UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Brenda Russell, professor of applied psychology at Penn State Berks, and Chris Staley, distinguished professor of art in the College of Arts and Architecture, are the recipients of the 2017 Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching.
The award recognizes excellence in teaching and student support among tenured faculty who have been employed full time for at least five years with undergraduate teaching as a major portion of their duties. Milton S. Eisenhower, brother of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, served as president of Penn State from 1950 to 1956.
As a facilitator and mentor of the discovery process, Russell said she asks a lot of herself and her students. She strives to excite her students about the learning process.
“I believe passion is a gateway to learning, as excitement and drive often follow effortlessly.” said Russell. “Helping students identify their passions, strengths and goals opens up new and clearer paths forward that lead to self-determination. This can be empowering and intrinsically motivating. Once their path or niche is discovered, academic success often follows.”
Russell urges her students to apply real-life experiences to classroom lessons. For a course on the APA Code of Ethics, she tasks students with writing a paper on an ethical issue they encountered during an internship.
For final projects, students complete a grant-writing proposal in which students use their research skills to identify a social problem and create a solution, such as a program, treatment or design to measure effectiveness.
Students are encouraged to go to court, engage in mock trials, jury selection exercises, debates and accompany police on patrols, and these experiences are integrated into class discussions.
“As a teacher and mentor of self-discovery, I hope to convey how my own path led me to do what I love every day,” said Russell. “I expect more from my students because I truly hope that one day their passion will drive them to rise above the minimum standards and find their own success as they make tangible differences in our world. I expect more from myself because I truly care about their success and recognize that students can reach a higher potential when we as teachers rise above minimum standards of teaching and mentoring.”
A colleague and nominator praised Russell’s ability to use experiences in her own life to enhance her teaching.
“Because of her own experiences through research and practice, she connects with students in a new and interesting way, exciting them about learning,” said the nominator. “Russell possesses the special ability to guide and teach in a way that pushes her students to reach their full potential.”
Staley is a decorated educator with 35 years in the profession but he’s still learning.
“As a teacher, I am constantly striving to discover more effective ways to teach,” said Staley. “By sharing my own doubts and fears, I try to convey to students that failing is a fundamental component to creativity and learning. I want them to know that I am learning from them and I value their wisdom. I try to be a good listener.
Staley has taught workshops and lectures at more than 200 educational institutions, including the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Israel and the European Ceramic Work Center in the Netherlands.
“From these experiences, I always return to Penn State eager to share new-found knowledge with students,” said Staley, who is president of the National Council of Education for the Ceramic Arts, a group of more than 5,000 artists, writers and educators.
Staley remains an active artist. His work, through dozens of exhibits, appears in prominent collections from the Victoria and Albert museums in London to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
“As a teacher of art it is essential that I make art,” said Staley. “The credibility of what I say as an art teacher is greatly enhanced by what I produce in my own studio.”
A former student and nominator said Faley inspired her to continue a career in ceramic arts.
“Faley’s mindful teaching philosophy, his dedication to student-centered teaching and his passion for learning, questioning and listening, not only to his students but to the world around him, are undoubtedly the most exceptional aspects of his life as an educator,” said the nominator. “He readily unpacks the process of teaching alongside his students.”