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Top teachers of 2020

Posted 2:35 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17, 2020

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UWL honors outstanding educators

The best educators have a profound impact on students, in and out of the classroom. This year, UWL’s Provost Office received more than 500 nominations from students hoping to recognize their favorite professors and instructors. 

From these nominations, a university committee selected six educators to receive 2020 Eagle Teaching Excellence Awards. The winners were highlighted on the university’s homepage over the past several weeks, and will be honored during Chancellor Joe Gow’s opening remarks for the fall semester. 

They are:     

  • Tushar Das, Mathematics & Statistics 
  • Christa Kiersch, Management
  • Barrett Klein, Biology 
  • Lisa Kruse, Sociology & Criminal Justice      
  • Greg Ormes, Communication Studies     
  • Megan Strom, Global Cultures & Languages 

If you missed any of the stories in the series, they have been collected here.

Tushar Das, associate professor, Mathematics & Statistics

Tushar Das, associate professor of Mathematics & Statistics.

Started at UWL: Fall 2013

Courses: “I take great pleasure in teaching a wide variety of mathematics, starting from College Algebra, Calculus I-III and Linear Algebra, on to Real Analysis, Abstract Algebra and Topology. Beyond my regular teaching load, I devote significant energy to intensive mentoring and teaching several research seminars aimed at our burgeoning constellation of graduate school-bound majors — many of whom are from underrepresented groups in STEM such as women, students of color and first-generation students; who often had never considered the possibility of graduate school. I am extremely proud that (since I started at UWL) 18 of my students and mentees have been accepted with full funding to excellent graduate programs that include UCLA, UC Irvine, Madison, Ohio State, Tufts, Boston University and Bryn Mawr.”

Background: “I’m reminded of Einstein’s famous paean to the spirit of inquiry: ‘Curiosity is a delicate little plant that, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom.’ My curiosity was nurtured by wonderful teachers at Miranda Hall Montessori House and St. Xavier’s Collegiate School (both in Calcutta/Kolkata in India), at the University of St. Andrews (in Scotland) where I received my bachelors, and at the University of North Texas where I received my master’s and doctorate. Post Ph.D. I spent a year at Oregon State before joining UWL in the Fall of 2013.”

Favorite part of teaching: “In my case, I was always apathetic to schoolwork until I met the right teachers (both inside and outside of schools). They lit a fire in me, gave me a glimpse into the magic gardens of their subjects, and then disappeared leaving me propelled to explore on my own! Subjects aren’t inspiring per se — it’s us teachers who have that crucial potential to ignite the fire of curiosity in our students. A great teacher or researcher inspires others to reach farther than what they had dreamed, and this inspiration may be most significant if transmitted through their actions and example, their philosophy or worldview. To riff on Descartes, I learn thus I am. Learning is equivalent to existing. That’s what I’d like my students to leave/live with — the fire to remain curious and to keep learning until our last breath. Not just with a handful of beautiful seashells discovered on our sojourn along the infinite shores of mathematics.”

Christa Kiersch, associate professor, Management 

Christa Kiersch, associate professor of Management.

Started at UWL: Fall 2012

Courses: “I teach courses in the areas of Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management. I often describe my areas as falling within ‘the human side of business.’ ”

Background: “Prior to teaching at UWL, I was in graduate school at Colorado State University, earning my Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. While at CSU, I did research on fair treatment of employees and employee engagement. I also did project-based consulting work, helping organizations make evidence-informed decisions about their human capital.”

Favorite part of teaching: “My love of teaching has a lot to do with the human connections formed and how these connections can lead us to think differently about a concept or problem, or even about the world around us.”
“I love how these connections can offer support for mutual challenge, and when my students overcome challenges in a project and exceed their own expectations of what they thought was possible. It’s also pretty amazing when my students challenge me to do something new, or something different, and I realize some of my own hidden capabilities, too.”
“It’s such a privilege to be part of this process with my students.” 

Barrett Klein, associate professor, Biology

Barrett Klein, associate professor of Biology.

Started at UWL: Fall 2012

Courses: “I created a few courses for UWL students: Animal Behavior, Entomology (insects, glorious insects!), and Scientific Visualization (how to critically assess and produce visuals for science). I also teach core courses in Biology: General Biology, Organismal Biology, and our Capstone course. I’d love to introduce a course on Cultural Entomology — how insects have affected human cultures around the world and throughout history.”

Background: “Before becoming a denizen of the Driftless Zone, I fabricated insects and giant viruses for natural history museums, tried to imagine what a honey bee’s dream might look like while living in Germany, and studied entomology at Cornell, University of Arizona, and University of Texas at Austin.”

Favorite part of teaching: “I am most elated as a teacher when one of the following happens: 
1. A student pushes me and the rest of a class to consider something deeper, something beyond the conventional scope of the course. Science is a process, and should never be confined to a convenient set of slides, or limited to unchallenged dogma.   
2. I am able to uncover hidden talents, and encourage students to harness their superpowers (for good). 
3. Colleagues challenge me to reconsider concepts in science and education. I’ve learned a lot from my UWL colleagues. 
4. I am able to share my love of insects and what they are capable of with anyone willing to watch a honey bee dance, a cockroach hiss, a wasp sleep, or a mantis learn.” 

Lisa Kruse, associate professor, Sociology & Criminal Justice 

Lisa Kruse, associate professor of Sociology & Criminal Justice.

Started at UWL: Fall 2013

Courses: “I teach upper level criminal justice courses — Introduction to Criminal Justice, Law & Society, Surveillance & Society, as well as statistics, Introduction to Sociology and Sociological Theory.”

Background: “Prior to UWL, I taught classes in sociology at Western Michigan University and ran the open access digital repository through the library at the university. Before teaching at WMU, I was an academic advisor at Eastern Michigan University and a research assistant for renowned critical criminologist Dr. Gregg Barak.”

Favorite part of teaching: “Connecting with students in the classroom and beyond. It is the best feeling to see students get passionate about the subject matter, to help them through tough material, to be there for them in times of need, to help them get internships and jobs that they are excited for, to have them stop by my office for a chat. The students at UWL are the greatest, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be a teacher. Thank you to all of my students for making my job amazing and to those who nominated me for this award. I am flattered by this recognition.” 

Greg Ormes, assistant professor, Communication Studies 

Gregory Ormes, assistant professor of Communication Studies.

Started at UWL: Fall 2015

Courses: I teach classes including Communication in Teams, Public Relations, Professional Communication, Organizational Communication, as well as classes in Communication Theory and Research. I’ve also been pleased to participate in the First Year Seminar program.”

Background: “Before teaching at UWL, I was a graduate student and teaching assistant at Texas A&M University and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.”

Favorite part of teaching: “Teaching inspires me. It gives me strength, and it gives me a sense of who I am as a person. My favorite part of teaching is following our students’ journeys as they discover their passions and their paths. Building these meaningful relationships with students brightens my days, motivates me as a scholar and a person, and broadens my worldview. I can’t imagine being anything besides a teacher.” 

Megan Strom, assistant professor, Global Cultures & Languages  

Megan Strom, assistant professor of Global Cultures & Languages.

Started at UWL: Fall 2017

Courses: “I teach in the Spanish section of the Department of Global Cultures & Languages. I work in Hispanic Linguistics to focus specifically on the Spanish-speaking and Latinx communities in the United States: how the media represent them, their experiences in the health care and legal systems, and what their everyday experiences are in general terms.”

Background: “I taught Spanish for four years as a visiting assistant professor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. That is where I learned how to be a medical and legal interpreter, skills that have become integral parts of my classes at UWL. Before that, I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota and my M.A. at the Universidad de las Américas-Puebla.”

Favorite part of teaching: “One of the main goals of my teaching is to promote more compassionate and ethical treatment of Spanish speakers and Latinxs in the United States. In order to do this, we need to explore very difficult concepts that can cause discomfort as we realize that most of us are complicit in these situations. The reason I love stepping into the classroom every day is because students are willing to do this work together – with me and with each other – and because I learn so much from them in the process. I am consistently impressed with the connections they make between our class material, what they are learning in their other classes, and their own life experiences. ¡Gracias, estudiantes!”


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