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University of Iowa News Release


April 7, 2008

Four UI faculty win top teaching award

Four University of Iowa faculty members have won the University's 2008 President and Provost Award For Teaching Excellence in recognition of their years of outstanding teaching. The recipients are: William Buss, professor in the College of Law; Mary Lou Emery, associate professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Joel Gordon, professor of internal medicine in the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine; and Craig Just, adjunct assistant professor and research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering.

The award, which is administered by the UI Council on Teaching, was created in 2004 as a university-wide recognition for faculty members who have demonstrated a sustained, high level of teaching excellence. This year, the council added an additional award for lecturers. Each college may nominate up to three tenure track or clinical track faculty members and up to two lecturers or visiting or adjunct faculty members for the award, which carries a $3,000 prize. Nominees submit a statement of their teaching philosophy along with a curriculum vitae highlighting teaching activities and letters of endorsement from current and former students and colleagues.

Buss, who holds the O. K. Patton Chair in the UI College of Law, has taught in the college since 1967. He has developed and taught a wide array of large and small, required and elective courses, including education law, labor law, contracts, constitutional law I and II, the First Amendment, and comparative constitutional law. Buss consistently ranks among the college's top teachers in student evaluations and received the Collegiate Teaching Award in 1997. In the nominating materials, students described Buss as an enthusiastic and passionate teacher whose classroom is dynamic, collaborative and engaging. They also called him an "excellent mentor and wise counselor" who respects all of his students and takes a genuine and ongoing interest in their studies, lives, and careers. Colleagues said they admire the way he models the attributes students must develop to be successful in the law, such as looking at a problem from all sides, asking probing questions, listening carefully and expressing himself in a "measured and precise way." In the words of one nominator who has been both Buss's student and a faculty colleague, "watching and working with him as provided me with a role model to follow in my own [career]."

Emery has taught in the Department of English since 1983. Her teaching focuses on 20th century literary studies -- particularly on the intersection of British modernist, Caribbean and postcolonial literatures -- and she designed some of the department's first course offerings in these areas. Emery has won the department's John C. Gerber Award for Excellence in Teaching (1998-99) and the Collegiate Teaching Award (2002) among other teaching-related honors. From 1995 to 1999 she served as director of the General Education in Literature Program, a role in which she was responsible for orienting and training new graduate instructors, revising the program curriculum and implementing new courses. Students described her ability to instill in them a confidence about their own abilities, both academically and personally, in part by creating a classroom atmosphere that is as open and affirming as it is intellectually demanding. Colleagues praised her commitment, her "sustained attention to student needs" and her "exuberant creativity." As one colleague put it, Emery's "ability to help her students meet her high expectations enables her students to learn as well as to love what they are learning."

Gordon, Sahai Professor of Medical Education, has taught in the Carver College of Medicine since 1985. Medical student classes have elected him "Teacher of the Year" on multiple occasions, and he received the Collegiate Teaching Award in 1993 and again in 1996. He leads the Carver College's Clinical Experiences Committee, which oversees the third- and fourth-year medical student curricula, and has been instrumental in developing a new computer-based tool to assess clinical reasoning, as well as other new assessment techniques designed to measure students' master of key concepts and skills. He has presented his work in medical education at many national and international conferences. Gordon also serves as the Carver College's Learning Community Director, and in that role advances peer mentoring, leadership, and service learning activities. Students were impressed with Gordon's use of innovative teaching tools and methods to make dry and difficult material exciting to learn. They also appreciated his example as a "lifelong learner" who constantly seeks to add to his own knowledge, and as a compassionate and caring clinician. Said one student, "Dr. Gordon epitomizes the ideal physician-professor ... I learned more from him than from any other physician I've encountered."

Just has taught as an adjunct assistant professor in the UI College of Engineering since 2002 (and previously, in his role as laboratory manager, participated significantly in mentoring of graduate students). As an instructor and faculty advisor, Just works with students who aspire to address human development issues in resource-poor nations, from a perspective of sustainable engineering. Students in his 2007 course "Design for the Developing World," for example, capped their consideration of the real-world problem of water purification by designing an electrolytic chlorine generator. Students in the 2006 class formed a nonprofit organization, Continental Crossings, and raised $20,000 to design and build a footbridge in Peru. Each spring, Just assembles a team of students and guides them in choosing and executing a project that addresses a critical need in the developing community of Xicotepec, Mexico. Students praise Just's encouragement of creative thinking and his emphasis on building effective teams by taking advantage of individual strengths. Faculty from around the university appreciated his generosity in sharing his skills, resources and connections as they seek to incorporate service learning into their own curricula and emulate his example of providing what they called a "transformative learning experience."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Kris Yows, Office of the Provost, 319-335-3566,; Mary Trachsel, Council on Teaching, 319-335-0185,; Charles S. Drum, University Relations, 319-384-0048,