Campus News

Josiah Meigs Teaching Professors

Five of UGA's outstanding teachers were named Josiah Meigs Teaching Professors at the Faculty Recognition Banquet April 11 at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education Conference Center and Hotel. The professorship recognizes excellence in instruction at

Sybilla Beckmann Kazez
Professor of Mathematics

For Sybilla Beckmann Kazez, professor of mathematics, lessons don’t stop when class ends.

In fact, Beckmann (the name she uses professionally) has a dedication to teaching that ripples outward from the classroom, engulfing more and more minds as the students she mentors at UGA become teachers themselves and carry on her tradition of doing the impossible: Making students love math.

Throughout the past decade, Beckmann has regularly taught courses for those who seek to become mathematics teachers at the elementary, middle and high school levels, oftentimes taking on more than her required 3½ classes a semester.

Her book, Mathematics for Elementary Teachers, has become a standard textbook for aspiring teachers across the country and has helped catapult her to the forefront of the national conversation about teaching. The book, now in its third edition, was rated highest among all textbooks examined in a study by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Since coming to UGA in 1988, Beckmann has served on advisory panels of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Research Council and the Common Core State Standards Initiative to develop national standards for mathematics teaching.

She also spent an entire school year teaching a sixth grade math class at Clarke Middle School in Athens-time that became invaluable to her work.

As Jim Milgram, mathematics professor at Stanford University, said of Beckmann’s work on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, “[She] is the only serious research mathematician in the country who has actually spent significant time on the ground in the schools. She takes her place with a very few others as one of the top people in mathematics education in this country.”

In addition to teaching “teacher prep” courses for pre-service teachers, Beckmann works directly with teachers and students in local schools, where one principal noted she started a “math revolution” that spread like wildfire throughout the campus.

The same effect can be seen at UGA, where she regularly earns top marks on her student evaluations.

“Dr. Beckmann has a genuine love of mathematics. You can tell it still fascinates her, which is really awesome to watch,” one student wrote. “I definitely have a new appreciation for math because of her class. She really encourages you to ‘wrap your brain around’ your work. She has always been ready and eager to help, and sees each student as an individual.”

Beckmann, who is married to UGA mathematics professor William Kazez, earned her doctoral degree in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania and has taught at Yale University as a J.W. Gibbs Instructor of Mathematics. Beckmann also has done research in arithmetic geometry, although her current interests are the mathematical education of teachers and mathematics content for students at all levels, but especially for pre-K through the middle grades.

Jody Clay-Warner
Associate Professor of Sociology

Jody Clay-Warner has high expectations for her students.

“She is a gifted and dynamic professor. . . who gets students to recognize their potential and raise their achievements to match,” said William Finlay, head of the department of sociology. “She constantly seeks new ways to challenge and engage the students, to get them to become as passionate about learning as she is.”

Clay-Warner, director of the Criminal Justice Studies Program, has been at UGA since 1998. She also is an affiliate faculty member of the Institute for Women’s Studies. She’s known as a knowledgeable and well-prepared teacher who is friendly and upbeat.

“My goal is to challenge students within a supportive environment,” Clay-Warner said. “I think of it as giving students a compass but only stepping in with a map if the navigation becomes too difficult. I want students to have at least one light bulb moment while actually taking an exam. If they don’t, then I have wasted the students’ time.”

Her students said they appreciated her expectations.

“She pushed me in the right direction. . . I may struggle with the materials at time, but she always made me want to do better,” one student said in a course evaluation.

“Dr. Clay-Warner challenged me to take my academic performance to the highest level and helped me reach my full potential,” said Jennifer McHahon Howard, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Kennesaw State University, who earned undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees at UGA.

McHahon Howard said that she once turned in a thoroughly researched paper only to have it completely marked up. Given all the comments, she thought it was a terrible paper.

“When I met with Dr. Clay-Warner in her office, she said, ‘I could tell you put a lot of time and hard work into this paper, so I thought that as your professor I should put just as much time and effort into giving you feedback so you could improve your writing and research skills.’ ”

Clay-Warner brings a focus on research into her classroom so that even students who do not have hands-on experience are able to understand and appreciate research. Numerous students have conducted research in the Laboratory for the Study of Social Interaction, which she co-directs with sociology colleague Dawn Robinson. Clay-Warner also involves students in her own non-laboratory-based research and has a strong record of publishing with her students.

Clay-Warner earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in psychology from Georgia State University. Her doctorate in sociology is from Emory University.

“Dr. Clay-Warner is one of, if not the, best professors I’ve ever had,” said a student. “I left the class each day feeling wiser, smarter and like I knew more about the world and could be a better person.”

Karen K. Cornell
Professor of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery

Every year since 1998 when Karen Cornell joined the faculty of the College of Veterinary Medicine, she has been recognized by her students or her peers-and often
both-with at least one teaching award, and at times two or more.

A surgeon in private practice before joining the department of small animal medicine and surgery, Cornell is known as an innovative and demanding professor who believes her students should be instilled with the knowledge to master their medical skills as well as with pragmatic knowledge to aid them in business and life in general.

Twice she has received the Carl J. Norden Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest teaching honor bestowed upon a veterinary medicine educator. Six times she has been selected as the one faculty member who contributed most to the education of fourth-year veterinary medicine students. In 2004, the faculty awarded her the David Tyler Award for Innovative Advances in Teaching. She received a Lilly Teaching Fellowship in 2001 and has since served as a mentor to other Lilly Fellows as well as to her colleagues at the veterinary college.

“It is particularly noteworthy that Dr. Cornell was recognized twice by the college as a whole as its most outstanding instructor,” said Dean Sheila W. Allen. “The numerous recognitions Dr. Cornell has received for her dedication to teaching document the high regard to which she is held by the faculty and the students.”

Throughout the country, Cornell is highly regarded as a revolutionary professor. She has been involved with the Bayer Animal Health Communication Project of the Institute for Healthcare Communications since its inception in 2004. She took the lead in introducing communication skills training into the veterinary medicine curriculum at UGA, as she believes students should be taught to effectively communicate with their clients, peers and the media. The accrediting body for veterinary education in the U.S. now requires communication to be one of the nine clinical competencies that all students achieve.

She also believes in fostering personal and professional growth, having spent three years developing and teaching a seminar series for clinical interns and residents.

“She taught this seminar series at night, frequently at her own home or the home of other department faculty members, to provide a venue for open discussions,” said Dr. Scott Brown, her former department head.

The series is now a regular part of training of the department’s graduate students.

“With all the rigors of academic veterinary medicine, she continually makes time for her students and peers, listening to and attempting to meet needs as best she can,” said a 2008 graduate. “I valued her advice about career and life decisions above that of many others, and I always knew I would get an honest evaluation of myself in the midst of any situation I was presented. That generosity and care for others from Dr. Cornell was ubiquitous throughout the entire college and community.”

Christy Desmet
Professor of English

Students in Christy Desmet’s classes are all “a Twitter.”

That’s because the veteran educator has successfully blended the teaching of centuries-old information with the new tools of social media to make learning more meaningful.

Before Nicole Rennie took Desmet’s Shakespeare 2.0 class, she had a one-dimensional view of the English playwright and of literature in general-and was “blissfully unaware of these limitations.”

“Studying Shakespeare through YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other staples of Web 2.0, I was able to see his plays as living documents, malleable and applicable from one generation to the next,” Rennie said. “I experienced Shakespeare like I never had before, and, for the first time, I felt like I had a material role in the next generation of Shakespearean studies.”

Desmet, who has spent her entire professional career at UGA, earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature and Renaissance studies and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Virginia in 1976 and 1978, respectively. She received her doctoral degree in Renaissance English literature and rhetoric in 1984 from UCLA. She joined UGA that same year as an assistant professor and was promoted to associate professor in 1991 and to professor in 2008.

As director of the First-Year Composition Program and the UGA Writing Center since 1998, Desmet has overseen several departmental initiatives. The first, to mainstream computer instruction into all first-year composition classes, led to the design and teaching of the pioneering Electronic Markup and Management Application known as <emma>, which has been adopted by composition teachers and administrators in other programs across the country. The most important curricular innovation that <emma> has supported has been electronic portfolios.

“The ePortfolio, which replaces the single-draft, high-stakes final exam, is a much more authentic assessment measure,” Desmet said. “It invites students to present their best pieces of writing for final review, asks them to reflect on their experiences as writers and allows them to demonstrate their revision and peer-review processes.”

Desmet also has led an initiative to improve teacher education in FYC. English 6911 supports new teachers’ pedagogy during their first semester of teaching English 1101, introduces them to relevant composition theory and involves extensive hands-on, curricular design. This required course culminates with a teaching portfolio.

The winner of several teaching awards, Desmet has passed her love of Shakespeare-and teaching-on to her students.

“I want to teach high school literature courses the way (Dr. Desmet) taught Shakespeare 2.0. I want my students to feel invested in not only the reading but also in the writing of Shakespeare,” said Rennie, who will graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in English education. “She inspired me to teach this way, showed me how to teach this way and showed me the positive impact that this approach has on students.”

Wan-I Oliver Li
Associate Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology

Wan-I Oliver Li’s continuous honing of his own teaching skills, combined with his ability to keep his students intellectually engaged, challenged and encouraged, have made him one of the most sought-after professors on campus.

Li joined the College of Veterinary Medicine faculty more than 20 years ago. Recognized early as a gifted educator, he was named a Lilly Teaching Fellow in 1992. He received the Carl J. Norden-Pfizer Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest teaching award bestowed to a veterinary medicine professor, in 2007.

“He excels in teaching at all three levels: undergraduate, graduate and professional,” said Dr. Sheila W. Allen, dean of the veterinary medicine college. “His teaching evaluations are exceptional. His ability to connect with students, despite the size of the class, is reflected by the (70-plus) reference letters students ask him to write on their behalf each year.”

As an instructor of human and animal physiology, veterinary endocrinology and veterinary physiological chemistry, Li teaches hundreds of undergraduate students each year. He is credited with taking what students used to consider rather dull educational fare-VPHY 3100 or “Elements of Physiology”-and turning it into a class that is so in demand it is now offered in both the fall and spring semesters.

Li said his own educational experience helped him develop a hybrid style that incorporates the lecture-listen approach of the Asian system with the more interactive approach of American classrooms, where, he said, “. . . the questions and comments our students raise are treated with more attention and respect.”

Despite numerous accolades from his colleagues, it is the praise from the students themselves that brings home the realization that a memorable and often life-changing experience is taking place in Li’s classroom.

“Instead of presenting the exact same material year after year, Dr. Li actively pursues new research related to his lecture topics and integrates this material into his teaching,” wrote a former student.

“He is extremely respectful of students and is actually willing and enthused about helping us succeed in school and further endeavors,” wrote another.

“He masterfully accomplishes what very few educators have done in my experience: Dr. Li motivated me to reach beyond the assigned duties by creating a positive learning environment; individually challenging me to demonstrate a superior conceptual knowledge of the material; and providing personal support and guidance at every step,” wrote a former student who, with the aid of Li’s guidance and letters of recommendation, became a Rhodes Scholar and is now a second-year medical student at Harvard.

One alumnus wrote that one of his most memorable classroom moments at UGA came on the last day of class in VPHY 3100: “As Dr. Li closed by saying, ‘And that’s human physiology’, without intermission, applause erupted from the fully attended class thanking the professor who not only taught but also entertained them with a study in human physiology.”