UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Nichola D. Gutgold, professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley; Charlotte Eubanks, associate professor of comparative literature and Japanese/Asian studies in the College of the Liberal Arts; and Anne Vardo-Zalik, associate professor of biology at Penn State York; have received the Alumni/Student Award for Excellence in Teaching and have been named 2018 Penn State Teaching Fellows.
The Penn State Alumni Association, in conjunction with undergraduate and graduate governing bodies, established the award in 1988. 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.
Nichola D. Gutgold
As a communications professor, Gutgold believes teaching is social and that students benefit from learning how to amplify their voices and the power of creating networks to foster success. Four areas are the foundation of her teaching philosophy:
• Provide an inclusive and civil classroom: Gutgold motivates students to develop intellectual tools for reading, speaking, thinking and writing to improve their lives and the world around them. Gutgold, who is a first-generation student, shares her own humble journey so that students know that those with diverse backgrounds can achieve the same success.
• Create understanding for all learning styles: Gutgold wants students to think about themselves and the world in a rhetorical way, and to provide them with the fundamentals of rhetoric.
“Learning takes hard work and dedication, both from the student and the educator,” Gutgold said. “Through adventures both inside and outside the classroom, my aim is to ignite in each student a strong moral compass, self-esteem, a passion for their life’s work and a way to create understanding through the lens of their own story.”
• Embrace the world as a classroom: Students find transformative learning experiences outside the classroom, Gutgold said. That’s why she’s taken her students to Washington, D.C., to interview Supreme Court justices for a book project, to the presidential inauguration for a two-week program, and to overseas destinations such as China, Spain, France and India.
• Set up courses for student success: Pulling from an educator who inspired her, Gutgold said she gives students the instruction, assignment and feedback required to generate their own success.
“After more than 20 years of full-time teaching, I strive to not only be someone who teaches well but encourages students to develop and amplify their own voices while creating networks for their lifelong success.”
One of Gutgold’s students praised the personal interest she takes in students throughout the learning process.
“Gutgold goes above and beyond her role as an educator and inspires her students to achieve their lifelong goals,” the student said. “Gutgold taught us that our words are powerful and that the only way we can communicate our message to the world is by developing our written and verbal skills.”
Another student, who returned to college to improve her performance in her already established career, said Gutgold knew how to make her feel comfortable and welcome.
“She set high, yet achievable standards, insisted on mutual respect and showed us how to value each other’s contribution to the class,” the student said. “If ever there was a professor who could make it possible for a 61-year-old to ‘fit’ back into the classroom, it was Dr. Gutgold.”
Gutgold is an internationally recognized scholar on the rhetoric of women in male-dominated fields and her research has been featured in The New York Times, NPR and U.S. News and World Report. She is the former associate dean of academic affairs at Schreyer Honors College. Gutgold’s degrees are from Penn State (1999, doctorate in speech communication), Bloomsburg (1988, master of arts in speech communications) and Kings College (1984, English and mass communication.)
Eubanks teaches her students that literature is a tool humans have long used “like a compass, a map or a wayfinding song” to explore and find ourselves, understand our surroundings and to try to imagine the lives of others.
“With literature, we can find some sort of common ground on which to build relationships,” Eubanks said. “Without stories, we are lost in this world.”
Eubanks’ goal is for students to connect how materials they read in the classroom are deeply interconnected to their own realities, and she wants to inspire them to engage the world around them in a curious, thoughtful manner.
An undergraduate research opportunity she designed with help from staff at the Palmer Museum of Art, speaks to that. The Japanese Ukiyoe Internship challenges students in Asian studies, Japanese literature, art history, history, and related fields to rely on their expertise to research and catalog the museum’s sizeable and expanding collection of Japanese woodblock prints, to develop teaching materials around those prints, and to prepare materials for undergraduate-led exhibitions.
One of Eubanks’ students said she developed an interest in Japanese mythology, a passion inspired by Eubanks’ enthusiasm and a short story from her class.
“Eubanks sets the bar astronomically high,” said the student. “Her love of teaching, Japanese culture and her students are evident in everything she does, and her words and enthusiasm have inspired, not only me, but also countless others to become the best we can be inside and outside of the classroom.”
A colleague praised Eubanks’ ability to engage her students with her personality and effective teaching methods.
“I am the winner of multiple major teaching awards over a 27-year career and yet I found myself taking notes of Dr. Eubanks’ techniques to implement in my own classroom,” the colleague said. “Eubanks is a model of how to grow the space of free intellectual conversation.”
Eubanks teaches comparative literature, Asian studies and Japanese. She serves on the editorial collective for the journal “Verge: Studies in Global Asias.” In addition, she teaches graduate-level courses on literature and visual culture. She received her doctorate from the University of Colorado in 2005.
Vardo-Zalik has a fascination of all things parasitic and enjoys introducing students to the wild and crazy world of parasitology, microbiology and invertebrates. By building an “enthusiastic and supportive learning environment,” she helps students connect and apply what they learn in her classroom to life. She strives to help students build on their knowledge base so that they can grow under her mentorship.
“One of the things that I love most about teaching courses in infectious diseases, in addition to grossing people out, is that I can bring in aspects of history, chemistry, art, ecology, immunology and psychology,” Vardo-Zalik said. “Science is an interdisciplinary course of study and I use every opportunity to illustrate this to my students.”
Vardo-Zalik values the importance of research as a teaching tool and incorporates research into class discussions. Through news articles, audio clips, videos and other multimedia, she immerses students in the course material.
“Then I take a step back. I provide the pieces to the puzzle, and let the student — through group discussions, case study investigations, or problem-based scenarios — connect the pieces together,” Vardo-Zalik said. “I carry this through my assessments, showing students a diversity of modes to learn and apply their knowledge.”
To engage students during distance learning, Vardo-Zalik made “discussion dice.” This brought distance learners into the fold and encouraged open dialogues, creating what she called a “student-centered classroom.”
“My role as a teacher does not stop once I end a lecture,” Vardo-Zalik said. “I am investing in my students and their success, so I work closely with those who need one-on-one time. I mentor both undergraduate research and teaching assistants and am an adviser to the campus biology club. Actively working with students outside of the classroom affords me multiple opportunities to engage our developing scientists as we work together to answer relevant questions through application-based approaches. It’s this connection with my students that creates a supportive community where we can each learn and grow.”
Vardo-Zalik’s students said she’s passionate about what she teaches and that passion shows inside the classroom.
“Passion is perhaps her greatest accomplishment, as it shines in all that she does,” said a student. “Her passion and knowledge for what she teaches is what inspires students like me to expand their interests. Parasitology is not a subject one might deem fascinating yet I found myself loving the subject matter and wanting to go deeper into the material.”
Colleagues also note her enthusiasm and commitment to teaching and learning.
“Dr. Vardo-Zalik exemplifies the qualities expected of a teaching award recipient at this level,” the colleague said. “Her teaching record, student comments, colleague recognition, resourcefulness and sustained level of excellence speak solidly to her nomination for a teaching award.”
Vardo-Zalik’s research focuses on the transmission cycle of the lizard malaria parasite, parasite infection dynamics and transmission intensity in the summer months. While researching toward her master’s degree, she and her adviser discovered five new tapeworm species. She holds a doctorate in biology from the University of Vermont, and a master’s and bachelor’s degree in marine biology from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.