Three UGA faculty members will receive Richard B. Russell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at the 2012 Faculty Recognition Banquet at the Georgia Center on April 16. Russell Awards recognize outstanding teaching by faculty in their first decade of teaching. Winners receive $5,000.
The Richard B. Russell Foundation in Atlanta supports the program.
James E. (Jeb) Byers
Associate Professor of Ecology
By Beth Gavrilles
Jeb Byers sums up his teaching philosophy in three words: “Inspire then perspire!”
Whether he’s lecturing in an introductory ecology class, leading a field lab experiment in marine biology or mentoring an undergraduate conducting original research, Byers’ engaging instruction and hands-on experience has an impact on the lives of his students.
Zachary Holmes was not sure that ecology was the right field for him-until he took Byers’ “Ecosystems of the World” Honors course.
“I walked into that classroom unsure of what path I wished to follow and walked out fully energized to submerge myself in ecological study,” Holmes said.
“His expectations of students were high,” said Matt Foretich, describing an introductory ecology course, “but he made himself available to provide any resources or office hours that were necessary to help us meet his expectations.”
Byers’ classroom lectures are heavy on student involvement, even in large classes. Students may find themselves designing an ecological sampling program to address the existence of Bigfoot or role playing as a pregnant barnacle trying to minimize the mortality of her planktonic larvae. Byers also actively involves undergraduates in research.
“He has a remarkable gift for setting his students up for success,” said John Gittleman, dean of the Odum School of Ecology. “He has literally affected the career trajectories of dozens of students this way.”
Byers attributes his choice of career, and his teaching philosophy, to his own experience as the student of an exceptional teacher.
“Dr. William Kirby-Smith’s undergraduate course in animal diversity at Duke University heavily influenced my decision to become a scientist,” he said. “The structure of that course and the enthusiasm it generated among the students indelibly influenced my own teaching philosophy that a well-designed participatory course can infuse students with genuine enthusiasm for learning.”
Byers’ students tend to agree.
Associate Professor of Financial Planning
By Denise Horton
As a faculty member helping establish the family financial planning program in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, Joseph Goetz has seen the program grow from eight students in 2006 to 118 in 2011 and be listed by Financial Planning magazine as one of 10 standout programs in the country.
Goetz has been instrumental in setting up the master’s and doctoral degrees. He has included the scholarship of teaching financial planning as a key area of his research, including co-authoring “Easing the College Student’s Transition into the Professional World,” an article that has been repeatedly cited by authors seeking to improve financial planning education in the U.S. and internationally.
And Goetz’s students praise his teaching prowess, with many saying he “explains difficult material so that it makes sense.” Others point to his sense of humor and willingness to offer extra study sessions.
But Goetz’s teaching skills go far beyond the classroom. He develops opportunities for students to engage in experiential learning by working with clients throughout the community. In the program’s capstone course, Goetz brings clients into the classroom; and students go through the process of meeting with clients, building rapport with them and, ultimately, presenting them completed financial plans. Students also have provided financial literacy workshops to clients at community agencies such as Project Safe and the Athens Area Homeless Shelter.
Goetz also teamed with faculty in other departments to establish the ASPIRE Clinic and has established the country’s first clinical practicum course that allows students direct client experience, including teaming with students in other fields, such as family therapy, to resolve client issues that go beyond financial planning.
“A core principle of my teaching philosophy is that students typically have greater potential than they realize; and, to be most effective as a teacher, I must remain committed to helping them realize this potential through respect, encouragement and mentoring,” Goetz said.
Associate Professor of Natural Resources, Recreation and Tourism
By Sandi Martin
Rather than cling to the traditional role of giving students information to memorize, Gary Green strives to be a facilitator of knowledge and experience.
He doesn’t just give students things to read-he tries to make them appreciate material by making it relevant. Then he challenges them to use that knowledge in situations that can benefit them.
“Education should be about life-long learning, hence I am striving to foster a student’s interest in learning that extends beyond my class,” he said.
Green joined the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources in 2004 as an assistant professor, but he was a research scientist with UGA for five years before that, working with the USDA Forest Service on campus. Originally from England, Green earned his master’s degree in education from UGA in 1994 and his Ed.D. in 2000.
Green has certainly made an impact on students. Heather Fleming, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in natural resources from UGA, was an undergraduate when she first took a class with Green. His enthusiastic teaching spurred her to change her major, she said in a letter recommending him for the Russell Award.
“He is passionate about the field of natural resources and sharing that love with students from many fields,” she said. “He brings conservation to the forefront and easily engages students to support conservation, education and outreach through projects that allow students to work with local agencies.”
Ami Flowers, a graduate student in the forestry and natural resources school, also holds a deep appreciation for Green’s teaching style.
“Dr. Green recognizes that every student is a person, not just another warm body that passes under UGA’s famed Arch, and thus treats his students with respect, and in return he receives the same,” she said. “He actually cares about his students and regards them as valuable investments: future stewards of our precious natural resources.”