In Students’ Own Words

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Sonia Hernandez, one of three faculty members to receive a 2017 Richard B. Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching this year, engages students in the classroom and as a research mentor.

Each spring, the University of Georgia reaffirms its commitment to providing the very best instruction by recognizing faculty members who have an extraordinary impact on students.

The University’s highest early career teaching honor is the Richard B. Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, which was established by the Russell Foundation and comes with a $7,500 award to each recipient. Nomination materials for this honor include letters of support from colleagues on campus and around the nation, as well as some very heartfelt anonymous comments from students that show just how amazing these faculty members are.

  • A student described Russell Award recipient Kelly Dyer, an associate professor of genetics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, as the “best teacher EVER …  She was aware of what we could do and helped us reach our potential, even if we couldn't see in us what she saw.”
  • And here’s what a student had to say about Sonia Hernandez, an associate professor with a joint appointment in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study: “Dr. Hernandez is a personal role model of mine and an excellent educator. Her passion and knowledge continue to inspire me.”
  • The third and final 2017 Russell Award recipient is John Mativo, an associate professor of career and information studies in the College of Education. One student wrote: “He is always motivating his students to succeed—not only in the classroom but outside of it as well.”

The University’s highest honor for instruction is the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorship, which includes a permanent salary increase of $6,000 and a one-year discretionary fund of $1,000. Five faculty members were named Meigs Professors this year, and they are:

  • James “Jeb” Byers, professor and associate dean in the Odum School of Ecology. “Dr. Byers’ effectiveness as a teacher is in large part due to his vast amount of personal experience as an ecological researcher,” one student wrote, adding that he “kept students engaged and truly interested in the subject matter.”
  • Markus Crepaz, professor and head of the international affairs department in the School of Public and International Affairs, who was described by one of his former students as “a master of the craft of engaged teaching and an inspirational figure in my career.”
  • John Maerz, professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. One student described him as “one of the most engaging and intellectually stimulating professors I have had in my college career. He challenged us to think critically about the subject, and I feel privileged to have had him as a professor.”
  • Annette Poulsen, the Augustus H. “Billy” Sterne Professor of Banking and Finance in the Terry College of Business. In describing her, one student wrote that “her impact on me was not confined to the four walls of Brooks Hall... She has played a significant role in many students’ lives, and I feel honored to still have a relationship with a teacher that so clearly and willingly goes above and beyond!”
  • Karen Miller Russell, associate professor of public relations in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, whose former students have taken on leadership roles at organizations ranging from the CDC to Lockheed Martin. “Her instruction in the successful execution of public relations campaigns is the foundation upon which my work still stands,” one former student wrote.

Reading the nomination materials for these awards is inspiring. It also underscores the unrivaled and life-changing learning opportunities that our faculty members provide. Their commitment to students changes lives and helps make the University of Georgia one of the nation’s leading public universities.