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WVU recognizes four faculty members as 2024 Foundation Outstanding Teachers

Top row, L-R: Jake Follmer, David Miller; Bottom row, L-R: Chris Rameza, David Smith

Top row, L-R: Jake Follmer, David Miller; Bottom row, L-R: Chris Rameza, David Smith

Each spring, West Virginia University recognizes selected faculty members for their exceptional and innovative teaching. This year, the 2024 WVU Foundation Awards for Outstanding Teaching honors four faculty members:

  • Jake Follmer, assistant professor in the School of Education, College of Applied Human Sciences;
  • David Miller, professor of mathematics and assistant director of undergraduate studies in the School of Mathematical and Data Sciences, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences;
  • Chris Ramezan, assistant professor of cybersecurity in the Department of Management Information Systems and coordinator of the Business Cybersecurity Management program, Chambers College of Business and Economics; and
  • David Smith, teaching associate professor of journalism, Reed College of Media.

Established in 1985 by the WVU Foundation, the Outstanding Teaching Awards recognize faculty who are particularly effective and inspiring teachers, as well as those who have established patterns of exceptional innovation in their teaching methods, course and curriculum design, and instructional tools. 

“Our faculty members are without question some of the most dedicated professionals in higher education today,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed. “Each of these award recipients is a prime example of the kind of innovative teacher who engages and inspires students to achieve excellence in their studies. This year’s Foundation Outstanding Teachers are more than deserving of this prestigious award for their dedication to their craft and to our students’ success.”

Jake Follmer

At the core of Follmer’s instruction are active and structured learning approaches combined with models of deeper learning. He utilizes these student-centered pedagogical approaches to learning because they have been found to broadly improve all students’ overall learning and to uniquely improve the learning of underrepresented students (e.g., first generation and low-income students). Follmer combines these approaches with efficacy-promoting instructional methods; open, inclusive and challenging learning environments; and course designs that prioritize student transfer and application of course material. Follmer’s approach to teaching and learning can be found across his courses – from undergraduate offerings in research methods to graduate courses in applied statistical methods and research and evaluation. In fact, he has been so successful in teaching the data analyses courses that advisers from across the college and the University routinely send their students to take his courses. Students consistently provide very high evaluation scores and written praise of Follmer’s teaching approach. Also noteworthy is that Follmer’s students finish his graduate data analyses courses with significant gains in their conceptual and procedural knowledge as well as self-efficacy related to quantitative methods. 

Despite his teaching and learning success, Follmer continually engages in an iterative process to improve his courses, documenting and assessing the impact of different instructional interventions. He has also published at least eight scholarship of teaching and learning products documenting the impact of his teaching and serves as a co-principal investigator on the National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Engaged Learning Track grant for which the purpose is to develop instructional interventions that promote learning and retention in STEM programs. Follmer is also completing an American Educational Research Association fellowship program through which he is investigating the impact of deeper learning pedagogy on successful college pathways for first-generation learners.

David Miller

Miller started his higher education career at WVU in 2006. He is known for his innovative work establishing and directing the Emerging Scholars Program (ESP) in the calculus and differential equations courses. The ESP began under the National Science Foundation’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) grant that has received continual funding – $6 million dollars to date – since Miller joined WVU. Miller serves as one of the co-principal investigators on the Kentucky-West Virginia LSAMP grant at the University of Kentucky and as the grant’s campus coordinator at WVU. He personally recruits racially and ethnically minoritized STEM students, as well as first-generation STEM major students, into WVU’s ESP courses and integrates inquiry-based learning with active group learning. Miller begins with individual and group activities that build conceptual and procedural foundations and follows with challenging problems that deepen student understanding and ignite whole-class discussions. The three mathematics and science education articles about WVU’s ESP in calculus demonstrate the significant positive impact of the program on academic performance, retention rates and graduation rates for underrepresented students in STEM disciplines. Miller found that the average learning gains among students in the ESP calculus courses are significantly higher than those demonstrated by students in traditional calculus courses. He also found that the work in these courses removes the retention gaps between traditional and underrepresented calculus students and that the overall and STEM graduation rates for underrepresented students that have taken ESP calculus classes are higher than underrepresented students in traditional calculus classes.

Miller is also recognized for his long-standing exceptional teaching effectiveness in traditional college algebra courses and upper-level mathematics courses like Introduction to the Concepts of Mathematics and Introduction to Analysis and Topology at WVU. He is known for creating engaging and meaningful active learning classroom experiences that make mathematics accessible and understandable to a wide range of students. When he began coordinating the college algebra courses, Miller employed instructional materials that minimize students’ cognitive load on their short-term or working memory. For example, using worked-example worksheets, students are better able to easily learn from expert solutions to solve other algebra problems. This shift in instruction has helped students improve their overall letter grade in the course. Miller has disseminated his findings on this effective teaching strategy in four publications in mathematics and science education journals.

The high student evaluations and open-ended comments, as well as strong letters of support from current and past ESP students, indicate that Miller fosters a collaborative learning environment in which mathematics is accessible through practice and where students share ideas and solve problems together and ultimately enjoy and succeed in math courses.

Chris Rameza

Ramezan is recognized for his innovative curriculum contributions to the business cybersecurity undergraduate and graduate course offerings, which includes 12 unique courses over five years. His cutting-edge courses on topics, such as machine learning, security architecture and industrial control system security make WVU one of the only business school cybersecurity programs to offer these types of courses. Ramezan has also designed business cybersecurity program courses to align with 10 different industry cybersecurity certification exams and created hundreds of problem-solving and applied simulation exam questions that better prepare students for those exams.  He has also led countless experiential learning projects on real cybersecurity problems with a variety of community partners to provide students with real-world cybersecurity experience and developed a series of innovative cyber exercises through which students hack real systems within a safe environment. In addition, Ramezan has developed over 100 hours of high-quality online video lectures and lab walkthroughs.

Ramezan is also recognized for designing cutting-edge, hands-on, interactive cybersecurity lab assignments on a variety of topics, such as network architecture, applied machine learning, penetration testing, and cybersecurity operations.  In addition, Ramezan envisioned the Karen Evans Cybersecurity Lab in Reynolds Hall, a teaching and research lab modeled as a security operations center which enables cybersecurity students to safely hone and develop their cybersecurity skills. He also partnered with the U.S. Cyber Command, Joint Force Headquarters Department of Defense Information Network, Marshall University, and the Civil-Military Innovation Institute to assist with creating the Cybersecurity Center of Excellence in Critical Infrastructure and has led WVU’s efforts with the NATO Locked Shields exercise (the largest live-fire cybersecurity exercise in the world). This work has also warranted Ramezan being named the Academic Lead of the 2024 NATO Locked Shields exercise by the Chief of Staff of the Joint Force Headquarters. Ramezan also helped the U.S. national team earn a 4th place ranking in the 2020 NATO Locked Shields exercise, one of the highest rankings the USA team has ever received in the competition.

His high student evaluations and open-ended comments indicate that Ramezan is a talented and dedicated teacher and have earned him the Chambers College Awards of Distinction in both Teaching and Service as well as the American Legion Department of West Virginia Higher Education Educator of the Year Award in 2023. He provides significant student support for their own development and recognition – including for a recent Truman scholar, awardees of the National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance scholarship and an Air Force Chief’s Council scholarship recipient – and has developed significant employment pathways for WVU’s cybersecurity undergraduate and graduate students.  Ramezan has also recently published two teaching related articles in high-quality journals. Unsurprisingly, Ramezan’s efforts have helped grow the University’s Master of Science in Business Cybersecurity Management program by 400% since 2019.

David Smith

Before joining WVU, Smith had a 10-year career as a visual storyteller in journalism and strategic communications. He is recognized for a highly successful approach to teaching and learning that is student-centered, hands-on, adaptive and grounded in real-world experiences. One reason for his continued success in the classroom is his ability to consistently strike a balance between nurturing students’ ambitions and celebrating their achievements while providing them honest feedback in ways that develop their resiliency. Smith is also recognized for integrating modern technologies and international elements whenever possible into his courses and for his innovative development of courses on media tools and storytelling, immersive storytelling, social video digital publication, visual brand storytelling, extended reality, drone journalism, and augmented and virtual reality. In these courses, students learn and apply new skills, such as studying for and passing the Federal Aviation Administration’s drone pilot’s license certification and contributing to compelling community projects across Appalachia. In addition, Smith’s study abroad programs and international partnerships have given students exposure to diverse cultural narratives and global media trends. These teaching efforts have also translated into grant funding including as co-principal investigator on a project supported by the Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration award to develop immersive technologies curriculum for vocational rehabilitation counselors-in-training. 

Smith has been recognized by his students with outstanding evaluations of his teaching and letters of support, as well as awards. He has been recognized by his colleagues with the Reed College Teaching Award, a Public Relations Society of America - West Virginia Crystal Award for a video produced for the town of Pineville’s brand launch, and an Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Great Ideas for Teachers award. His students have likewise earned regional and national awards, including for two consecutive years the Broadcast Education Association’s (BEA) first-place award in Emerging Media and Technology Best in Festival award for international multimedia storytelling, BEA’s first-place award in Interactive Media and Emerging Technologies, BEA’s third-place award in Interactive Media and Emerging Technologies, and multiple Telly Awards for projects produced in the 100 Days of Appalachia digital video class and the community branding class, as well as significant publications in “100 Days in Appalachia” and student photos published in The Washington Post.

Faculty members must be nominated by their college leadership in order to be eligible for the Foundation Award for Outstanding Teaching. Each of the honorees will receive $5,000 in professional development monies from the WVU Foundation. 

Award recipients will be recognized during a faculty and staff awards reception at Blaney House in April.

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