The College of Science named principal lecturers Jason Brown and Mark Cawood and senior lecturers Dennis Taylor and Kristi Whitehead recipients of its Dean’s Distinguished Lecturer Award.
The awards, presented during the College’s faculty meeting May 11, recognize teaching-focused faculty members who demonstrate significant positive impact on the classroom.
“Through their innovative approaches to teaching, Jason, Kristi, Mark and Dennis are elevating the student learning experience. Their students, the College of Science and Clemson University are benefitting from their sustained excellence,” said Dean Cynthia Y. Young.
Introductory Physics, a calculus-based physics course sequence, has a reputation for being a “weed-out” class for aspiring engineers — difficult, dull and irrelevant to their ultimate goals. Jason Brown has worked to shift that attitude among students. Rather than treating the course as a rite of passage for the best and brightest, Brown has devoted himself to finding ways to help every student succeed.
Brown has incorporated extensive demonstrations to reinforce challenging concepts discussed in class, made use of real-time audience response systems to keep students engaged and written an interactive textbook integrated with the homework that forces students to engage in the material. He provides students with supplemental tutorial videos and extra review sessions before exams.
He designs exams in a way that provides feedback on topics with which students continue to struggle. Using that information, Brown has adjusted the pacing of the course over the years and explored new ways to cover topics to alleviate confusion. As a result, the gains his students make during the course outpace the national average, and the percentage of students withdrawing from the class or receiving D’s or F’s in the sequence is among the lowest among public R1 universities.
“My primary goal for students is to relate to physics from its starting point, gradually building understanding so they have a firm background and appreciation for science,” Brown said.
Outside of his formal teaching duties, Brown supports PEER/WISE enrichment summer programs, K-12 STEM competitions and summer review sessions for first-year graduate students preparing for the qualifying exam.
“If I had helped just one student make sense out of the confusion and despair that often accompanies the tough classes I teach, I feel I have done something rather significant,” he said.
Brown started teaching in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Clemson as a visiting full-time lecturer in 2006. He became a ranked lecturer in 2012. Brown earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. at Clemson before serving as a Clemson research associate and visiting lecturer for eight years. He received the 2022 College of Science Excellence in Teaching Award.
During his 24 years as a lecturer at Clemson University, Mark Cawood has taught 24 different courses at all levels of the mathematics curriculum.
He co-created, led and prepared courses in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences’ Actuarial Science and Financial Mathematics Emphasis Area, which now accounts for almost 50% of mathematical science majors.
“What Dr. Cawood, together with Dr. Erwin Walker, has done to develop, grow and manage the ASFM emphasis area is nothing short of spectacular,” said Felice Manganiello, division lead for mathematical and statistical education.
Cawood and co-creator Walker host their own internship and job fair each year, advise students, and update actuary courses and seminars. The actuarial program is set up so students can pass at least two actuarial exams by the time they graduate from Clemson. Cawood founded the Actuarial Educational Development Fund, a nonprofit foundation that provides students support while taking actuarial exams and pursuing careers as actuaries. Seventy-eight students have benefitted from the fund.
“Dr. Cawood embodies the ideal lecturer for the School,” Manganiello said.
Cawood has been a lecturer at Clemson since 1999. He earned his Master of Science and his doctorate in mathematical sciences from Clemson. He holds bachelor’s degrees in mathematical sciences and computer science from Manchester College.
He received the College of Science Excellence in Student Engagement Award in 2020, the National Scholars Program Award of Distinction in 2016 and the Student Government Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015.
Dennis Taylor has directed the Department of Chemistry’s general chemistry program since 2010.
“Dr. Dennis Taylor is the heart and soul of our general chemistry program. He contributes to teaching and learning across the spectrum of the Gen Ed effort of our department and never stops thinking about how to better serve our students,” said Department of Chemistry Chair William Pennington.
Taylor guides a staff of lecturers and tenure-track faculty in delivering a common curriculum and exams to almost 3,000 students per semester. He teaches two to three lecture sections per semester himself.
To address student success, Taylor charged three of the department’s best lecturers with developing a “placement exam” to assess the skills needed by a student to be successful in chemistry classes. The department previously used the Math Placement Exam. In addition, Taylor resurrected CH1040, a basic chemistry preparatory course that will address deficiencies revealed by the new placement exam.
Without the assessment, many students struggle to pass CH1010, the first semester course, putting them in the difficult situation of not being able to drop a course they are sure to fail due to full-time status credit requirements. By steering those who need educational support into the preparatory course, students will be much better prepared to succeed in subsequent courses and have a much stronger foundation in general chemistry.
Taylor has been at Clemson since 2005. Prior to joining the faculty, he worked as a chemist for industry for 13 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from King College and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
During her time on the Department of Biological Sciences faculty, senior lecturer Kristi Whitehead has taught a wide range of courses including introductory large-lecture courses and small senior-level discussion-based classes. She has taken over courses that have been taught for many years and developed new courses.
“My teaching philosophy largely consists of helping the students make important connections between the concepts in the classroom and the real world, and focusing on the development of critical thinking skills and application of knowledge in my students,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead tries to encourage critical thinking by students as much as possible. After students learn about a particular complex technique in an upper level course, Whitehead incorporates discussion of scientific journal articles where the techniques were used, possible problems with using those techniques and alternative techniques that might be used. By blending course curriculum with recent examples from primary literature, students begin to view science as an ever-expanding field of study rather than a static subject regulated to textbooks, she said.
Whitehead also believes undergraduate research plays an important role in helping students bridge the gap between the basic information learned in the classroom and the application of that knowledge. Whitehead maintains an active research lab.
“I feel very strongly that research opportunities are a vital part of an undergraduate science degree,” she said.
In her nomination letter, Department of Biological Sciences Chair Saara DeWalt said Whitehead “has gone above and beyond year after year to provide the highest quality education for Clemson students of all levels.”
Whitehead came to Clemson in 2011 as a postdoctoral associate in biological sciences and chemistry in 2011. She then worked as a temporary lecturer in biological sciences for two years before becoming a lecturer in 2013. She was promoted to senior lecturer in 2018. Whitehead holds a bachelor’s degree from Furman University and a Ph.D. from Michigan State University. She received the College of Science Excellence in Teaching Award in 2019.
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