For the first time ever, Binghamton University’s Harpur College of Arts and Sciences honored its professors entirely on the basis of student nominations and votes. The winners of this year’s Harpur College Teaching Award were announced on April 27, and two undergraduate professors, one graduate professor and one department were honored.
The winners included Ann Merriwether of the psychology department, Maxim Pensky of the philosophy department and John Frazier of the geography department. The collective department award went to the professors of the geology department. Emails were sent out to the Harpur College student body inviting them to anonymously nominate up to two instructors they learned the most from during the 2015-16 academic year.
Florenz Plassmann, associate dean for graduate studies and research, spearheaded the project. Students could vote for any faculty member, including full-time professors, adjuncts and graduate student instructors. According to Plassmann, 778 students nominated 326 different instructors for the award.
“Half of Harpur instructors inspired at least one student to nominate them,” Plassmann said. “I think that indicates that good teaching isn’t just concentrated in a few departments, but is enormously widespread.”
In order to account for professors who teach smaller classes and reach fewer students, the awards for undergraduate professors were determined based on a ratio, with the number of nominations being divided by number of students taught. These professors were then split into two categories: professors who taught fewer than 150 students and professors who taught 150 or more students. Pensky won the award for small classes while Merriwether won the award for large classes.
“It really meant a lot to me because students voted on it and it was based on learning,” Merriwether said. “I try to be engaging because I want them to think critically. I want them to take what they learn in class and apply it in the real world.”
The award recipient for graduate professors was chosen based on total number of nominations.
“It’s very meaningful to me because I’ve been teaching for a long time,” Frazier said. “I enjoy teaching graduate students because they’re our future and they’re very demanding, so to be recognized by that group was very flattering to me.”
The award for most popular department was based on a ratio, dividing the total number of nominations per program by number of students taught. Leanne Minkoff, a junior majoring in English, previously took the oceanography course in the geology department, and said she remembers the class being very rewarding.
“My professor had a lot of experience,” Minkoff said. “I feel like the geology department overall is probably one of the more interactive departments.”
The winners will have their photos displayed on the Harpur College wall next to Jazzman’s in Glenn G. Bartle Library throughout the 2016-17 academic year. Due to the popularity of the awards among students and professors, Plassmann plans to make this an annual endeavor.
“This is the first year that we did this, so we hope to get feedback from students and faculty about what we should think about,” Plassmann said. “We’ll take all of this into account and try to do better next year.”