12 honored for excellence in teaching

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Twelve faculty have been selected to receive the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, which honors those who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching.

The 2023 honorees represent each school, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Honors College and the Graduate School.

S. Danielle Baker

S. Danielle Baker

School of Nursing

S. Danielle Baker, DNP, assistant professor in the Department of Acute, Chronic and Continuing Care, is the co-director of the School of Nursing’s Accelerated Master’s in Nursing Pathway, one of the most intensive programs leading to licensure within the school. She is widely recognized for her expertise and proficiency as a clinician and educator who customizes her lectures to the needs of her students. She has received several faculty and teaching awards in the School of Nursing, a nominator wrote, and “she ensures that all students feel involved and appreciated, creating a supportive environment and sense of camaraderie among her students.”

“Her innovative teaching methods and commitment to staying current with theory and technology are especially notable,” another nominator wrote. “She excels at using technology and real-life examples to connect with students, build trust and inspire exploration of new ideas.”

In addition, “Dr. Baker’s talent for inspiring and guiding students is shown by her dedication to offering practical experiences that help them develop into competent, safe nurses” and she “excels at motivating students to pursue lifelong learning and professional growth,” a nominator added. “She provides them with the skills and knowledge needed to become proficient in their field and fosters a collaborative, interdisciplinary mindset. Her own continuous development serves as a commendable example.”

Heather Bruns

Heather Bruns

Honors College

Heather Bruns, Ph.D., professor and vice chair for Education in the Department of Microbiology in the Heersink School of Medicine, is co-director of UAB’s Undergraduate Immunology Program, which was the first four-year immunology major in the country. Bruns is “deeply committed to effective practices in the classroom,” and she has had seven education-related publications since 2019, a nominator wrote. She also is co-director of the immunology and pathology block of the Fundamentals of Medicine course in the preclinical curriculum for the Heersink School of Medicine and director of the Fundamentals of Science courses for the schools of Dentistry and Optometry.

“She also regularly mentors undergraduate and graduate students in pedagogical practices in the immunology classroom,” the nominator wrote. Three of her educational publications include graduate-student mentees as co-authors. “One colleague enthused that it is ‘faculty like Dr. Bruns, whose unwavering commitment to high-quality education is pervasive in all that she does, who are the backbone of a university.’”

The courses that Bruns leads “occasionally even serve as a recruiting tool” for the immunology major, the nominator added. “One student wrote that she ‘does an exceptional job of engaging the class, making difficult material understandable and highlighting the importance of concepts. I added a major in this subject after taking this course.’”

“Dr. Bruns is one of the best professors I have ever had,” another student wrote. “She is attentive and cares about her students and she made this course, which is very hard, such a pleasure.”

Chin-Chuan Fu

Chin-Chuan Fu

School of Dentistry

Chin-Chuan Fu, DDS, associate professor and chair of the Department of Restorative Dental Sciences, has been a faculty member in the School of Dentistry for 15 years, serving in roles ranging from preclinical dentistry module leader to group manager of the school’s main student clinic. Colleagues says she has distinguished herself in predoctoral and postdoctoral clinical teaching and didactic lectures.

“Our curriculum simply would not be the educational giant it is without her dedication and leadership,” one nominator wrote.

Another nominator highlighted Fu’s use of current problems that students have encountered in their clinical work during her courses, instead of relying only on textbooks. “Students can catch what she presents in a better way since they saw the problems just a few days ago,” the nominator wrote.

“In her predoctoral teaching, she provides the help not just verbally but mainly in-person with chair-side demonstrations for the procedures,” the nominator continued. “Her teaching is inside the bay, not just sitting in front of the computer. Her standard is high, but the students working with her appreciate the comments.”

In her postdoctoral teaching clinics, the nominator added, “she inspires the residents to think and solve the unique problems in each case, not just make crowns and dentures. With her encouragement, many residents initiate research projects and present the results as a degree thesis. She also mentors residents, as well as students, to present in the SOD scholar symposium and national meetings.”

John Maddox

John Maddox

College of Arts and Sciences

John Maddox, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of World Languages and Literatures, is an expert in Hispanic Caribbean literature and culture and is frequently invited to present at national and international conferences. His “special talent for transferring his expertise and passion for his subject matter to student audiences” is particularly noteworthy, a nominator wrote. In 2021, he was named Teacher of the Year by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.

One student recalled switching their major to Spanish after taking courses with Maddox. He “has an infectious love of Spanish, and he works hard to make sure that every moment is a teaching moment by celebrating the successes of his students and gently correcting their mistakes,” the student wrote. “I plan to become a Spanish professor like Dr. Maddox, and I hope to emulate his teaching style to instill the same love of language learning that he has instilled in me.”

Another student, who took multiple classes with Maddox, recalled the first: Spanish and Service Learning in Puerto Rico. “Being able to do a study abroad course made a huge impact on my experience at UAB as well as an impact on my life,” the student wrote. “We met multiple professionals, such as an education activist and a visual artist, learning directly from them what impact the culture of Puerto Rico has on their profession.”

Douglas Moellering

Douglas Moellering

School of Health Professions

Douglas Moellering, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences, is the program director for the department’s new undergraduate major in biobehavioral nutrition and Wellness and a course leader in multiple graduate programs.

“Students in his courses routinely comment on how engaged he is with their learning and the efforts he undertakes” to make complex concepts accessible, a nominator wrote. “This is not accidental, in that Dr. Moellering invests the time and effort” to help them succeed.

This investment is equally visible in online as well as on-ground courses, a nominator said. Moellering’s intense online graduate course in nutritional biochemistry is a case in point. “The content is difficult and very challenging, but without exception, the students rise to the challenge and learn a great deal in this course,” a nominator wrote. “Many of them will subsequently express their appreciation for the manner in which Dr. Moellering is able to engage them in learning, providing additional content when necessary to fill gaps in prior learning, and using project-based learning to reinforce challenging concepts by relating them to everyday nutrition needs.”

“Many of Doug’s students aspire to become registered dietitians or work in clinical settings,” another nominator wrote, so Moellering emphasizes projects with real-world applications. For one project, students must design a menu using only the $4.46 per day available to an individual on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. “Many students … have commented how challenging and eye-opening this project is, and how thankful they are to have been able to participate,” the nominator wrote.

Gregory Pavela

Gregory Pavela

School of Public Health

Gregory Pavela, Ph.D., associate professor and associate dean of Academic Affairs in the School of Public Health, teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in the Department of Health Behavior. “I have taken two classes of his in my doctoral program,” a former student wrote. “Both were thoughtfully designed and extremely content-rich. While challenging, as doctoral courses should be, I learned so much from each course, and it was all practical knowledge that I could then apply to my degree program and career.”

After that student joined the faculty, she recalled, Pavela’s commitment to mentorship continued. “Though I felt comfortable with content design and delivery when I first began teaching, I was clueless when it came to getting started with a new course,” she wrote. “Dr. Pavela discovered this and … offered to teach me how to use Camtasia to record my lectures before the semester began.”

Several nominators highlighted Pavela’s organizational talents. “I have used Dr. Pavela’s organization style for professional trainings I have conducted as well as for a course I was the teaching assistant for,” one wrote.

Another attributed the comments she receives on her own IDEA evaluations about the “well organized and well structured classes” to Pavela’s example.

“I believe his effectiveness as a teacher is driven by his constant striving to find new and better ways to explain concepts and to develop creative assignments that reinforce the concepts through application,” a nominator wrote.

Jennifer Ponder

Jennifer Ponder

School of Education

Jennifer Ponder, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, has expertise in self-efficacy and STEM identity in teaching. “Dr. Ponder is a light,” a former student shared. “She is an advocate for all people, but most importantly, her students. She is kind, nurturing, encouraging and gently demands excellence from her students. Her approach to learning is unorthodox to most yet based in research. She is open to change and believes all people deserve a seat at the table.”

Many students commented on what one called her “infectious positivity.” Ponder “provided me with hands-on, engaging and positive learning experiences that sparked my love for teaching science and social studies,” a student wrote. “From challenging us to build robots and code, nature journaling at Railroad Park and exploring the rich history of Birmingham, she proved to me that teaching these subjects can be fun.”

“The course Dr. Ponder has created is unlike any STEM integration course I have witnessed,” an administrator at a Jefferson County elementary school wrote. “Her preservice students leave UAB equipped to design learning experiences that cultivate essential contemporary skills needed to be successful in an ever-changing world.”

Several of Ponder’s students noted how she is dedicated to their success and well-being as individuals as well as in the classroom. “I truly felt excited to learn in her classes in a way that I hadn’t felt since I was an elementary student,” one student wrote. “At a time when I wasn’t sure if I could continue in the education field, Dr. Ponder reminded me why I wanted to start teaching in the first place, and the joy of guiding students to knowledge.”

J. Martin Rodriguez

J. Martin Rodriguez

Heersink School of Medicine

J. Martin Rodriguez, M.D., professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, is the inaugural holder of the Paul W. Burleson, MD Endowed Professorship in Internal Medicine at UAB and medical director of the Tinsley Harrison Service, which provides inpatient care to patients admitted to the general medicine service at UAB Hospital. “Dr. Rodriguez is widely regarded as the inspiration for literally dozens of trainees who have pursued a career in internal medicine, largely through his interaction with teams on this service,” a nominator wrote. “His depth of knowledge of internal medicine is legendary, and he is able to effectively convey this to all levels of trainees.”

“The patients on the Tinsley Harrison Service are the most clinically and socially complex in our institution,” another nominator wrote. “Due to Dr. Rodriguez’s leadership, this service has been the perennial top service awarded for teaching excellence for the past decade.”

Rodriguez also leads clinical activities for the Division of Infectious Diseases, where “he shines as the ‘go-to’ expert and educator for the thorniest, most challenging cases, and is sought after as the supervising attending in both the inpatient and outpatient settings,” the nominator wrote. “He is accessible, supportive, fair and inspirational, and has worked closely with our fellows on required research projects that have resulted in excellent publications, including literature reviews, meta-analyses, case reports and presentation of original research.”

Nasim Uddin

Nasim Uddin

School of Engineering

Nasim Uddin, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, teaches primarily courses related to structural dynamics and structural design. The latter in particular “is a challenging subject for even our best students, but it can be particularly difficult for students whose ultimate career focus lies outside this area,” a nominator wrote. Nevertheless, Uddin “has consistently managed to maintain high levels of achievement in his classrooms,” the nominator continued. “Students say he makes complex topics accessible through real-world examples, practical applications and in-class demonstrations. Many say he has a unique ability to explain difficult topics through analogies and references to simpler systems.”

One student recalled that “he will take pains to carry large steel shapes and actual steel connections to class for no other reason except that we understand the design well.”

“A further benefit I have gained from attending Dr. Uddin’s classes is the ability to communicate engineering ideas more clearly,” another student said. “I have realized that it takes significant work to present concepts like Dr. Uddin. However, when I successfully adopt his teaching style, my ideas are understood by both engineers and non-engineers.”

“His classes provide practical career advice and encourage students to aspire to structural design professions, something that many students did not feel they were capable of before taking his classes,” a nominator said.

A student concluded: “His energy and enthusiasm inspire you to want to solve any problems related to society’s infrastructure and make a difference in this world.”

Teresa Wilborn

Teresa Wilborn

Heersink School of Medicine - Joint Health Sciences

Teresa Wilborn, Pharm.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, acts as liaison within the Heersink School of Medicine to integrate pharmacology content throughout the school’s curriculum. Her success in this role is indicated by the fact that, in the graduating medical student questionnaire, UAB student satisfaction with pharmacology ranks in the top 5 percent nationwide. “Indeed, a significant number of students now identify pharmacology as their favorite subject,” a nominator wrote.

As interim chair since January 2023, Wilborn “has actively encouraged our faculty to develop undergraduate courses in pharmacology and drug discovery and is overseeing the revamping of our master’s 600-level courses,” the nominator continued.

Wilborn has received the Heersink School of Medicine’s Argus Award for teaching (voted on by students) on numerous occasions, along with the 2022 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, and in 2021 was honored with the Dale J. Benos Award for Excellence in Education, the school’s highest honor for basic science faculty for contributions to undergraduate medical education.

“Besides the medical students, at UAB she has been involved in establishing the pharmacology curriculum for dental, optometry and nursing anesthetists,” another nominator wrote.

Wilborn also is a “pioneer innovator in education,” the nominator added, explaining that she has also developed online interactive teaching modules in multiple pharmacology content areas.

Yufei Zhang

Yufei Zhang

Collat School of Business

Yufei Zhang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Marketing, Industrial Distribution and Economics, teaches courses in digital marketing, retail marketing and basic marketing. Her courses in digital marketing in particular attract students eager to learn the secrets of this in-demand skill. “Without question, it was the best class I have taken during my 11 semesters at UAB,” a student wrote of her digital marketing course. “The class offered the opportunity to run a Google Ads campaign for a real client. Dr. Zhang was incredibly supportive during a tough project …. I have never had such an engaged and supportive professor.”

“Yufei has devoted tremendous effort” to developing the digital marketing class, a faculty nominator wrote. “As the field itself develops quickly, teaching and learning of this subject requires students to get hands-on experiences. Yufei works closely with local corporations and places students into real projects …. This client-based teaching method requires far more time and effort from the instructor than traditional classroom lectures,” but the benefit is that “with the experiential learning approach, students master the state-of-the-art skills in digital marketing and social media, which have helped them secure jobs in the field.”

One student recalled the third course she took with Zhang, during the student’s final semester at UAB. “We were required to set up a one-on-one meeting with her at the beginning of the semester to discuss our academic and career goals leading up to and following graduation,” the student wrote. “I had never had another professor pay such special attention to my future like this, and as a senior who was anxious about landing a job after graduation, it meant the world to me.”

Jillian Ziemanski

Jillian Ziemanski

School of Optometry

Jillian Ziemanski, O.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Optometry and Vision Science, is a clinical and teaching faculty member with a schoolwide reputation as an “inspiring, enthusiastic and motivating professor,” a nominator wrote. For her course on glaucoma, a difficult topic, “she continuously revises lectures and material to be more concise and clear, more up-to-date with modern science and more useful to her students,” the nominator explained. “She takes her student evaluations seriously and frequently adjusts her material to be more accessible and more useful based on their feedback.”

“Her students benefit from her expertise not only in her wealth of disease knowledge but in her uncanny ability to convey that information clearly and succinctly,” another nominator wrote. “She is capable of simplifying even the most complicated disease management to its base levels, ensuring student comprehension from the ground up until they reach the high-level clinical competency needed for the advanced disease clinics.”

“Dr. Ziemanski is also invested in the optometric profession as a whole and actively participates in optometric scholarship, especially in the areas of dry-eye research,” another nominator wrote. “Dry eye is one of the most common and occasionally most difficult ocular conditions to treat, and her research ensures that the next generation of patients will have better understanding and more thorough treatment options in clinical practice.”