MADISON—The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will honor the winners of the annual Regents Teaching Excellence Awards on Friday (Sept. 5) during a ceremony at a full board meeting in Madison.
The 2003 Teaching Excellence Award winners are:
- Carole G. Vopat, professor of English and women’s studies, UW-Parkside;
- Janna Cowen, professor of economics, UW-River Falls; and
- Department of Geography and Geology, UW-Stevens Point.
This award recognizes outstanding career achievements by individuals and an exceptional commitment to teaching by academic departments or programs. Nominees underwent a rigorous campus selection process, which included support from students.
Each winner will receive $5,000 for professional development. Regent Danae Davis of Milwaukee chaired the special regents committee that selected the winners.
In notifying the winners, Davis and Regent President Toby Marcovich of Superior thanked them for their impressive dedication and praised their ability to inspire enthusiasm among students. UW System President Katharine C. Lyall said the depth of talent among the nominees posed great challenges for the selection committee.
“These important awards recognize and reward some of the most dedicated and talented faculty, academic staff, departments and programs within the UW System,” Lyall said. “Each of the winners is a true reflection of the UW System’s vigorous commitment to teaching.”
Profile of Carole Vopat, professor of English and women’s studies, UW-Parkside
Profile of Janna Cowen, professor of economics, UW-River Falls
Profile of Department of Geography and Geology, UW-Stevens Point
Professor of Economics, University of Wisconsin-River Falls 2003
Regents Teaching Excellence Award Recipient
Background and Experience (Selected)
- Twenty-four years as a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
- Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
- Teaches courses on Modern Economics Issues, Principles of Microeconomics, Quantitative Analysis, Public Regulation of Business, Labor Economics, Intermediate Microeconomic Theory, Senior Interdisciplinary Capstone in the Social Sciences.
- Selected as UW-River Falls’ Distinguished Teacher of the Year in 1987, and as Outstanding Teacher in the Social Sciences in 1988; both awards are decided by graduating seniors and alumni.
- The above awards may be received only once in the teacher’s career, and then they are listed as “not eligible” on the list of faculty sent to graduating seniors and alumni. Nonetheless, students continue to nominate her. In 1995, a student wrote: “It says she is not eligible, but I feel she is, because she is a wonderful teacher who helps students at their convenience. She was wonderful and taught me a lot about Econ.”
- Co-author (with J.M. Brux) of Economic Issues and Policy, a popular economics textbook, used at River Falls and by universities throughout the U.S, and now in its second edition.
- Leadership role in the newly reorganized College of Business & Economics.
- Active in department, college and university governance.
In Professor Cowen’s own words:
- “I believe that education is what the student learns, which is not always what the teacher teaches. If my students are learning what I am teaching, I am satisfied with my performance. If they are not, I am dissatisfied. So my job is really simple. It is to teach so that my students are willing to put forth effort to learn, and can learn, the material I am presenting.”
- “I came to UW-River Falls 24 years ago because I wanted to teach, and the campus offered me the opportunity to teach a wide variety of classes and to have contact with students in class sections small enough so that I could learn my students’ names . . . . If my door is open, my students are welcome in my office, and my door is open most of the time.”
- From her syllabus for Social Science 496, an interdisciplinary capstone course for seniors: “Since you take this course near the end of your undergraduate program, it is assumed that you are ready to think, listen, and participate in scholarly discussions on social issues. It is assumed that you will draw from your knowledge and experience. We will not cover all the great ideas in all the social sciences in a two-credit course. But all the social sciences are concerned with one overarching idea: social justice.”
In the words of her students:
- “As a student in Dr. Cowen’s class, my understanding of economics increased dramatically. I must admit that I was a demanding student. I always wanted to know more and asked many questions. She didn’t mind my questions; she encouraged them.”
- Elaine Moses, 1995 UW-River Falls Economics Graduate
- “I finished [Professor Cowen’s] class with a B and I am still proud of that grade. It was not the only time I was challenged by an instructor, but I can honestly say that it was the longest and most sustained challenge I had in my college experience. I told her after that class that she was the best instructor that I have ever had and that still holds true to this day . . . . I have been fortunate enough to be fairly successful in my career. I was able to buy the company I worked for and did this by age 30, and have been able to grow my company to become one of the most successful businesses in our industry. I hear many people taking credit for mentoring me that I would never have given credit to. Janna Cowen is definitely a person that I would. She challenged me to the point that I had to prove to myself that I could compete and succeed. I will always treasure her wisdom, insight, and ability to connect to students.”
- David Chisnell, Business and Economics Graduate, UW-River Falls
In the words of her colleagues:
- “As I am relatively new to the UW System, I have only known Dr. Cowen for less than two years. It does not take a newcomer long to realize, however, that Dr. Cowen is well known as one of the most accomplished teachers on campus. I meet students and they want to sign up for her classes because they know they will accomplish much; students complete her classes and talk about how they were able to reach academically much higher than they had ever expected; and each alumni asks how Dr. Cowen is, and then relays some story of her outstanding skills as a teacher, and how she has made a positive difference in their life.”
- Barbara H. Nemecek, Dean, College of Business and Economics, UW-River Falls
- “Dr. Cowen has had a particularly positive impact on students who possessed the necessary ability to succeed but lacked the other ingredients of success such as focus, positive role models, and a willingness to take risks. Dr Cowen has nurtured these students and provided the environment that allowed these students to grow and be successful. She is a wonderful role model and mentor for our students.”
- Dr. Glenn Potts, Director of Graduate Studies and Professor of Economics, UW-River Falls
- “Dr. Cowen is known by the students across campus as a thorough, demanding, and fair teacher . . . . Time and time again, the student who was hesitant of their capabilities in the quantitative areas of study, completes one of Dr. Cowen’s classes and reports it as an extremely challenging, but rewarding experience. She is able to create a classroom environment in which each student feels they can contribute in a positive manner. Because of her unassuming, strong support for each student in the class, they are able to academically reach beyond their own expectations . . . . Over her years of teaching, Dr. Cowen has become one of the fond legends of the institution.”
- Dr. Virginia M. Coombs, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, UW-River Falls
Professor of English and Women’s Studies, University of Wisconsin-Parkside
2003 Regents Teaching Excellence Award Recipient
Background and Experience (Selected)
- Thirty-three years as a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
- Extensive, cutting-edge curriculum development in literature, including courses on Literature of the Holocaust; Asian-American Literature; Latina Literature; Gay and Lesbian Literature; Literature and Diversity: Women of Color; African-American Women Writers; Introduction to Women’s Studies; Foremothers of the English Novel: Austen to Woolf; and others.
- Won numerous teaching awards at UW-Parkside, including the institution-wide Stella Gray Teaching Excellence Award in 2001 and 1992.
- Recipient of the Center for Educational and Cultural Advancement’s Faculty Award for “Educational and Cultural Advancements” on behalf of minority students (1991).
- Teaches fiction writing, and is also an award-winning writer of fiction and poetry, a frequently published author, and a recipient of several grants to support her fiction writing from the Wisconsin Arts Board.
- Founding Director of the UW-Parkside Women’s Studies Program (1972-1981), and has served as a member of the program’s Steering Committee since 1982.
- Extensive participation in faculty governance and institution-wide committees such as Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, the Committee on Racial
- Awareness and Cultural Diversity, and others.
- Mentor of women faculty, both informally and formally, since 1974.
In Professor Vopat’s own words:
- “When I arrived at college, it was as if a world which had been in black-and-white suddenly exploded into three-dimensional Technicolor. Through the study of literature and the lessons of literature, I became aware of the depth and diversity of experience; of a life beyond and beneath the surface and myself. Indeed, college was such a magic world for me that I arranged never to leave it. Which brings me to the subject of my 33 years at Parkside.”
- “I want to give my students what was given to me: a world transformed through education and literature. I try to open their minds and hearts through literature so that they can enjoy all that life has to offer; so that they may transcend the lives they were given, and realize that they don’t have to play the cards they were dealt: literature—education—can deal them a whole new hand.”
- “I know that from time to time words like better, truth, reality, depth, go out of fashion; nonetheless, I believe that education betters us, and in a moral sense as well . . . . It is my philosophy to meet students wherever they are, walk alongside them, help them apprehend the insight, passion, and intellectual fervor that I learned in college, and that has continued to motivate me and sustain me; to feel the wisdom and solace of literature; to become better and to rise, however they themselves learn to define this; and ultimately to come to agree that the unexamined life is not worth living.”
In the words of her students:
- “Previous courses in Shakespeare and advanced composition had sparked an interest in the study of English, but it was Carole’s class that set the fire ablaze. In every class, she professed her passion and knowledge of the subject; she challenged me to think beyond the narrow realities of my life and understanding, and she inspired me to model myself after her as a scholar, a teacher, and a human being. Her teaching in that course changed my life.”
- Christine M. Tutlewski, UW-Parkside graduate and current Doctoral Student in English at UW-Milwaukee
- “The subject of the Holocaust is obviously very grim. How does one go about ‘teaching’ what is undoubtedly one of the most horrific occurrences in all of human history? Yet from the first class on it’s been clear that Professor Vopat has done an amazing amount of meditation and research on the subject, indeed has been living with and preparing for it for quite some time. She has such a strong command of what could be unwieldy material; her presentation of it is as clear and careful and hard-hitting as the subject demands. She has obviously absorbed it into her conscience and consciousness. At two hours and forty-five minutes, once a week, the class is hardly long enough. When I happen to glance up at the clock and see the end approaching, my heart sinks.”
- Guy Crucianelli, UW-Parkside Student
- “I often feel like I’m glowing when I leave [Professor Vopas’s] class.”
- Anonymous comment from a recent student evaluation.
In the words of her colleagues:
- “Almost by herself, [Professor Vopat] has given credence to the Department’s claim that it offers courses attuned to its diverse student body. And almost single-handedly, Carole has created student demand for what were once taboo or unpopular topics such as gay literature or the literature of the Holocaust.”
- Walter Graffin, Chair of the English Department, UW-Parkside
- “Some of our best teachers have found a groove and stay with it; Professor Vopat has sought out new areas and new challenges. She has asked what needed to be taught and then equipped herself to teach it. In doing so, she has been a powerful force for good in our department and on our campus. Her teaching excellence is not just a matter of good classroom performance; it is a model of bravery and inclusiveness.”
- Robert H. Canary, Professor of English, UW-Parkside
- “Dr. Vopat is a courageous, sensitive, generous teacher. She is an inspirational role model not only for students, but for teachers, like myself, who are navigating academe from the margins. She teaches me that the margin is not necessarily a marginal space.”
- Fay Yokomizo Akindes, Associate Professor of Communication and mentee of Professor Vopat
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
2003 Regents Teaching Excellence Award Recipient
The Essence of UW-SP Geography and Geology
The Department of Geography and Geology offers a curriculum which provides students with a broad understanding of the global dimensions of human activities, and the excellent oral, written, analytical, and technical skills required to be successful in today’s complex world. Both as a whole and in its individual parts, the curriculum contributes to the University’s base of liberal arts education. The Department administers a major in geography with three options: 1) the Physical Environment; 2) Regional Analysis & Community Development; and 3) Cartography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
In order to become a leader in teaching excellence at UW-Stevens Point, the Department has pursued five strategies over the years: 1) development of a responsive, dynamic and rigorous curriculum that prepares students for both graduate school and professional careers; 2) cultivation of innovative teaching strategies; 3) an untiring effort at ensuring a more holistic understanding of student success; 4) maintaining a vigorous internship and student field research program; and 5) hiring and retaining excellent teacher-scholars.
In the Department’s Own Words:
- “As teachers of Geography and Geology, our jobs are to nurture curiosity of the Earth and motivate students to comprehend its significance. Geography helps us find answers about the location of phenomenon and objects and how they got there. Geology helps us understand evolution, structure, and composition of the Earth, the processes that alter the surface as well as assessing the resources and hazards associated with the natural environment.”
- “A strong ‘paper’ curriculum is useless unless one has the ability to successfully transmit its contents and objectives to students. It is for this reason that the Department of Geography and Geology strives for innovative and novel ways of teaching. While individual faculty vary in the details of their philosophy of teaching, there is a collective philosophy in the department that teaching is a communication of new knowledge and abilities to students, which can be only successful when an enabling learning environment is present.”
Teaching as a Reflective, Scholarly, and Collaborative Activity
- The Department views itself as a community of teacher-scholars, in which teaching is the primary mission and carries the most weight in hiring, retention, and promotion decisions.
- A heavy teaching load (12-credit hours) is distributed throughout the Department; all instructors teach both introductory and advanced classes, and all instructors teach lab courses as part of their regular load.
- Annual staff retreats: at the beginning of each academic year, before classes begin, the faculty holds a retreat to build community and assess the Department’s goals and objectives.
- The Department strives to recruit women and minorities although these have been traditionally underrepresented in Geography and Geology.
- Over the past 10 years, the Department has produced five UWSP Teaching Excellence Award winners and one UW System Regents Teaching Excellence Award winner.
- The focus on teaching builds upon the Department’s record of scholarly research and achievement: over the same period, the faculty has published over 90 scholarly articles and book chapters, over 116 technical reports, has given more than 100 scholarly presentations, and has received over $1.6 million in grant money.
A Thoughtfully Constructed, Effective Curriculum
- Geography and geology are evolving disciplines, motivated in particular by the development of new technologies and changing environmental factors.
- Constant renewal and self-assessment: every two years, there is a formal and extensive assessment evaluation that involves the review of core courses, student achievement, program health, and long-term goals.
- The Regional Analysis and Community Development option was redefined and revitalized in the past few years, growing from 5 to 20 students.
- The Spatial Analysis and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) minor was started two years ago in response to new technology, the department’s own self-assessment, and a student survey, alumni questionnaire, and a statewide needs assessment that determined that a new technical minor was needed. There are currently 64 students in this minor!
- Fieldwork is not an add-on. It is an integral part of the discipline; it is how geography and geology are taught; and it is how the faculty conducts research, in partnership with students.
- Over the last fifteen years, the faculty has aggressively sought and acquired innovative technologies to use in the classroom and in the field. The National Science Foundation, among other grant agencies, has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Department since 1988.
- State-of-the art technology thoughtfully integrated not only into classrooms and computer labs, but also into the curriculum, through the use of the World Wide Web. The Department has an award-winning website, and is nationally known for its virtual field trips!
A Positive Climate for Student Learning
- Students rave about the openness, accessibility, and friendliness of the faculty.
- Student advising by the faculty is considered the first step in ensuring student success.
- Since 1991, the Department has directed over 80 internships, with over $120,000 awarded to students. Internships have been established in county and city governments, private companies, and state and federal agencies. Many of these internships lead to job offers to students by the sponsoring organizations.
- Multiple assessment methods integrated into the curriculum to evaluate student learning.
- The Department sponsors three awards each year to recognize excellence in its students: one for outstanding academic achievement; another for outstanding writing achievement; and a third for excellence in cartography.
- All majors engage in field projects with faculty, for example geological fieldwork in Morocco and in Big Bend National Park, mapping a state park (Hartman Creek State Park), and detecting wild lupine using satellite imagery for the Wisconsin DNR. Some of these projects have resulted in publications.
- In the senior seminar project or capstone course, each student undertakes a selected research project involving scientific rigor and investigation. Over the past few years, students have conducted research involving web-based mapping, crime analysis using GIS, and remote sensing used to complete fieldwork in Morocco. At the end of their senior year, all majors are encouraged to give a poster presentation at the UWSP Letters & Science Undergraduate Research Symposium, and 57 out of 67 majors have presented since 2000.
- The Department maintains a job search index that helps students match their skills and education with future employment, and works diligently to provide career counseling and job experience in the form of internships and student-faculty research projects.
In the Words of the Department’s Students
- “The Department staff’s commitment to teaching excellence and their passionate interest in the academic success of their students, made my time with the Department one of the most rewarding experiences I have encountered during either my college or professional career. . . . Even though I completed my degree at UWSP in 1996, I continue to seek Dr. Rice’s advice professionally in matters relating to GIS and cartographic research. Today, I actively recruit UWSP Department of Geography and Geology students for Forest Service employment within my unit.”
- Thomas L. Willems, UWSP Geography and Geology Graduate, and current USDA Forest Service Staff Archaeologist with the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota
Department Facts, Activities, and Resources
- Nine full-time equivalent faculty; one .75 full-time and one .50 full-time faculty;
- One full-time administrative assistant;
- Eleven students employed to work in the Map Center, Computer Labs, and as Graders.
- 83 Geography Majors;
- 9 Geography Minors;
- 14 Geology Minors
- 18 Earth Science Minors;
- 71 GIS & Spatial Analysis Minors;
- Five Student Awards Given Annually for, e.g., Academic Scholarship and Writing Achievement.
- Geography major requires 40 credits in geography and a 2.5 GPA;
- Three options available: Physical Environment; Cartography and GIS; and Regional Analysis;
- Over 50 courses taught at least every three years;
- Geography majors must present a senior research project at a yearly UWSP symposium;
- Integrated innovative technology in all classes;
- Over $200,000 awarded in curriculum-related grants between 1999-2002;
- The Department has directed over 80 internships since 1991 with over $120,000 awarded to students.
- Annual evaluation and planning session at Summer Retreat;
- In addition to student evaluations, program assessment techniques include evaluation of capstone course, alumni surveys, internship surveys, and formal critique of student portfolios.