The University of Georgia has recognized three faculty members with the Russell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the university’s highest early career teaching honor for outstanding and innovative instruction.
The 2023 Russell Award recipients are:
- Gino D’Angelo, assistant professor of deer ecology and management in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources;
- Jillian Bohlen, associate professor of animal and dairy science in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and
- Krista Capps, associate professor of ecology in the Odum School of Ecology, with a joint appointment in the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.
“This year’s Russell Award recipients have put UGA’s mission of academic excellence into action,” said S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Using evidence-based teaching practices and caring mentorship, they help students grow as scholars and professionals.”
In each course he teaches, D’Angelo’s focus is on his students’ professional development. He wants them to have the confidence and skills to express their ideas effectively and the opportunity to explore potential career paths that are well aligned with their passion and abilities.
“Teaching has become the most fulfilling aspect of my entire professional career,” he said. “The diversity and enthusiasm of students motivates me to teach in new and innovative ways. And, I feel that I am able to inspire them to do great things to the best of their potential.”
Before joining the Warnell faculty in 2016, D’Angelo spent over nine years in non-academic research and management. He uses that experience to provide firsthand examples to students and to mentor them on professional options after graduation.
“Ultimately, passion, care and empathy are the things that come to mind when I think about Dr. D’Angelo as a professor and a person,” one student wrote. “His teaching style and the expectations he had for his students pushed us to want to do our best and to be better, because we knew he had our back and wanted us to thrive.”
D’Angelo does his best to design courses that appeal to students with a wide variety of interests. He co-developed a class on fish and wildlife policy that includes collaborative group work where students act as stakeholders in policy decision-making. Outside the classroom, he developed a volunteer program to get students involved in the UGA deer research facility and is a faculty advisor for the UGA student chapter of The Wildlife Society.
His teaching style and student mentorship has led to several awards from Warnell, including the Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching and the Early Career Teaching Award. He was a UGA Teaching Academy Fellow in 2017.
From interactive group discussions to hands-on activities to comprehension checks, Bohlen’s teaching approach is centered on helping students to understand and apply what they’re learning.
“To see them as people, to understand them as students and to relate to them as individuals is inherently important to their experience in the classroom and what they ultimately take from it,” she said.
Bohlen’s interaction with her students takes place in the lecture hall, in the laboratory and out on the farm. As the first faculty member from the department of animal and dairy science to be selected as a UGA Special Collections Library Fellow, Bohlen even uses archival materials to enhance instruction in her animal science course.
When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S. in 2020, she worked with colleagues from other universities to develop OASIS, the Online Animal Science Instruction Shop, where instructors could give each other tips and materials for virtual teaching. With students unable to join her on the farm or in the lab, Bohlen used a GoPro video camera and head mount to provide them with experiential learning from a distance.
“She puts student learning above all else and will continuously develop and adapt her teaching methodologies to meet the needs of a diverse array of students with different levels of prior knowledge,” wrote one of her students.
Bohlen has accompanied students on 36 educational and professional development events at regional and national levels, and she has mentored more than 30 undergraduate researchers. In 2014, she created the Jersey Active Management by Students (JAMS) team where students learn cattle care, genetics and industry innovation as they manage a Jersey herd. The herd has grown to over 50 animals and is one of the top-ranked university-run Jersey herds in the nation.
Bohlen received the UGA Creative Teaching Award in recognition of her work creating the JAMS program. Her other awards include the Hoard’s Dairyman Youth Development Award, the National American Dairy Science Association Outstanding Advisor Award and the UGA CAES Early Career Teaching Award.
For Capps, teaching is about creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment for students. Within that environment, she uses active learning techniques to help her students develop their critical thinking and data literacy skills.
“My goal is to foster engaging and interactive learning experiences for students to enhance their understanding of the myriad ways their well-being and actions are connected to the environment,” she said.
Capps is a beloved instructor of a large ecology course for non-science majors that has inspired several students to transfer into ecology programs. She is also known for developing a service-learning course on urban ecology that pairs students with stakeholder groups in Atlanta to build an online educational resource for people living in urban watersheds around the world.
“Her class made me feel like my studies could be used to exact actual change,” wrote a former student. “Dr. Capps made me believe I could be a force of nature through her own example and, in my mind, nothing could be more deserving of recognition than that.”
Capps consistently seeks to improve her teaching and has been selected for three UGA teaching fellowship programs: Service-Learning Fellows, Lilly Teaching Fellowship and the Active Learning Summer Institute Fellowship. She has also received six internal UGA grants and two from the Society for Freshwater Science to enhance graduate and undergraduate education.
Increasing diversity in STEM has long been a focus for Capps. She founded the Odum School Diversity Committee and received a pilot grant for a graduate recruitment event to diversify the applicant pool for the school’s Ph.D. programs in ecology and environmental science.
Undergraduate researchers in her lab are involved in programs including the NSF-funded Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, and Capps is working to create a new NSF-funded mentoring network in Georgia that supports undergraduate women pursuing careers in earth and environmental sciences.
Nominations for the Russell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching are submitted by deans and considered by a committee of senior faculty members and undergraduate students. Tenure-track faculty members who have worked at UGA for at least three years and no more than 10 years are eligible for the award.
The awards are supported by the Richard B. Russell Foundation in Atlanta, and recipients receive $10,000. To learn more about the Russell Awards and see a list of past winners, see https://provost.uga.edu/resources/faculty-resources/awards/richard-russell-undergraduate-teaching-awards/.