UNIVERSITY of WISCONSIN–MADISON: 2021 UW–Madison Distinguished Teaching Awards

Thirteen faculty members have been chosen to receive this year’s Distinguished Teaching Awards, an honor given out since 1953 to recognize the university’s finest educators. A virtual recognition event will take place at 5 p.m. April 6. The event is open to the public and anyone wishing to join can contact the Office of the Secretary of the Faculty at for information on how to attend.

Caroline Gottschalk Druschke
Community-Based Learning Teaching Award

Druschke’s model of community-based learning prioritizes community experiences, purposes and needs. In 2019, she applied for and received a Course Development Grant from the Morgridge Center to develop an official community-based learning designated section of English 245 with the nonprofit Driftless Writing Center in Viroqua, Wisconsin, focused on the “Stories from the Flood” project. Students praise her courses both for the inclusive and welcoming class atmosphere created by Druschke and for the opportunity to work with a community as well. Through Druschke’s courses, students enter an ongoing relationship and contribute to building it, and creating recognition of mutual responsibility and mutual support. This model, far from privileging the community over students, results in both a richer learning experience for students and a better experience for the community.

John Hawks
Van Hise Outreach Teaching Award

Hawks seeks to instill in students an interest in lifelong learning and intellectual curiosity. Students who take one of his courses have the unique opportunity to virtually accompany him to the field and museums around the world as he travels for conferences or to conduct field research, allowing students to be “in on” the discovery of new fossils and new insights gained through the analysis of fossilized bones of pre-modern humans, most notably related to the recovery of Homo naledi remains from the Rising Star Cave in South Africa. Hawks has a talent for sharing highly complex ideas in biological anthropology in a language that is especially accessible for students and members of the public. His commitment to communicating science accurately is a great service to the promotion of science both in and out of the classroom.

Yoshiko Herrera
Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Herrera’s passion and engagement enable her to connect political science to issues and topics that the students care about. She believes deeply in active learning — having students interact with each other and with the professor regarding course concepts and methods. This helps students better understand complex material and can also reveal what they may be struggling to understand. Herrera combines an unyielding focus on student learning with a commitment to rigorous engagement with building skills in written and oral communication and a readiness to adapt teaching methods as student needs change. Herrera also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on social identity and political inequality. These courses expose undergraduates to the latest research on these vitally important topics in global politics and prepare graduate students to make their own contributions to social scientific knowledge on these matters.

Amaud Jamaul Johnson
Chancellor’s Inclusive Excellence Award

Johnson works tirelessly to maintain a standard of inclusive excellence among UW–Madison’s community of emerging writers. He is currently the director of the top-ranked MFA Program in Creative Writing, and has also served as a faculty director of First Wave, UW–Madison’s hip-hop scholarship program that brings students of color and first-generation students to campus. The success of his teaching is perhaps clearest in the subsequent achievements of his students. His former undergraduates are among the most accomplished emerging poets in the country, many of whom have gone on to prestigious MFA programs and won major book prizes and literary awards, including Danez Smith, who was a finalist for the National Book Award. In all of his roles, Johnson has been instrumental in creating a diverse and welcoming community here in Madison both in the classroom and beyond.

Kate McCulloh
Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

McCulloh has a remarkable ability to engage, amuse and inspire students without dumbing down the content or otherwise pandering. She is very good at tying theory to specific questions involving specific plants, traits and ecosystems, both in the lecture hall and when confronting the organisms in the field. When students aren’t understanding something, McCulloh is able to draw them out. She is not only gifted in the classroom but is an accomplished research mentor. She has mentored three postdocs and six graduate students and has served on the committees of 30 graduate students since arriving at the UW. McCulloh has mentored 31 students and interns, including the supervision of 12 undergraduate senior theses and three undergraduate research scholars. Her commitment to teaching and research makes her a highly impactful teacher and fantastic mentor to students at all stages.

Rubén Medina
Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Medina has actively sought to adopt critical pedagogical methods that would meet a variety of student needs in a multicultural classroom. He seeks to understand what motivates and impassions his students, and gently and supportively encourages them to go beyond their intellectual boundaries to explore novel ideas. The instructional space he nurtures cultivates among students the necessary respect, unity and connection for interdisciplinary critique. Students are enthusiastic about his classes, which offer them a chance to explore the aesthetic, social and political aspects of a wide variety of texts including poetry, film, Spanish-language rock, car culture and more. Medina is cherished and celebrated by many students at UW–Madison, serving as a role model for the diverse body of undergraduate and graduate students he has mentored across campus.

Jeremy Morris
Chancellor’s Teaching Innovation Award

Morris has had a transformative impact on undergraduate education, graduate education and the culture of teaching with the Department of Communication Arts. He is truly an exceptional teacher who challenges students, colleagues and himself to grow and become even better. Morris presents difficult concepts with clarity and ease while remaining attentive to the complexities and nuances that should not be overlooked. He cares deeply about the ethics of academic work and instills in his students a constant sense that they should consider their impact on those who are most vulnerable. In his teaching, Morris uses a diverse portfolio of custom-made media including podcast stories, in-depth technical instruction, audio lectures and curated content from industry and academia. Combined with assignments that ask students questions that challenge them creatively, it’s easy to see why students are drawn to his courses.

Dimitris Papailiopoulos
Emil Steiger Teaching Award

Papailiopoulos is a world-class researcher who brings his passion for discovery into the classroom. He has made outstanding contributions to undergraduate and graduate education in the College of Engineering at an early stage in his career, even while establishing an internationally recognized research program in the extremely competitive area of machine learning. Papailiopoulos created and teaches a new, upper-level graduate course on large-scale machine learning and optimization. It meets an important campus need for advanced training in the rapidly growing data sciences field. As a student-centered teacher, he feels called to be a supportive learning coach who guides all students to learning success and regularly reaches out to students who have not performed well on assessments to see if he can help them improve their learning.

Cliff Robb
Class of 1955 Teaching Excellence Award

Robb has demonstrated his commitment to outstanding education by putting student needs first, and that philosophy is evident in his teaching. Robb has developed more than a dozen different courses in his career, in addition to independent studies and topics courses. He has taught hundreds of students in courses including public policy, personal investment planning and management, research methods, investing, and estate planning. Robb asks students questions in order to evoke insights. His students often cite his ability to make content interesting by bringing a sense of humor to his classes, taking great care that the humor only enhances — never eclipses — learning objectives. Student evaluations show that these simple strategies make students look forward to his classes and achieve that critical prerequisite to learning: engagement.

Sami Schalk
Chancellor’s Inclusive Excellence Award

Schalk has made a name for herself as an engaging and impactful educator. Her classes address issues of gender, race, disability and sexuality in contemporary American media, literature and culture. Students are encouraged to ask questions, actively engage, be honest and think critically. Schalk has an ability to comprehend and work effectively with the full range of dis/abilities and backgrounds that our students bring, particularly those that might be less visible or not fully understood. Schalk is among those at UW who are modeling what “access” can mean, not only to the benefit of students, but also to the benefit of all instructors at UW who endeavor to serve all students across race, gender and sexuality, class, neuro-diversities and dis/abilities. It does take more time, and that is at the heart of Schalk’s commitments as a teacher.

Ajay Sethi
Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Sethi conceived of the incredibly timely and prescient “Conspiracies in Public Health” course in 2016 and received an Educational Innovation grant to help develop the course, which he began to teach in 2017. It has achieved worldwide notoriety for its innovation and importance to the current pandemic situation. As an early adopter of innovative tools for teaching, Sethi has been an invaluable resource to the faculty in the department, providing advice on the use of technology in teaching, especially since the pandemic started. His expertise in infectious diseases has helped him educate the public about COVID-19 in numerous interviews with media, presenting critical information regarding our pandemic and rational individual and policy-level responses to it in a readily understandable way.

Mitra Sharafi
Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Students commend Sharafi for her classroom innovation — in particular, her carefully cultivated skill at facilitating classroom discussion. Over the years she has come to focus more and more on the importance of visual learning for many of her students and has developed a number of handouts with diagrams that depict difficult to follow concepts in the course. Sharafi links theory to practice and encourages students to think beyond the four walls of the classroom. While learning the traditional elements of contract formation, breach and remedy, she consistently reminds students that the “law on the books” often differs from the “law on the ground.” By sharing real-world business anecdotes and legal research findings, she encourages students to become thoughtful and practical client advocates.

Sunny Yudkoff
William H. Kiekhofer Teaching Award

Yudkoff has demonstrated her skill in thoughtfully curating course material, getting students to participate and showing compassion for her students as individuals. She not only teaches the material, but she also teaches her students how to think and reason, how to draw comparisons between things that seem unalike at first glance, and how to apply texts to the world around them. Her teaching is a superlative example of humane pedagogy that does not require students to leave their identities or the events of the world at the classroom door, but instead shows the relevance of humanities education to achieve deeper understandings of both. Yudkoff’s teaching practices demonstrate a notable commitment to social justice, which translates into creating an equitable, diverse, and inclusive learning environment for everyone on our campus.

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