2017 Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching

Honored for their superior teaching, faculty members are nominated by present and former students and colleagues and selected by a committee of alumni, students and faculty.
Frederick Luis Aldama profile picture

Frederick Luis Aldama

Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor,
Department of English


Frederick Luis Aldama is known as the kind of professor who empowers students to succeed. He is a sought-after teacher among students in the humanities, psychology and neuroscience for his ability to help them understand the emotive and cognitive process involved in making and engaging with narrative media.

Aldama’s graduate students have won prestigious dissertation awards and postdoctoral fellowships, making him a coveted advisor, but his attentiveness and selflessness are what they value most about him. One PhD student says Aldama “lives his life with infectious optimism, and he fully believes in the potential success of each student he meets.” His undergraduates are equally enthusiastic, as he consistently earns top evaluation scores for his engaging teaching style and accessibility.

One of Aldama’s most notable contributions to students beyond the classroom is his founding of Latino and Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research (LASER), an outreach program that prepares Latinx high schoolers in Columbus for college acceptance. In 2015, Aldama was recognized for his outstanding teaching and student advocacy with the White House Bright Spots in Hispanic Education award for founding and direction and the Outstanding Latino/a Faculty in Higher Education: Research/Teaching in Higher Education (Research Institutions) Award by the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education. In 2016, he received the Ohio Education Summit Award.

Aldama holds a PhD from Stanford University. His specialties include 20th century British and American literature, critical theory, film studies, narrative theory, comic books, video games and Latino studies.

Jennifer S. Cheavens profile picture

Jennifer S. Cheavens

Associate Professor,
Department of Psychology


When graduate and undergraduate students talk about Jennifer S. Cheavens, the words “best” and “favorite” come up often in reference to her teaching style and courses and to Cheavens as a human being. One non-traditional student noted that she is an outstanding role model for women, while another deeply regrets waiting until senior year to take a class with her.

Students appreciate how Cheavens presents research material in class and encourages them to engage in critical discussions of the work, rather than accepting the research conclusions at face value. A course she developed, Positive Psychology, has already earned a reputation for being highly relevant to students’ lives, and enrollment has more than doubled since the course’s first semester. Her effective teaching techniques and innovative course development earned her the Department of Psychology’s teaching award in her third year at The Ohio State University, making her the first assistant professor to earn this honor in the department.

Cheavens’ commitment to students extends beyond the classroom to the many student groups she advises, including Mindfulness and Meditation, Project HOPE and the Positive Psychology Club. In addition, she advised six doctoral students, two undergraduate honors students, one Eminence Fellow and 10 undergraduate research assistants—and that was just a single year. As director of clinical training for clinical psychology, she also oversees one of Ohio State’s strongest graduate programs. Cheavens adeptly juggles her teaching, research, advising and mentoring roles while remaining readily available to help students who are struggling. According to Department Chair John P. Bruno, PhD, “Students and the Ohio State and Columbus communities benefit from Dr. Cheavens’ commitment to training the next generation of clinical scientists.”

Cheavens holds a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Kansas. She is interested in the treatment of mood and personality disorders, both in younger and older adults.

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John D. Clay

Associate Professor,
William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering


“The best teachers do not merely pass information to a student, but give a student the tools to succeed in the real world,” says a colleague and nominator of John D. Clay. This is what makes Clay an asset to his students, the department and the field of engineering. He believes in preparing students as you would Olympic athletes—through rigorous training. Clay is simultaneously acknowledged among students as an outstanding teacher and the one who assigns a significant amount of challenging homework.

One student nominator writes that Clay got wind of a class-wide late-night study session and drove through snow and sleet to review with the students for three hours—and bring them pizza. It is this commitment to teaching that inspires his graduate and undergraduate students alike, which is evidenced by student evaluations that place him among the ranks of the department’s most esteemed professors.

Curriculum development is one of Clay’s strengths, and he played a major role in re-envisioning the department’s centerpiece courses for the quarter-to-semester transition and the department’s move to the new building. He uses technology to increase student engagement and to measure and improve comprehension, and has introduced students to tools they will use in their careers. He creates an active learning environment that combines short lectures with hands-on problem solving and brings with him a wealth of “real-world” engineering expertise to better prepare students to work in the field.

Clay holds a PhD in chemical and biomolecular engineering from The Ohio State University. In addition to his duties an assistant clinical professor, he also runs the CBE Unit Ops laboratory and holds a partial appointment at Battelle.

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Susan E. Cole

Associate Professor,
Department of Molecular Genetics


Susan E. Cole is as comfortable teaching a roomful of molecular genetics majors as she is helping non-science students understand the scientific process. Science and non-science majors alike who take her courses say that she makes a subject they expected to struggle with fun and understandable. Her innovative freshman seminar, Exploring Biology Through Fiction, explores the differences and similarities between real-world science and that which you see on television or in films. She earns consistently high ratings and comments from students who recommend the class to others. One student describes her as a “rock star” professor, and many praise her well-organized class sessions.

As an instructor for the first course of the molecular genetics major, Cole is tasked with training students to be scientific thinkers in preparation for the major. The course material is challenging, yet Cole’s ability to engage her students and foster in them a scientist’s mindset results in students who both understand the material well and enjoy the learning process. She has developed a new elective course, Developmental Genetics, that is expected to be popular thanks to the course’s relevance and Cole’s reputation as a teacher.

Outside the classroom, Cole has an active and well-funded research program in which she invites her undergraduate students to participate. She is giving of her time and expertise in supervising the research of graduate and undergraduate students, many of whom have gone on to earn fellowships, publish papers or continue on to post-secondary education. Cole is also committed to improving representation in the sciences, serving as principal investigator of a National Science Foundation grant that aims to provide research experiences for underrepresented minorities and students at small colleges who have limited research opportunities. Department Chair Mark A. Seeger, PhD, calls her work in this arena “instrumental,” and commends her as “a leader in the classroom and laboratory setting.”

Cole earned a BS in biological sciences, molecular genetics track, from the University of Rochester, and a PhD in human genetics and molecular biology from Johns Hopkins University. Her area of specialty is the role of fringe genes and Notch signaling during development.

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Rachel Dwyer

Associate Professor,
Department of Sociology


Rachel Dwyer’s commitment to teaching and mentoring is best represented with one impressive statistic: She mentors about one-third of the graduate students in the department. In the 2015-16 academic year, she served on 22 thesis, candidacy exam and PhD dissertation committees, nine of which she chaired. For two years she created and chaired the department’s Graduate Placement Committee, which helps PhD students hone their professional skills in preparation for the job market, because helping students on the path to an academic career is a priority for Dwyer. Many of her graduate students go on to publish prolifically and secure jobs at Research I universities.

In the classroom, Dwyer receives consistently high student evaluation rankings and has received graduate and undergraduate teaching awards. She was a finalist for the Committee of the Arts and Sciences Student Council Outstanding Teaching Award, she twice received the Most Support Faculty Award from the Sociology Graduate Student Association and she was awarded the Social and Behavioral Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award.

One of Dwyer’s advisees, who received a Presidential Fellowship under her guidance, says, “From the first day of class, she promoted a safe space for new ideas, which allowed intellectual debates to flourish.” Another says, “She not only increased my knowledge on existing race, class and gender inequalities, but also deepened my thinking in more complex ways.”

Dwyer encourages students to participate in her research, which earns significant attention from scholarly publications as well as the media. Over the last three years, she has included graduate student co-authors on the majority of her papers.

Dwyer holds a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on causes and consequences of rising economic inequality in contemporary American society.

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Allison Bean Ellawadi

Assistant Professor,
Department of Speech and Hearing Science


Allison Bean Ellawadi is a respected figure in the field of speech and hearing science, and yet what her students like most about her is that she never claims to have all the answers. In Ellawadi’s classroom, asking a great question is valued most. In fact, questions are so strongly encouraged that Ellawadi can’t answer them all, and takes the opportunity to model for students how to search for evidence-based solutions. In this way, she shares her expertise while teaching the value of discovery and seeking answers for oneself.

Some of Ellawadi’s classes are large lectures, but her students say her availability to connect one-on-one and her engaging teaching style gives her classes a small feel. In exit interviews of graduate students, Ellawadi comes up in nearly every conversation about the excellence of the department’s faculty.

Ellawadi is committed to providing research opportunities to undergraduate students in her lab, the Autism & Child Language Learning Laboratory. She is an active mentor, and her students have gone on to present their research at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum.

Innovative curriculum development is another of Ellawadi’s strength. She has created a graduate course on autism spectrum disorders and an introductory undergraduate course on autism. Research and coursework on autism spectrum disorders are a critical component of the department and the field of speech and hearing science in general.

Ellawadi holds a PhD in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of Iowa. Her research focuses on language development in individuals with autism spectrum disorders and the role of domain-general processes in language development.

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Katherine Silver Kelly

Associate Professor of Law,
Moritz College of Law


Katherine Silver Kelly’s commitment to teaching is helping more students pass the bar exam. Her Advanced Legal Skills and Bar Support non-credit classes were designed to support students at risk for bar failure. Her individualized approach to teaching and one-on-one counselling has led to a 90 percent or higher bar pass rate for students who take part in her classes, compared to a 50 percent pass rate among at-risk students who do not.

Kelly is famous among her students for going the extra mile for them. In a single academic year, she held more than 200 individual student meetings for bar exam support and more than 100 meetings for general academic support. Between these 300-plus meetings, she still manages to organize exercise boot camps and running groups to help students manage stress through physical activity.

In the classroom, Kelly earns consistently high marks on her student evaluations, and was awarded the Morgan E. Shipman Outstanding Professor Award, the highest teaching award given in Moritz College of Law. Her students describe her as challenging in a way that inspires their best work. She creates much of her own teaching material, crafting assignments that are realistic and relevant to real-world practice. She also manages a Bar Exam Wizard blog to enable students across the country to benefit from her expertise.

Katherine Silver Kelly holds a JD from the University of Akron School of Law and an MA in education from the University of Kentucky. She teaches Legal Analysis and Writing I and II and directs the Academic Support Program.

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Brian H. Lower

Associate Professor,
School of Environmental and Natural Resources


Even students who claim they don’t like science list Brian H. Lower among their favorite professors. He teaches both online and in-classroom courses, and travels to Ohio State Marion to teach there in addition to his Columbus campus course load. Although regional campus teaching is not required of him, he does so because he believes in the value of regional campuses to students.

In addition to his outstanding student evaluations, Lower has received numerous teaching awards, including the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Educator Award and the college’s Rodney F. Plimpton Outstanding Teacher Award, which is the highest honor given to faculty by the college.

Lower doesn’t just teach environmental science with enthusiasm. He’s actively recruiting the next generation of environmental scientists to attend Ohio State. He readily meets with prospective students at events, gives tours of his lab and will grab lunch with a student who is interested in the field. Whether one-on-one or in a large lecture setting, his approachable, engaging style captures students’ attention and builds their excitement.

The first class Lower taught at Ohio State was a longstanding general education requirement and had 76 students. Enrollment in his course doubled within a year as word spread about his teaching excellence. He uses technology, including an iTunes U version of his course and an Apple iBook textbook. He also developed the Environmental Poster Symposium, at which nearly 600 students display their posters for student-based peer review. He worked with developers to create an app for the peer-review process, which has been adapted for other programs at Ohio State and in high schools.

Lower holds a PhD in chemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Along with his identical twin brother, Stephen Lower, he studies elementary phenomena at the boundaries between traditional disciplines like biology, chemistry, geology, medicine and physics.

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Luis Enrique Rodriguez-Saona

Department of Food Science and Technology


Luis Enrique Rodriguez-Saona is known for his ability to relate his teaching material to the everyday experiences of his students. His students describe him as approachable, funny and full of energy, and even say they enjoy having his class in the morning to start their days off right. It’s no surprise then that Rodriguez-Saona has received the student-selected Food Science Club award for Professor of the Year four times, as well as the college’s Rodney F. Plimpton Outstanding Teaching Award, which is the highest honor the college awards a faculty member. He also received the Educator of the Year Award from the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture in 2016.

Rodriguez-Saona’s mentoring activities extend beyond the Ohio State community to local high schools, which also serves to recruit those students to Ohio State. He encourages undergraduates to participate in research and invites them to do projects in his lab.

Rodriguez-Saona is a sought-after advisor and dissertation committee member and frequently chairs the Laboratory Instruction Committee, where he guides the teaching assistant program. He helps the department’s teaching assistants become better-prepared instructors through additional training he developed. When it comes to helping graduate and undergraduate students get involved with the department through research or extracurricular activities, you can often find Rodriguez-Saona leading the charge.

Even students who struggle in the sciences acknowledge that Rodriguez-Saona knows how to help them succeed. Students do not describe his classes as easy; however, the challenge does not dampen their enthusiasm but rather encourages them rise to the occasion.

Rodriguez-Saona holds a PhD in food science from Oregon State University. His research focuses on improving the quality and safety of agricultural products through the application of novel analytical technologies.

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Sue Sutherland

Associate Professor,
Department of Human Sciences


Sue Sutherland’s performance as a teacher and researcher has enhanced the stature of Ohio State’s kinesiology program, says department chair and nominator, Carl M. Maresh, PhD. Her students describe her as courses as well organized and highly relevant to the latest research in the field. Multiple students note that her classroom is an emotionally and intellectually safe space to explore and debate ideas respectfully.

Sutherland’s mentorship of doctoral students reflects her passion for teaching, as she serves as a sounding board for their academic ventures and helps them navigate the right path to achieve their career goals. One of her graduate students says that Sutherland’s ability to teach teachers has changed the way he sees teaching. Another says he regularly uses the information and teaching tips Sutherland offered him as a graduate teaching assistant.

Her undergraduates applaud Sutherland’s ability to teach to individual learning styles, which a colleague says can be attributed to her mastery of multiple instructional pedagogies. One student credits Sutherland with inspiring her to become a better student, while another says takeaways she gains help her academically and in life.

Sutherland works tirelessly in service to the department with innovative curriculum development at the college and departmental level. As a member of both the Undergraduate and Graduate Studies Committee and chair of the Kinesiology Graduate Studies Committee, she takes an active role in advancing the department.

In recognition for her work in Adventure Education, Sutherland received the Program Recognition Award from the Adapted Physical Activity Council of AAHPERD, as well as a federal grant from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services to study adventure based activities for individuals with disabilities.

Sutherland earned a BS in physical education, an MS in physical education from Ohio University and a PhD in adapted physical education from The Ohio State University. Her area of interest is adventure education and teaching.

Nominations                    Previous Winners