Each year, students in Binghamton University’s Harpur College of Arts and Sciences nominate professors for Harpur College Teaching Awards, which recognize instructors who teach in a way that students find meaningful, challenging and enjoyable. Jessica Hua, an assistant professor of biology; Qiusheng Wu, an assistant professor of geography; and Samuel Elikem Kwame Nyamuame, a visiting assistant professor in the theatre and Africana studies departments, each received awards this past March.
With 1,285 submissions received overall, 853 students voted for professors in three distinct categories: an instructor who taught larger undergraduate courses (more than 150 students), smaller undergraduate courses (fewer than 150 students) and graduate courses. Three hundred and eighty-four Harpur instructors were nominated, representing every department within Harpur College.
Hua, who teaches an ecology course this semester, won the award for smaller undergraduate courses and said that research has informed her teaching style. In class, she breaks the information down, emphasizing why students should care and how they can apply knowledge to enhance their studies.
“I need to know how it applies to my everyday life,” Hua said. “Ecology is cool because you can actually apply it to all fields. It is just a matter of trying to see the connection.”
Hua said that she always begins her lectures with a news article or video that explores ecology in some form. Instead of immediately giving students answers, she encourages them to discuss on their own or with peers, allowing them to discover their own personal researcher.
Matt Wersebe, a junior majoring in biology, previously conducted an independent study with professor Hua, and also took her Biology 480Q: Topics in Ecotoxicology class during the fall 2016 semester. He said that she is incredibly dedicated to her job and has played a formative role in his academic career.
“While balancing teaching, research, mentoring and other activities, she always has time to meet with her students face-to-face,” Wersebe said. “She has inspired me to be a better student and be more prepared for the future.”
Wu, who won the award for graduate courses, teaches programming in the BU Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing Core Facility. In the course, students use computer programs similar to Google Earth to map out the changes in regional conditions, such as population and climate.
He explained that by using discussion boards on MyCourses, students can actively engage with each other. By doing so, they come to class with more questions that encourage Wu to think beyond his own knowledge on the subject.
“I also learn a lot from the students,” Wu said. “I teach what I know, but as a big surprise, they come back to me and ask some questions that I don’t really know the answer. It’s really enjoyable because you see the student go beyond what is being taught in class. In the end, it broadens my horizons.”
Isaiah Barker, a first-year graduate student studying geography, took Geography 503A: Programming in GIS with professor Wu this semester and has taken Geography 533: Statistics for Geography with him in fall 2016. Barker said that Wu is extremely proficient in the courses he teaches and has inspired Barker to push the limits of what he knows and has yet to learn.
“It’s honestly not hard to see why professor Wu would win such a prestigious award,” Barker said. “He is fiercely intelligent, yet humble. He is genuinely devoted to his job and goes above and beyond to make sure his students are prepared to succeed.”
Nyamuame, who won the award for larger undergraduate courses, teaches Africana Studies/Theater 229: Beginning African Dance and Africana Studies/Theater 329: Advanced African Dance. His work on musical cultures of Africa, including drumming and dance, and Ghanian cultural influence has been recognized at regional, national and international conferences in ethnomusicology and African studies.
The geology department also won the award for Most Popular Department, which was determined by the most nominations, relative to the total number of students having been taught by the department.