to have received this award, which reflects well on the mutual relationship I have with the students in the program. It fortifies my belief that I've done the right thing in sticking with it."
In the Counseling and Human Services Department of the Graduate Division of Education, Rowland Savage's contributions routinely extend beyond teaching. He regularly attends students' oral examinations, and if a student fails to complete this requirement satisfactorily, Savage frequently volunteers to be the faculty member providing the supervisory support the student needs to do additional work to qualify for graduation. He also often assists school counseling students in their job searches and helps mentor recent graduates after they are employed.
"He's somebody you can always count on," says Susan Keys, chair of the Department of Counseling and Human Services. "The students and his professional colleagues hold him in very high regard."
Savage, coordinator of the Office of Guidance and Counseling in the Baltimore County public schools, has been instrumental in establishing a partnership between the county schools and the Department of Counseling and Human Services. As a result of his efforts, school counselors in Baltimore County participate in an 18-credit post-master's certificate program specifically designed to enhance their skills for working with at-risk youth.
"I've always believed that you go to your students and draw the learning out of them--and I feel that this award recognizes that," Savage says. "This is really an honor, and I'm quite excited about it."
"My students' life experiences have made a significant contribution to my courses. They have brought to me the people they carry in their hearts--[those] who they want to help and counsel. And we've discussed how they can serve them better."
C. Gail Coffin, also brings to Hopkins the benefits of her outside experience.
"I teach teachers how to teach--that's my daytime job," explains Coffin, staff development facilitator for the Howard County Public Schools--and for five years an acclaimed instructor in the SCS Graduate Division of Business and Management.
"What's so important for me is the 'crossover' here--to take what I know about teaching and use it in the Business Division. That's a big thing for me. It means you can be an educator and use your skills in a number of ways. I love working with the business students. They're fun. They'll go out immediately and apply what they learn. It's very meaningful for me to teach something and see it be used so readily and be such a meaningful experience for the students."
The Graduate Division of Business and Management is hoping that some of Coffin's classroom magic is transferable. She has been asked to mentor other SCS adjunct faculty through the division's faculty development program. The consistently enthusiastic course evaluations that students have given to Coffin explain why:
"Dr. Coffin is organized, knowledgeable, capable and talented. It is so obvious that she puts extensive thought and planning into everything she teaches," one student wrote. "She appreciates diversity [and] is a strong catalyst in promoting teamwork and facilitating change. She's the best instructor I have ever had."
Coffin teaches such courses as Individuals and Change, Group Development and Change, Group Facilitation, Communication Theory and Practice and Teams and Team-Building.
"This is all very pertinent to business students," she says.
"They're all on teams--and they're all experiencing change."
This year's selection committee at Peabody received a surprise: stellar nominations for Paul Johnson, this year's winner, from students he doesn't even teach. One student, a flute player, wrote that he was impressed that Johnson, a double bass teacher, would come over just to ask how he was getting along and see if he needed any help.
Although Johnson received his bachelor's degree from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, he is himself the product of some excellent Peabody teaching. He received his master's in music at Peabody, where he was the student of such legendary figures as Eugene Levinson, principal bass with the New York Philharmonic, and Harold Robinson, principal bass with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to his duties at Peabody, Johnson also teaches at Towson University, is principal bass with the Baltimore Opera Orchestra and Concert Artists of Baltimore, serves as a substitute on call for the National Symphony Orchestra and works at Wolf Trap in the summer months.
Back in 1987, when he was in his second year on the Peabody
faculty, Johnson accompanied the Peabody Symphony Orchestra to
Moscow to play in Tchaikovsky Hall and the Hall of Columns. In
dark November weather and under the stress of a hectic schedule,
he was always a source of good humor, encouragement and support
to the orchestra members--a role he continues to fulfill as a
One nursing student described Kathleen Becker as an excellent instructor saying, "I took so much of her lectures with me to clinical each week. She encourages responsibility in the student, while also being open and receptive." Another student said Becker has a "keen understanding of disease processes and treatments and communicates this knowledge succinctly to her students."
Becker, an assistant professor, received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Maryland School of Nursing. She began teaching at Hopkins' School of Nursing in 1984, and her primary area of expertise is managing health care for homeless populations. Becker is also a nurse practitioner at Healthcare for the Homeless as part of the school's faculty practice. In 1986, she was part of the consultation team that worked to create Healthcare for the Homeless.
"I use clinical case studies to teach," says Becker. "My goal is to have students leave my course with a logical, systematic and scientific way of thinking through a patient's problem. I want my students to understand how important it is to listen carefully to each patient and to treat all patients humanely. It's also important for teachers to remember that our students today will be our colleagues tomorrow."
One of Rosemarie Brager's students referred to her as the "most exemplary and influential" instructor she has encountered at Hopkins. The student also said that Brager "embodies the components of nursing that I most highly value: intellect, knowledge, professionalism, patient advocacy and caring."
Brager, an instructor, has been at the School of Nursing since 1987. She received a bachelor's degree in nursing from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and a master's degree in nursing from the University of Maryland. She is currently completing a doctoral degree at Hopkins' School of Public Health. Her areas of expertise include adult acute care and chronic diseases in older women. Brager helped initiate and currently oversees the School of Nursing's Critical Care Enrichment Program.
Brager says she has always been drawn to critical care
nursing. "From early in my career, I knew I wanted to work with
the sickest of the sick," she says. "I soon found that I liked
teaching what I knew. In the classroom, I make my expectations
clear to students; I stress critical thinking skills, and I hold
[the students] accountable. If I can influence my students to the
point where they go out and make a difference in someone's life,
then I have done my job."
The School of Public Health gave three awards--known as Golden Apples--to Mark Farfel, for teaching a class of less than 30 students, and to Donald Burke and Ron Brookmeyer, for more than 30.
Ron Brookmeyer has spent 18 years at the School of Public Health teaching biostatistics. After that much time, most professors can go through the motions on auto-pilot. But Brookmeyer decided that he needed a challenge--a different way to teach biostatistics--so he decided to change the structure of his class by emphasizing how statistics work in everyday life. "It's easy to hide behind formulas, just throw them up on the board," he says. "Actually explaining the formulas is a different story, and that enabled me to learn as I taught."
Brookmeyer looks at his second Golden Apple Award as a great honor, and he is proud that this class, with its nontraditional approach, was recognized. But he is constantly revising the course to improve it year after year. "The students who take this class are not biostatistics majors, so I have one shot at getting them to understand and, in some cases, really enjoy what is typically a tough area of study."
Donald Burke first walked into a classroom and began his teaching career at the School of Public Health less than two years ago, and already he has a Golden Apple Award under his belt. Perhaps it is his unique approach to teaching his course on vaccine policy Issues that has earned him that recognition. "My goal is to transform students into sophisticated activists for public health," Burke says.
Burke is passionate about his work with the AIDS vaccine, the quest for which he's been a world leader for many years. He brings that cause to the classroom, where he teaches his students--many of whom are from developing countries--the complicated process of how to provide lifesaving vaccines to under-served populations around the world. He does this through the use of role-playing exercises in which each student represents an important player in the vaccine development and distribution pathway, a tortuous process that often takes 10 to 20 years. Students take the roles of scientists, investors, industry executives, politicians and U.N. officials, as well as of the poor in developing countries. "They learn how difficult it can be to productively harmonize the legitimate interests of so many different groups and institutions. The role-playing exercise illustrates these complexities first-hand."
But Burke emphasizes that in the real world vaccine development is no game. "The only way we are going to stop the AIDS epidemic on a global level is with a vaccine, and I want my students to be leaders in that effort."
To Mark Farfel, teaching is also more than just sitting in class and reading from a text book. It's about reaching beyond the boundaries of the School of Public Health into the surrounding neighborhoods, where other important lessons are learned. "The course I teach is unique because it attempts to prepare students for community outreach for public health practice and research. It's an active, hands-on approach," says Farfel. He has used this method for 10 years and says that more than 200 students have been placed through the class into the community to meet the needs identified by community organizations. "It has enabled the students to understand firsthand the community and the nature of the public health problems."
Farfel says he hopes that his first Golden Apple Award
highlights a cause he sees as crucial. "This course is the first
step to building relationships between the community and public
health students. Once these bonds are made, long-term
relationships are developed and maintained for service and
enhanced public health training," Farfel says.
On the first day of his biophysics class, L. Mario Amzel tells his students that the course is the most principle-based one they will take at the School of Medicine. The reaction to his statement is typically not one of smiles and applause, says Amzel, adding that the subject he teaches isn't apt to win any popularity contests.
The challenge, Amzel says, is to make certain his students understand just why it's important that they know this material.
"In the last few years, the perception has been that by the time students graduate, many genome projects are going to be completed, and the frontier of biological science will be sent into two opposite directions--one will be the discovery of new phenomenology; and the other, the understanding of the processes that we do know on a more physical and chemical level. This course opens the door to what we can understand at the physical level," says Amzel. "But I tell them that they shouldn't just learn this material; there are principles and concepts here to be understood."
To help them understand, Amzel fills his lectures with problem solving and continually challenges his students.
"The two exams in this course are both open book. Reading the material is not the issue; it's being able to use the material in a challenging situation," says Amzel.
Amzel, who also teaches courses in biochemistry, bioorganic
chemistry and molecular modeling, has been teaching at Hopkins
for more than 20 years. A native of Argentina, he received his
doctorate from the University of Buenos Aires and specialized in
teaching during high school. In 1994, Amzel won the teaching
award chosen by the graduate students of the School of
In recent years, S. Rao Kosaraju has seen his undergraduate computational models classes more than double in size. Mainly, this has occurred because of the booming interest in using computers in many engineering and non-engineering fields.
But Kosaraju's popularity as a teacher probably helps, too. In 1992, he won a William H. Huggins Excellence in Teaching Award from the Whiting School of Engineering, and this year he received the school's Alumni Relations Excellence in Teaching Award.
"I was totally surprised," says Kosaraju, a professor of computer science, who also holds the title of Edward J. Schaefer Professor of Engineering.
In a letter nominating Kosaraju for the award, Michael T. Goodrich, a fellow Hopkins professor of computer science, wrote that Kosaraju "has stood for excellence in both research and teaching. I had the honor of sitting in one of his classes as a student, and his interactive style of teaching was an inspiration to me. His approach has greatly influenced the kind of teacher I am today."
In their recommendations, several current students described Kosaraju as one of the best professors they had encountered at Hopkins. One said that Kosaraju "gives clear, well-structured presentations that show a deep interest in the field. [He is] also a top-notch researcher. I keep running across citations of his papers."
Another student described him as "intelligent, but never intimidating."
"When I joined Hopkins," Kosaraju recalls, "I was told that teaching skills were very highly valued here. My feeling is that if one doesn't enjoy teaching, one shouldn't be in academia. I tell my colleagues that they have to take pride in what they teach."
Kosaraju has had to take special steps to accommodate the rising enrollment in his classes.
A few years ago, his computational models class attracted about 30 to 40 students per semester. Today, the class consists of about 100 students, with varying levels of computer science background. For the students who need extra help, Kosaraju schedules an optional fourth hour of class time each week. He also allows students to visit his office any time for additional help.
Kosaraju, who earned his doctorate from the University of
Pennsylvania, has been a Hopkins faculty member since 1969,
except for a stint at Purdue during the 1986-87 school year. He
returned the next year to join Hopkins' newly established
Department of Computer Science. He is one of the department's
primary computer theorists, specializing in applied
The School of Advanced International Studies will announce its winners at commencement.