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3 faculty honored for teaching excellence

During the April 22, 2008, Honors and Awards Ceremony, Austin Peay State University President Tim Hall presented three faculty with the coveted Socrates Award.

The Socrates Award recognizes tenure-track faculty judged by the students and peers as being outstanding teachers. Although academic advising, research and creative activities are factors, the primary award criterion is excellence in teaching.
During the April 22, 2008, Honors and Awards Ceremony, Austin Peay State University President Tim Hall presented three faculty with the coveted Socrates Award.

The Socrates Award recognizes tenure-track faculty judged by the students and peers as being outstanding teachers. Although academic advising, research and creative activities are factors, the primary award criterion is excellence in teaching.

The recipients of the 2008 Socrates Award are Tamara Michelle Robertson, assistant professor of nursing, Dr. Norbert Puszkar, assistant professor of German, and Gina Jo Garber, digital services librarian and assistant professor.

Robertson joined the APSU School of Nursing faculty in 2005. A licensed registered nurse and advanced practice nurse, she earned a Master of Science in Nursing from Murray State University and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from APSU.

In her nomination letter, Dr. Francisca Farrar, director of the School of Nursing, called Robertson “a shining star in our School of Nursing.”

Farrar said, “She is one of the most popular instructors we have. Ms. Robertson teaches health assessment…when you walk by her class you can hear them singing a song to help students learn the content in the lab. In the classroom, you will see her using cutting-edge technology such as YouTube and classroom response clickers.”

Farrar, who says Robertson's students refer to her as “awesome,” said, “Ms. Robertson is a highly motivated and energetic faculty member who advocates for students' success. (Her) student evaluations … validate her excellent work and commitment to service to the students.”

Puszkar came to APSU in August 2003 as assistant professor of German. He earned a Ph.D. in German from the University of Southern California and a Master of Arts, magna cum laude, from the Freie Universitat Berlin. He has a professional vita filled with scholarly publications, juried papers, honors and professional memberships, but the Socrates Award honors excellence in teachingand his letters of recommendation are as impressive as his vita.

Dr. Tim Winters, professor of Greek and Latin, called Puszkar “simply one of the finest teachers I have ever met in any field.” He commends Puszkar for listening to his students, giving them the opportunity to speak often and, when he corrects them, doing so in a kind way that creates trust and openness. Winters said, “(Dr. Puszkar's) classes are lively and his students are engaged. His courses are challenging, but his students are groomed for success.”

Dr. David Guest, chair of the department, confirms Winter's opinion of Puszkar. Guest said, “Professor Puszkar has a well-deserved reputation as one of our finest classroom instructors. His colleagues in foreign language often comment that they've become better instructors as a result of observing him in action.”

Guest said Puszkar is known for coming up with ingenious ways to explain difficult points of grammar, “as when he distributes pocket mirrors to help students learn about reflexive pronouns.” Guest points out that Puszkar receives “extraordinarily high student evaluations.”

Citing examples of Puszkar's teaching methods, Guest said, “All of these techniquesthe integration of cultural and linguistic material, the rapid pace and variety of activities, the requirement that all students use German in conversational context in every class session and the ongoing review of materialrepresent the best practices in language teaching.”

Garber earned a Master of Science in Library and Information Science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a Bachelor of Science in History from APSU.

In his nomination, Joe Weber, director of Library Services, admitted it might seem unusual for a librarian to be considered for an award that honors teaching excellence, but he went on to explain why he thinks Garber is a viable nominee. He said, “She teaches as a guest lecturer to provide information literacy instruction, teaches in the APSU 1000 program and works with students individually at the research assistance desk and by appointment in her office.”

According to Weber, his personal observation of Garber's interaction with students “reveals that she is caring, persistent and committed to providing instruction in the research process in addition to answering students' questions.”

Comparing Garber to those who maintain that librarians should simply provide whatever information the student is seeking and then send them on their way, Weber said, to the contrary, “Ms. Garber maintains that each request for research assistance is an opportunity to provide a teachable moment. Ms. Garber takes great pleasure in leading students to …'aha' moments.”

In addition to her library-related teaching, Garber teaches in the APSU 1000 program, where student surveys indicate the superlative quality of her teaching. Garber makes creative efforts to ensure her APSPU 1000 classes are not only beneficial to students, but also interesting and enjoyable. After presenting Academic Honesty sessions, she gives oral quizzes, tossing Halloween popcorn balls for correct answers. Colleagues say this is typical of her engaging style.

All three recipients of the 2008 Socrates Award received numerous letters of recommendations from colleagues and administrators in their academic areas. -- Dennie B. Burke