Faculty honored for teaching, research, innovation

Feb 28, 2013

Drs. O'Reilly, Berger, Carty and CloseThey are innovators, making a difference in students’ lives, sometimes in unconventional ways. They are committed to teaching, research and collaboration, and dedicated to the humanities.

These characteristics epitomize the four winners of HU’s 2012-13 Faculty Awards, presented Friday, Feb. 22, during a dinner with their colleagues and the Board of Trustees. Presentation of the awards was the culmination of a month-long celebration of academic excellence on campus. A day earlier, the university hosted the 20th annual Minds @ Work Student Research Conference.

Heidelberg presented a new award, the Innovative Teaching Award. The first-ever recipient is geology professor Dr. Amy Berger, who has been teaching at Heidelberg since 1998. In her classroom, she works to develop role-playing games that immerse students in real-world environmental problems to encourage them to develop their own innovative solutions. Earlier this semester, she extended her expertise to faculty and staff whom she involved in the playing of “The University Games,” which she created.

“The very activity of education is one of constant innovation – both planned and on the fly – which means in this room, there’s a vast array of extremely creative and innovative educators doing amazing things,” she said in her remarks.

She explained that the idea of game playing in education is actually very old. But the premise is the same. “In playing games, we accept a different version of the world, in which players have conflicting goals and rules of behavior …” Like her development of games, which originated on the other side of the world during Berger’s sabbatical in New Zealand, education is also collaborative, she said.

“We try new things all the time without thinking about it … it’s a matter of finding the right fit between educators, students and material,” she said. “… Education, like games, needs interaction between its practitioners. … It’s important to have a culture where we talk to each other as educators. Because all of us are innovators.”

Biology professor Dr. Susan Carty, who joined the faculty in 1988 and who has announced her retirement from teaching at the end of this academic year, is this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Scholarship/Research Award for Faculty. She thanked her colleagues and department for supporting her research efforts in her study of dinoflagellates (algae).

In her remarks, Carty said continuous research and professional activities are a paramount responsibility to her discipline. Several Aigler grants have allowed her to travel to conduct research and present her findings throughout her teaching career.

But taking it to the next level, Carty said that sharing the “excitement of discovery” with her students as they collaborate on research is “very heady stuff.” Because faculty members need time away from the classroom to pursue their research and best practices in their fields, Carty said she was elated by President Rob Huntington’s announcement earlier in the evening that sabbaticals are being returned for faculty next academic year.

“I’m absolutely delighted they (sabbaticals) are going to be reintroduced.”

Dr. Daryl Close, professor of computer science and philosophy, is the recipient of the 2012-13 Jane Frost Kalnow Professorship in the Humanities. The award was presented by Mrs. Kalnow’s son, Andrew, a Heidelberg trustee. Close joined the Heidelberg faculty in 2000.

Close addressed the ever-evolving view of the humanities in his remarks. Since the post-war era, the humanities have taken quite a beating, he said. “This is not a new story. The focus of higher education has shifted, particularly in state institutions, away from the humanities and toward career preparation and pre-professional training.”

Despite the “abuse,” the humanities remain at the core of the liberal arts curriculum, providing a view of the individual at large, Close said. “They provide the basis for a cultured, enlightened and critically thinking citizenry. … So we’re making progress.”

The final award of the evening, the Ream-Paradiso Distinguished Teaching Award, was presented by Trustee Tony Paradiso to Dr. Marc O’Reilly, associate professor of political science who has taught at Heidelberg since 2001.

Reflecting on his sometimes unconventional teaching style, O’Reilly said effective teaching requires one thing: commitment.

“Commitment to the material I am trying to convey in the classroom. More importantly, commitment to the students I am trying to educate, advise and mentor,” he said.

O’Reilly often goes the extra mile in his teaching, which he described as “the best job anyone could hope for.” Heidelberg provides opportunities for professors to connect with students in unique ways and in non-traditional locales – from classroom and office, to local restaurant or conference in San Francisco, to touring with students abroad.

“As a professor, this is what I offer: relationships and possibilities,” O’Reilly said. At the Student Research Conference, he mentored 21 students who presented their work. For O’Reilly, it was a moment of pride and nervousness. But mostly pride.

“Like the 70 or so other presenters, they delivered. And that, to paraphrase a famous poet, makes all the difference.”