Greenauer receives Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching

Dr. Nathan Greenauer, assistant professor of applied psychology at Penn State Berks, was one of six Penn State faculty members to receive the 2016 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.

Greenauer states that students are constantly changing and it is up to great educators to do the same. He embraces new technology, such as GroupMe, a group messaging application that allows students immediate access to him so that they can get clarification, share information, or discuss assignments with fellow students. These public interactions benefit the entire group more than private conversations, he said.

A colleague said, through technology, Greenauer is ?constantly interacting with his students, maintaining a high level of academic discussion and communication among them, and keeping his students engaged in the subject matter.?

Greenauer's teaching interests include cognition, principles of learning, and tests and measurements. His research interests lie in the area of spatial cognition and include, among others, the study of the organization and structure of long-term spatial memory, the development of spatial category formation, the embodied basis of spatial knowledge, and the integration of spatial knowledge across experiences.

?My research focuses on understanding how we perceive and remember where things are located,? Greenauer explains. ?The paradox of my research is that failures of memory are generally more useful for understanding human cognition than one?s ability to successfully or accurately remember an event or fact. Fortunately for my research, the flexibility and efficiency with which we can learn and remember spatial information comes at a cost. Specifically, we generally do not remember events, information, or places exactly as we experienced them. Rather, our memory of the world is frequently biased, retaining the general meaning we attach to our experiences and places but not necessarily the details that make them unique. Several lines of research by my students and myself have documented the systematicity of these errors in order to better understand why we get lost or forget where we last put our coffee mug.?

Stressing the importance of research, Greenauer is committed to finding opportunities for his students. He uses them frequently on his own projects with the ultimate goal that they?ll become inspired to begin their own studies.

?Regardless of their future goals, such experiences foster the development of critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills that will apply to many aspects of their lives,? said Greenauer.

A colleague said Greenauer ?provides a very unique learning experience for our students in that he makes cognitive psychology and the psychology of learning interesting, accessible, actively engaging and applied to his students? lives.?

According to Lizzie Mummau, a senior Applied Psychology major who served as Greenauer?s research intern, ?Given that Dr. Greenauer is willing to teach in a context outside of classroom walls, and in the realm of research, shows his dedication toward educational experiences.?

Carrie French ?14, an alumna who completed a research internship with Greenauer, echoes these sentiments, stating, ?What amazed me was his awareness of exactly how much to help me and how long to let me flounder before stepping in during our discussions, but more importantly, the respect he had for me as a student. Not just for obvious signs of my academic ability ? but the respect for my ideas and thoughts and that he held me to the standard he knew I could meet even when I doubted myself.?

Taylor Schlegel, a junior Applied Psychology major, was most impressed by Greenauer?s personal attention. ?After seeing my achievement thus far in my grades, he pushed me to challenge myself and apply to the honors program. After realizing the passion I had for psychology, he motivated me to look into graduate schools to continue my education. He genuinely makes his students feel like respected, equal individuals in a classroom rather than nameless faces in a lecture hall.?

Greenauer?s concern extends beyond the classroom. Another student recalled how he reached out to her after she experienced a great loss and was thinking of leaving school. ?Dr. Greenauer noticed my demeanor had changed and took time to approach me and ensure my well being. He provided me with resources to get the help I needed on campus and showed that he was truly concerned about me as a person. I strongly believe that if it were not for him, I would have proceeded in giving up on my education.?