Four faculty members were named Meigs Distinguished Professors for 2023. The professorship is the university’s highest recognition for instruction at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Meigs Professors receive a permanent salary increase of $6,000 and a one-year discretionary fund of $1,000.
Department of Genetics
Franklin College of Arts and Sciences
Tessa Andrews relies on four key principles to help her students develop a deep, conceptual understanding of the material and hone their abilities as scientific thinkers, communicators and learners.
“I strive to enact these four principles in each lesson,” she said. “Doing so requires continuously improving my teaching by gathering feedback from students and leveraging research about teaching and learning.”
First is active learning, which gives students practice applying their knowledge and skills. She has them work through problems using individual thinking and writing as well as discussion in small, assigned groups.
Andrews’ second principle is to build her students’ scientific thinking skills. Students learn basic concepts outside of class. Her class time is then available for students to develop deep understanding of concepts by engaging in scientific practices.
Andrews also works to build her students’ science communications skills. No matter the direction of their career, those skills will be important, so she creates opportunities for students to practice writing and talking about biology in her courses. Students explain concepts to their peers and write responses to open-ended questions each class.
Lastly, Andrews strives to create a strong learning environment for all of her students. One way she does that is through transparency in her teaching. She provides specific learning objectives for each lesson and writes exams closely aligned with those objectives. Another way she makes her courses more accessible is by using open-access education materials to minimize the financial burden on students.
Her students are benefiting from her efforts in the classroom as a mentor for undergraduate research.
“She taught me how to nurture a research project from the ground up—starting with detailed literature reviews through to an undergraduate thesis. She never fixed problems for me, but rather she gave me the support I needed to problem solve through any issues on my own,” one student wrote. “Our lab became my favorite place on campus. I knew I would be challenged, supported and valued. Her dedication to mentorship will continue to change the professional and personal lives of every student who is lucky enough to know her.”
Andrews has mentored 40 undergraduate students and supervised the research of several graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. She has served on committees at the department and university level, including University Council, and has been principal investigator on several grants and published numerous articles.
Additionally, Andrews has received the Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the USG Regents’ Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award and has served as a Lilly Teaching Fellow and a Teaching Academy Fellow.
“Tessa is an outstanding teacher, research mentor and leader in education in our department, at UGA and nationally,” one colleague wrote.
Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, College of Veterinary Medicine
Sonia Hernandez wants her students to get excited about what they’re learning.
“My teaching philosophy is one of teaching through leadership, not intimidation; of emphasizing cooperation, not competition; instilling confidence; promoting independent, critical thinking, while understanding that different people learn differently and that, in the end, enthusiasm and passion for a topic are infectious,” she said.
One way Hernandez gets students excited is through active learning. She engages students with discussion-based teaching, current event tidbits, article discussions, student presentations, think-pair-share, minute papers, games related to subject matter, role play, peer review, group projects and other activities.
Hernandez has created and fostered new opportunities for students at UGA for years. A decade ago, she started the study abroad course, “Conservation Medicine and Biology,” that highlights the principles of One Health in Costa Rica. This is the first course of its kind in the U.S. and purposely serves undergraduate and veterinary students in teams that focus on how anthropogenic activities impact wildlife and public health.
Hernandez’s active research program, which has garnered more than $4 million in grants and produced 90 peer-reviewed journal articles, six books and nine book chapters, informs her teaching and exposes students to cutting-edge approaches in the lab and field. In the classroom, she has developed three new courses and engaged in major revision of two additional courses since 2008.
Her mentoring goes beyond class. In 13 years, Hernandez has advised 21 graduate students and formally advises an average of eight Warnell undergraduate students and three veterinary students every year.
Her efforts inside and outside the classroom have been noticed by students.
“Sonia truly exemplifies an outstanding professor. She models excellence through her positive and uplifting demeanor in the classroom; her commitment to strong and ethical research, which translates into a holistic view of the material and well-rounded lectures; her unfailing enthusiasm for her subject material; and her endless patience, dedication and support to her students,” a group of students wrote.
Hernandez has received the Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and a Fulbright Fellowship in Spain. She’s been inducted into the UGA Teaching Academy and served as a UGA Writing Fellow, UGA Senior Teaching Fellow and UGA Women’s Leadership Fellow, among other honors.
“Simply put, she embodies everything the Meigs Professorship represents, starting with a foundation of excellence in undergraduate classroom instruction, graduate student mentorship, and extending quickly across the campus and beyond, nationally and internationally,” one colleague wrote.
Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication
College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
Maria Navarro is known for her impact on students inside and outside the classroom.
“I view teaching as a means to improve the lives of both my students and all who they influence,” she said. “I enjoy mentoring undergraduate students who are committed to making a difference but are still searching for their passion and are hungry for an interdisciplinary and broad education that will help them find their niche. I am committed to working with graduate students, focusing on their research programs and their academic, professional and personal growth. I thrive with the intellectual challenge that comes with facilitating in-depth disciplinary study and research.”
Active learning strategies are just one way she’s making an impact. She effectively uses a flipped classroom approach and engages her students with case studies, group analysis, mind maps and jigsaw discussions, where students take the role of both experts and learners.
Navarro also engages her students with experiential learning opportunities. She has taught study abroad and service-learning courses and worked with students doing capstone projects and internships.
Navarro is also dedicated to creating a diverse and inclusive learning environment. She has adapted her curriculum to better engage diverse students, including underrepresented and first-generation students. As a result, students collaborate and learn from each other.
For Navarro, the focus is on developing the whole student.
“Dr. Navarro has been an influential teacher and mentor to me, both as a graduate student and academic professional. She made concepts and theories come alive through relevant case studies and examples, including her own research,” one former student wrote. “Dr. Navarro helped me to develop intercultural competence as an educator, to ask critical questions and seek collaborative solutions. That is how she teaches—inviting students to be co-creators of the learning process.”
Navarro has supervised the research of more than 40 students, in addition to serving as principal investigator or co-principal investigator on several grants and numerous publications of her own.
In addition to the President’s Fulfilling the Dream Award, Navarro has received the Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. She’s also a member of the UGA Teaching Academy and has participated in the Lilly Teaching Fellow, Online Learning Fellow and Center for Teaching and Learning Innovation Fellow programs.
“She is an innovative and excellent teacher who creates a challenging, rigorous and inclusive academic environment; provides numerous opportunities for student academic, personal and professional growth; is a successful education researcher who is making an impact on teaching practice; develops, manages and enhances programs; elevates the work of others and supports faculty and staff in their education efforts; and is committed to service to the university and the profession,” a colleague wrote.
Department of Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics
College of Family and Consumer Sciences
Kim Skobba supports her students’ success by creating conditions for learning and by building relationships with them.
“I seek to be a facilitator of learning in the classroom and provide opportunities to develop 21st-century skills, including leadership, creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking and communication literacy,” she said.
Skobba combines an active learning approach with a structured, well-designed curriculum. To that end, she has developed six new courses and has substantially revised four different courses.
Over the past two years, Skobba became a student herself, learning about digital storytelling through StoryCenter and then incorporating that into her First-Year Odyssey seminar on the meaning of home.
In addition, providing feedback and opportunities for revision, combined with student self-reflections, are valued components of her teaching approach.
She also seeks to reduce barriers to student success. She adopts a course structure that gives students room for error without devastating consequences on their grades. This approach adds flexibility for students with the most significant barriers while meeting the needs and situations that arise for students in general during the semester. As a first-generation college graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree as a nontraditional student herself, she understands the challenges of attending school while managing work and family responsibilities.
The key to success for Skobba is engaging her students in their own learning and growth.
“She leads her class by example, giving space for discourse, innovation and establishing the connection of the course content to the greater community. Her ability to support students through discovering their talents and interests while simultaneously maintaining structure and rigor in her courses is invaluable,” one student wrote. “Dr. Skobba is more than a scholar and professor; she is a student success advocate. She listens, provides sound advice, mentors and promotes space for students to grow academically, professionally and personally. She has had a profound, positive impact on students’ confidence, including my own as an instructor and professional.”
Skobba has supervised the research of several undergraduate and graduate students. She also has numerous publications of her own and has served as principal investigator or co-principal investigator on several grants.
Skobba has received the Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and participated in the Active Learning Summer Institute. She’s also a member of the UGA Teaching Academy and served as a Lilly Teaching Fellow and a Service-Learning Fellow.
“Dr. Skobba has contributed in numerous ways in improving the quality of education and student learning experiences in the Department of Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics, in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and across the University of Georgia,” one colleague wrote.