The five faculty members receiving this year's West Virginia University Foundation Outstanding Teacher Award share a commitment to providing quality learning experiences for their students – whether it's breaking down difficult medical concepts, interpreting a piece of literature, creating a public service announcement or discussing the environment.
The 2007 WVU Foundation Outstanding Teachers are:
Kenneth C. Martis
What student wouldn't want to spend an hour exploring the fascinating physical and political makeup of different countries?
Add to that a trademark teaching style that incorporates clear, interesting presentations, amazing photos and great storytelling, and words of encouragement and appreciation, and it's easy to see why Martis is a favorite among WVU students.
He got his start at WVU in 1975. As the Lilly Endowment Postdoctoral Fellow in Learning and Teaching, he studied small group learning techniques and the guided design teaching method.
That was soon followed by the National Council for Geographic Education award for best teaching unit one year later.
During the late 1970s and early '80s, Martis helped spread the guided design method in the discipline of geography through an Exxon Education Foundation grant.
The early '80s also marked a new faculty mentoring opportunity: geography honors adviser for the WVU Honors College – a position he still holds. He has advised numerous honors students over the years, including many in the National Science Foundation-Regional Research Institute's Research Experience for Undergraduates Program.
In 1987, Martis was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship by the U.S. Department of Education's Center for International Education for study in Perugia, Italy.
Other notable achievements include serving as a physical geography instructor with the Satellite Network of West Virginia Higher Education Telecommunication Project and being a charter member of the West Virginia State Geographic Teachers Alliance.
Martis is a 30-plus year member of the National Council for Geographic Education and has published six award-winning books since 1982. Much of his research has been sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation, and he has given dozens of students the opportunity to become involved in his work.
“I have had nearly 100 students work with me on these books and other research,” he said. “In all my books, WVU students are acknowledged by name.”
That special faculty-student relationship has not gone unnoticed.
“I was the son of a coal miner and a beautician and a first-generation college student,” said David Durham, a former student. “I was not sure of the direction I wanted to take with my life and was at a crossroads, questioning whether college was the right thing for me at all. Dr. Martis offered to talk to me about my future and about other choices as West Virginia University. By the end of the semester, I had changed my major to geography, and Dr. Martis had become my academic adviser.”
Martis' philosophy of education can be summed up by the title of one of his articles, “Don't Teach Your Students Geography – Teach Them to be Geographers,” and what he calls “Positive Geography.”
“In my role as an earth science teacher, I teach about global warming, acid rain, natural disasters, biomagnification, cancer and the environment,” he said, “and in my role as a social science teacher, I teach about global hunger, genocide and war. This can be depressing. It need not totally be.
“Positive teaching not only reports the good things happening in the environment and world affairs, and what works in environmental and social science, but also provides prescriptions to change the not-so-good things,” he explained. “All my courses end with hope. With hope, students can change themselves and the world.”
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Martis received a bachelor's degree in secondary education from the University of Toledo in 1968, a master's in geography from San Diego State University in 1970 and a doctorate in geography from the University of Michigan in 1976.
Among his WVU honors and awards, he was inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society last year and has received both the WVU Benedum Distinguished Scholar and College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Research awards.
Kathleen O'Hearn Ryan
As an assistant professor in the English department, Ryan's classrooms are said to have permeable walls.
A former student, Wenda Harris, said, “If she couldn't bring us to the lesson, she brought the lesson to us.”
Ryan teaches undergraduate English courses in 20th century American literature, ancient and modern drama, American drama, African-American literature, contemporary American and British literature and composition. She also teaches graduate courses in prison literature, drama and performance studies along with 20th century American literature.
For her course on prison literature, she took graduate students for a Saturday visit to Moundsville to tour the former federal prison. From this course, the Appalachian Prison Book Project (APBP), a student and community organization that sends free books to prisoners in the Appalachian region, was born. The APBP is currently housed in Garlow House and has a collection of more than 4,000 books.
Ryan has also been involved in the extended learning outreach program at the U.S. Penitentiary in Hazelton, where in addition to the book project, she hopes with the help of the English department faculty to bring workshops in performance and creative writing.
Her classes consist of reading, performing, discussing and writing. Ryan notes that one of her greatest joys in teaching is watching students perform.
She has helped organize two public forums on contemporary events, including a post-9/11 panel discussion and a discussion on lessons learned from the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.
“My main goal as an English teacher is to encourage students to think – to think about human rights and matters of justice, to grapple with philosophical and political questions about literature and how we live our lives,” she said.
She earned her bachelor's degree from Boston College in 1990, master's degree from St. Louis University in 1993 and doctoral degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 2000 before coming to WVU in 2000.
She has received several research grants and fellowships, has published in magazines and professional journals, and she received the 2006-07 Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teacher Award.
Mary Ann Samyn
Samyn, a poetry and creative writing assistant professor in the English department, likens language to a bucket of paint: “Who hasn't, at some point, been painting and suddenly, impulsively put their hand right in the bucket? Language is a bucket, too. And what's inside shimmers. It's okay - better than okay - to want to plunge right in it.
“I hope my ‘claim to fame,' if I indeed have one, is evidenced in my writing and teaching and in my insistence that students undertake their own pursuit of this shimmer,” she said.
Samyn began her teaching career as a poet-in-residence for a four-county school district in Michigan. She also taught composition, creative writing and literature for three years at Kirkland Community College, and before that, taught rhetoric at Oakland University before coming to WVU in 2002.
Samyn strives to teach her students to pay attention. She wants “to help students discover their essential material -- that is, the subject matter about which only they can write -- and then to help them gain the craft skills necessary to bring that material to the page.”
She teaches undergraduate and graduate creative writing, drama and poetry classes and women's literature classes at WVU. One student wrote on an evaluation, “Wow, what a fun, useful, engaging, provocative, challenging, exciting impassioned, super class...I was challenged, continually inspired, unusually awed.”
Another student wrote, “I really enjoyed Mary Ann's provocative take on aesthetic concerns and formal considerations. I felt challenged, motivated and curious in new ways.”
Samyn has been a coordinator and instructor for an Appalachian Lifelong Learners poet laureate's course and a poetry and creative nonfiction instructor for “Gear Up” Workshops for high school students.
She received her bachelor's degree at Oakland University in 1992, master's degree at Ohio University in 1994 and master's degree of fine arts at the University of Virginia in 1996.
She has published four books of poetry: “Purr,” “Inside the Yellow Dress,” “Captivity Narrative” (winner of the 1999 Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award) and “Rooms by the Sea” (Wick Chapbook Prize 1994).
In addition, she has been widely published, participated in numerous poetry readings and presentations and has won many awards, honors and fellowships for her works.
Keith D. Weber
Weber, an Emmy-nominated associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies, advocates students having fun in the classroom and believes that it is the instructor's responsibility to devise modes of instruction that are game-like.
Student evaluations from his classes seem to back that up.
One student wrote, “He made the class fun to go to and at the same time taught us a lot.”
He was nominated for the national Emmy Award for a public service announcement (PSA) one of his classes helped create. The spot, called “Redemption,” addressed misconceptions about organ donation. It was designed to generate interest and promote organ donation.
Weber joined the WVU communications department in 1998. He teaches classes ranging from Introduction to Mass Media to graduate classes serving both on-campus master's and doctoral students and extended learning master's students.
“What I like most about teaching at a state university is the range of students that you get to interact with,” he said.
Weber earned a bachelor's degree from State University of New York in 1994 and a master's degree and doctorate in education from WVU in 1995 and 1998, respectively.
In addition to his 2006 Emmy Award nomination, Weber received the 2006 CINE Golden Eagle award for a PSA, 2006 Bronze Telly award for a local area PSA and 2006 Bronze Telly for a nonprofit PSA.
He also received the 2006-07 Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teacher Award.
Weber has written and coauthored more than 20 articles and publications on communications issues, ranging from dating and relationships to stepchildren in blended families.
Dr. Stanley Zaslau
An outstanding physician and leader with an insatiable appetite for research, Dr. Zaslau, or “Dr. Z” as he is more commonly called by students, is often in demand as a lecturer at the state, regional and national level.
But it's his passion for teaching that has made him popular among students and residents in the School of Medicine.
An associate professor of urology, Dr. Zaslau currently serves as the residency program director of the Urology Residency Training Program at the University. He joined WVU in 2001 and immediately revamped the residency program. As part of the redesigned curriculum, residents are required to participate in conferences.
“Each conference requires the resident to read assigned chapters, create a handout for all participants in the conference and present the material in a formal fashion,” he said. “This process has translated into improvement in the residents' scores on the annual in-service examination.”
As the result of his efforts, the program became fully reaccredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education for three years in each of the last two accreditation cycles in 2001 and 2005.
Colleagues were so impressed, they asked him to assist in restructuring resident education in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Dr. Zaslau's dedication to education extends far beyond the classroom. In addition to his teaching and urology practice, he has written review books for the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination and co-authored an online guide, “Mountaineer Match
Guide: From the Boards to the Wards,” which prepares medical students for the transition to residency.
To date, he has mentored about 80 students who have presented and published papers and book chapters.
Students describe him best as a “role model with professional qualities” and “a man of great integrity with a devotion to his patients, coworkers and students that is unparalleled.”
“He has a personality and style that make one excited and eager to learn,” said Courtney Cuppett, a first-year resident at Ruby Memorial Hospital. “He delivers knowledge in such a way that one literally becomes engrossed in his words…Having grown up with educators as parents, I know that there is more to being a good teacher than just a degree. Dr. Z is a wonderful teacher not only because he possesses all of these qualities, but also because he truly loves what he does.”
Dr. Zaslau is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. He earned his bachelor's degree from Boston University in 1988 and a medical degree from the Hahnemann University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, in 1994.
He completed his internship in general surgery and urology residency at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and received advanced training in female urology,
neurourology and voiding dysfunction at Urological Surgical Associates/Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn. He also received a master of business administration at the University of Tennessee in 2005.
Dr. Zaslau is certified by the American Board of Urology, American College of Physician Executives and American College of Health Care Executives.
His numerous honors include the School of Medicine's Distinguished Teacher Award in 2006 and John Traubert Award in 2003.
On a personal note, he is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt.