UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Julia Spicher Kasdorf, professor of English and women’s studies in the College of the Liberal Arts; Verónica Montecinos, professor of sociology at Penn State Greater Allegheny, and Jeffery Sharp, associate professor of business law in the Smeal College of Business, have received the Alumni/Student Award for Excellence in Teaching and have been named 2013 Penn State Teaching Fellows.
The Penn State Alumni Association, in conjunction with undergraduate and graduate governing bodies, established the award in 1985. It honors distinguished teaching and provides encouragement and incentive for excellence in teaching. Recipients are expected to share their talents and expertise with others throughout the University system during the year following the award presentation.
Kasdorf believes that “students learn by doing,” so the mainstays of her Introduction to Poetry Writing Class are the workshop and peer review. In her 400-level class, students visit the Palmer Museum of Art and then write about art; they attend readings by visiting poets and they memorize and recite poems. “In a text message, sound bitten culture that seems to offer fewer and fewer venues for sustained, thoughtful engagement and dialogue, they learn how to use their words,” she said. She also developed a service learning course in which students teach weekly creative writing workshops in local nonacademic settings such as youth shelters, retirement homes, community centers and prisons.
One student wrote, “Professor Kasdorf works with students to develop their own individual style so that they can reach their full potential on their own terms.” Another said the professor creates a “comforting atmosphere in which everyone felt more than welcome to share,” encouraging creativity and praising participation.
Kasdorf received the 2006 College of the Liberal Arts Teaching Award for Tenure Line Faculty.
Montecinos said she believes in addressing students as global citizens. Almost a decade ago, she initiated the Teaching International initiative, a yearly series of faculty and student activities focused on the study of different regions of the world and topics such as human rights and food security. The initiative has grown to involve a majority of faculty on campus and is now being undertaken at other campuses.
Students in her political science classes must bring in a copy of the New York Times each day. “She had a passion in guiding us to be involved and aware of everything going on in today’s society,” one student said. Another noted, “Dr. Montecinos is able to connect the course material very well to the student’s life.”
“Teaching with an eye on real-world events is a great incentive to keep learning,” Montecinos said. “Students in my classes discover that the value of education lies in the ability to act as deliberating citizens as well as in the acquisition of specialized skills.”
Sharp joined the faculty in 1989 after serving as litigation counsel to national financial institutions and the FDIC during the banking crisis and recovery of the 1980s. In his business law classes, he said he strives to design and deliver the subject matter “in a context that brings personal meaning to a student either through reference to an experience or through a believable projection of one’s life into such an experience.” A nominator said that he is “legendary amongst his colleagues” for obtaining almost perfect student ratings, even in classes of 350 students.
One student wrote, “The passion shown by Jeff Sharp is unmatched and fosters an environment that encourages students like me to learn and put forth the effort to do more than simply get by.” According to another student, “The spot-on, and sometimes sarcastically comedic, examples of law in real life that he uses in class help this course to remain memorable and fresh a full two years later.”
He has been honored three times (1992, 2000 and 2006) with the Smeal College of Business Fred Brand Jr. Teaching Award, and he also has received Penn State’s Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching. In 2003, he won the Academy of Legal Studies in Business Master Teacher Symposium for his presentation “A Beatle, Some Rappers, an Uncertain Thereafter: Employing the Music Industry as a Vehicle for Teaching Copyright Law.