Ten students receive Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Awards

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ten Penn State graduate students received the 2018 Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Award. Each of the award winners demonstrates a commitment to excellence, going above and beyond typical classroom instruction to shape the lives of their students. Their passion and dedication exemplify the impact Penn State’s graduate students have on society.

The award is jointly sponsored by the Graduate School, through the Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Award endowment, and the Office of the Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education. The award is named for Harold F. Martin, who earned his doctoral degree in education in 1954, and retired as a director from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The award recipients are:

  • Scott Conrad, doctoral student in mathematics
  • Sara Freed, doctoral student in human development and family studies
  • Morgane Haesen, doctoral student in French
  • Kathryn Holmes, doctoral student in American studies
  • Behnoud Kermani, doctoral student in civil engineering
  • Bradley Klem, master's student in art
  • Kristopher Klotz, doctoral student in philosophy
  • Jared LaGroue, doctoral student in mass communications
  • Kirsten Lloyd, doctoral student in horticulture
  • Natali Ozber, doctoral student in plant biology

Conrad, a doctoral student in mathematics, has been praised by his students for presenting lecture material in ways that will help them more efficiently retain the knowledge provided. According to one of his students, “Even if we are in a time crunch, he simplifies each step of the example problems and interacts with us … to make sure that we are all getting the material.” Conrad also received the Mathematics Department Graduate Assistant Teaching Award in Spring 2017.

A doctoral student in human development and family studies, Freed strives to foster engagement with students in the classroom by providing them with detailed feedback on assignments. She wrote, “I view grading not as a way of ranking students, but as an opportunity to communicate with students, and hopefully increase their engagement in the process.” One approach used by Freed to achieve engagement is called Think-Pair-Share, which encourages students to write out their thoughts, share with a partner, and then participate in a discussion with the entire class.

Haesen, a doctoral student in French, regularly uses poems, short videos and novels to help students understand the finer points of French vocabulary and grammar, and teaches students the phonetic alphabet, so that they can better master some of the complex French sounds. In the words of one nominator, Haesen “is that rare individual who is able to combine being absolutely rigorous in approach while remaining approachable and warm towards her students.”

A doctoral student in American studies, Holmes explained that her goal is to engage students “in research that exposes them to primary and secondary sources, while pushing them to apply course material in a way that is applicable to their individual lives and circumstances.” A student nominator wrote that Holmes’s “dedication to the topics she teaches” and “willingness to help students” are two primary reasons why she was a worthy candidate for this award.

Kermani, a doctoral student in civil engineering, espouses a teaching philosophy that emphasizes the practical application of course material; challenges students to think critically; encourages student feedback; and reflects an appreciation for the diverse learning styles of all students. One of Kermani's co-advisers described him as “an exceptional researcher and one of the most productive graduate students in our department. But he is best defined by his humble attitude and his passion to become an educator and role model.”

A master’s student in art, Klem has explained that the philosophical foundation for his teaching is the belief that teaching is about experience. In his ceramics classes, Klem constructs group experiences and combines them with individual instruction while emphasizing discourse, class discussion and critique. One nominator wrote, “Leading a class brings out the best in him. Brad’s warm, unassuming demeanor inspires students to invest in their creative curiosity.”

Klotz is a doctoral student in philosophy. His goals as a teacher are to enable students to apply philosophical insights and methods to their lives; empower students to speak, read and write confidently and critically; and encourage a sense of civic responsibility. Another student complimented Klotz for “going above and beyond to make sure each of his students has an equal opportunity to succeed in his class, and to prepare them to succeed in other classes, and their future professional careers.”

LaGroue, a doctoral student in mass communications, strives to cultivate course environments which mirror the reality of the media industry, imparting not only technical knowledge and skills, but also focusing on the underlying culture of professional media work. One student wrote that LaGroue “was always willing to help and work with students both academically and also with professional advice. He was fair and positive, and all around a fantastic professor.”

A doctoral student in horticulture, Lloyd has contributed in numerous way to the instructional mission of the College of Agricultural Sciences beyond teaching in the classroom and online instruction. She has developed and revised online instructional activities for a course’s blended format, fostered group discussions as a complement to lecture material and helped to train teaching assistants to lead online activities. One nominator wrote that Lloyd “does not view teaching as merely an information delivery system, but as a unique opportunity to build cognitive skills … In essence, she is developing life-long learners here at Penn State.”

Ozber, a doctoral student in plant biology, has noted the importance of helping students to develop critical thinking skills and become independent learners, especially in science education. She wrote, “I encourage students to participate in in-class discussions and voice their opinions. I let them know that all their contributions are valuable.” One student nominator wrote, “You can see that Natali has the knowledge base and ability to communicate challenging concepts to undergraduate students.”

All of the students were honored during the annual Graduate Student Awards Luncheon held on April 25 at the Nittany Lion Inn.