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Penn State Berks Instructors Awarded for Accomplishments in Teaching

Apr 19, 2017 • by Penn State Berks
JoAnne Pumariega (left), and Brenda Russell (right)

Pumariega receives 2017 Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching

JoAnne Pumariega, instructor of mathematics and Spanish at Penn State Berks, was among the six Penn State faculty members to receive the 2017 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award, named after Penn State’s seventh president, honors excellence in teaching at the undergraduate level.

Pumariega has made teaching mathematics – especially to nonmath majors – her lifelong passion. Keeping in mind that some students feel ambivalent about the subject, she is always thinking of ways to approach the subject creatively.

“One of my strong beliefs is that nonmajors can gain mathematical concepts and skills in the classroom and achieve success through learning the relevance and importance of math in their daily lives,” said Pumariega. “Through the teaching of probability and statistics, I have realized the importance of real-world examples and relating mathematics in the classroom to current events.”

She shows students how math is intertwined with disciplines such as psychology, sociology, business and health. She makes use of multiple sensory modalities including auditory, visual and hands-on group experiences in the classroom. Her goal is to make classroom learning engaging and entertaining, bucking the stereotype that mathematics instruction is too technical for the average person.

To make two entry-level math course more accessible to nontraditional students and those with disabilities, Pumariega obtained a grant to create online versions. She worked with math colleagues and web and media designers to develop hybrid and fully online versions. Her goal is to develop an individualized online teaching presence that matches that of her live teaching experience.

“Pumariega is a shining example of inclusive, collaborative learning in which she incorporates multiple learning styles in order to reach a diverse population,” said a colleague. “Her approachable, down-to-earth style has been an asset to all of the students she has reached over her illustrious career and has also touched the people who have been lucky enough to have worked alongside her.”

Russell honored with Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching

Brenda Russell, professor of applied psychology at Penn State Berks, is one of two recipients University-wide of the 2017 Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching.

The award recognizes excellence in teaching and student support among tenured faculty who have been employed full time for at least five years with undergraduate teaching as a major portion of their duties. Milton S. Eisenhower, brother of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, served as president of Penn State from 1950 to 1956.

As a facilitator and mentor of the discovery process, Russell said she asks a lot of herself and her students. She strives to excite her students about the learning process.

“I believe passion is a gateway to learning, as excitement and drive often follow effortlessly.” said Russell. “Helping students identify their passions, strengths and goals opens up new and clearer paths forward that lead to self-determination. This can be empowering and intrinsically motivating. Once their path or niche is discovered, academic success often follows.”

Russell urges her students to apply real-life experiences to classroom lessons. For a course on the APA Code of Ethics, she tasks students with writing a paper on an ethical issue they encountered during an internship.

For final projects, students complete a grant-writing proposal in which they use their research skills to identify a social problem and create a solution, such as a program, treatment or design to measure effectiveness.

Students are encouraged to go to court, engage in mock trials, jury selection exercises, debates and accompany police on patrols, and these experiences are integrated into class discussions.

“As a teacher and mentor of self-discovery, I hope to convey how my own path led me to do what I love every day,” said Russell. “I expect more from my students because I truly hope that one day their passion will drive them to rise above the minimum standards and find their own success as they make tangible differences in our world. I expect more from myself because I truly care about their success and recognize that students can reach a higher potential when we as teachers rise above minimum standards of teaching and mentoring.”

A colleague and nominator praised Russell’s ability to use experiences in her own life to enhance her teaching.

“Because of her own experiences through research and practice, she connects with students in a new and interesting way, exciting them about learning,” said the nominator. “Russell possesses the special ability to guide and teach in a way that pushes her students to reach their full potential.”

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