Friday, April 25, 2014

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Jefferson Scholars Foundation Honors Great U.Va. Teachers

In academia, the unofficial motto for faculty members is often “publish or perish,” reflecting a perceived imperative to pursue research and scholarship. But at the University of Virginia, professors are at least equally valued for being able to pass along their knowledge to the next generation of scholars.

In an event held Friday, the Jefferson Scholars Foundation recognized nine U.Va. faculty members from five different academic units for their “exceptional commitment to teaching.”

And then it made an exceptional commitment of its own: $80,000 in cash awards.

The foundation is best known for providing full scholarships for outstanding U.Va. undergraduate and graduate students, but has recently sought to expand its scope by providing recognition and support for the University’s outstanding faculty, said Jimmy Wright, president of the foundation.

“Without exceptional and dedicated teachers it would be exceedingly difficult for the Jefferson Scholars Foundation to attract outstanding students,” he said. “These awards are among the many ways the foundation recognizes the important role faculty play in making the University community a special and attractive place to learn.”

Lisa Russ Spaar, professor of creative writing and director of the Poetry Writing Program in the Department of English Language & Literature in the College of Arts & Sciences, was the recipient of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation Faculty Prize and the keynote speaker at the award ceremony, held at Foundation Hall.

Awarded biennially, the prize is voted on by Jefferson Scholars alumni, and celebrates commitment to leadership, scholarship and citizenship – the same criteria used in the selection of Jefferson Scholars.

Four members of the faculty at the School of Engineering and Applied Science received Hartfield Teaching Prizes. Each year, the Jefferson Scholars Foundation invites students and faculty to nominate members of the faculty who have demonstrated that communicating knowledge and inspiring students are as important to the educational process as scholarship; winners “exemplify the highest standards and practices of learning,” according to the standards.

The winners were: James M. Fitz-Gerald, associate professor of materials science and engineering; Jerrold A. Floro, associate professor of materials science and engineering; Diana D. Morris, a lecturer in the Department of Engineering and Society; and William T. Scherer, a professor of systems and information engineering.

“These individuals are outstanding educators who care deeply for their students,” said James H. Aylor, dean of the Engineering School. “They make it possible for us to fulfill our vision of being a premier engineering research school that offers a personalized, high-impact student experience. I am proud of the work they do with our students.”

For the first time this year, the foundation invited department chairs from across the University to nominate full-time faculty members for the Award for Excellence in Teaching, recognizing faculty who “have endeavored selflessly to instill in their students the virtues of scholarship and love of learning,” according to the award criteria.

The winners were: Daniel J. Burke, a professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics in the School of Medicine; Felicia C. Marston, a professor in the McIntire School of Commerce; Eugene D. McGahren, a professor of surgery in the School of Medicine; and Eric M. Patashnik, a professor of public policy and politics in the Frank Batten School of Leadership & Public Policy.

“Teaching is a rare privilege and a great pleasure; and for this reason our very best teachers rarely think of external rewards,” said Bill Wilson, director of the graduate fellowship program at the Jefferson Scholars Foundation, who chaired the selection committee for the Award for Excellence in Teaching. “Each of these recipients brings this selfless approach to the classroom every day and the University is truly fortunate to have them here.”

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