Recipients of NSM Teaching Awards Go the Extra Mile for Students
June 8, 2015
Dr. Jeremiah Gassensmith is an assistant professor of chemistry in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
When UT Dallas students in an analytical chemistry class complained that the labs were too boring, course instructor Dr. Jeremiah Gassensmith turned the tables on them.
“I said, ‘Make me an awesome lab and I’ll integrate it into the course,’ ” said Gassensmith, an assistant professor of chemistry.
The undergraduates responded by creating an experiment in which they hack the ingredients of impostor fragrances using a technique called mass spectroscopy and a database of known chemical compounds.
“The students loved that — it’s their fingerprint left for future UTD students,” Gassensmith said.
That approach to teaching and learning earned Gassensmith the 2015 Outstanding Teacher Award for a faculty member from the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
The school’s 2015 Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award went to doctoral student Irina Berezovik in the Department of Mathematical Sciences.
Berezovik, who teaches a variety of undergraduate classes to both math majors and non-majors, said successful teachers recognize and leverage their students’ natural curiosity.
Irina Berezovik is a doctoral student in the Department of Mathematical Sciences.
“I think students have great curiosity about things, but they get discouraged when they encounter obstacles and don’t understand difficult concepts,” Berezovik said. “As a teacher, the more you understand a subject, the simpler you can present it. If you explain a concept and connect it with the knowledge the students already have to something in real life, that’s when it clicks for them. And that’s the most rewarding experience.”
Berezovik is a student of Dr. Wieslaw Krawcewicz, professor of mathematical sciences. Her studies focus on equivariant degree theory, which has applications in the analysis of mathematical equations that are difficult to solve with conventional methods. The theory can be applied to a wide range of fields, from physiology to electrical circuits.
This summer, through an award from the National Science Foundation’s East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes program, Berezovik is traveling to China, where she will apply equivariant degree theory to the study of the spread of infectious diseases.
The school’s teaching awards are based on nominations from students and faculty. At a recent ceremony, the school’s dean, Dr. Bruce Novak, presented each award winner with a plaque displaying an engraved quote from one of their nominating letters.
“Not only do we have remarkable educators on this campus, but we also have remarkable students who recognize the value and impact that those teachers are having on their education and on their lives.”
“I’m always inspired and proud when I read these nomination letters,” said Novak, who holds the Distinguished Chair in Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “Not only do we have remarkable educators on this campus, but we also have remarkable students who recognize the value and impact that those teachers are having on their education and on their lives.”
In addition to undergraduate classes, Gassensmith also teaches an advanced organic chemistry course for graduate students, where he encourages the class not only to engage in discussion, but to argue with one another. He purposefully makes the material so difficult that the students have to team up and work together.
“It’s a real testament to our grad students that they not only didn’t hold it against me, but nominated me for this award,” Gassensmith said.
“UTD students are arguably the best students academically in Texas, and that really translates into an ability to throw some crazy ideas at them. They’re enthusiastic to do new things. When presented with the opportunity to expand new curriculum with me, they not only take it, they take it beyond what I could have ever done alone. They are truly an exceptional group of young adults.”