April 18, 2022
Students at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health voted last month to select the School’s most innovative classroom teachers.
First presented in February 2012, the Teaching Innovation Awards honor faculty members who students feel “improve the learning environment at the Gillings School by integrating new technologies, engaging students in interactive activities, employing creative assessment methods, and introducing and incorporating progressive curriculum ideas into the classroom.”
A $500 prize is intended to help the teachers’ educational development in teaching and learning.
The 2021 award winners are Jamie Crandell, PhD, associate professor of biostatistics and nursing; Brian Wells Pence, PhD, professor of epidemiology; Julia Rager, PhD, assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering; Patsy Polston, PhD, assistant professor of health behavior; Katie Meyer, ScD, assistant professor of nutrition; and Jennifer Medearis Costello, MS, adjunct faculty for Master of Public Health (MPH), academic affairs.
In their nomination letters, students shared high praise for the achievements and influence that these instructors had on their learning experiences.
Jamie Crandell, PhD
“I have always had a difficult time with math, but Jamie made it so easy for me. She really has the ability to make difficult concepts easy to understand.”
Brian Wells Pence, PhD
“Brian is an exceptional professor! He was our methods professor (with Alex Kiel) in Fall of 2021—the first semester back on campus in quite some time. He provided all students with a hybrid classroom option that in no way impacted the course logistics nor the course content. He is an extremely thoughtful, articulate professor who treats his students extremely well.
“As a teacher specifically, I was impressed by how well he synthesized so much of what we had learned in past courses. He was able to build on so many of the methods we had begun to explore, but he was able to push us to understand things on a deeper level, through true application. Finally, Brian treats us all as humans, not just students. He clearly makes it known that our mental health is a top priority. With all the suicide tragedies last fall, Brian made sure to reach out to us and provide space and/or support. Whatever a student needed. I appreciate him so much, and his efforts should not go unnoticed.”
Julia Rager, PhD
“Dr. Julia Rager is an excellent candidate for the teaching innovation award given her innovative curriculum that promotes technical skill development and the integration of new computational tools towards conducting interdisciplinary research in environmental health. In her new course, “Computational Toxicology and Exposure Science,” students received hands-on training in a wide variety of toxicology/exposure databases and computational analysis tools. Trainings in this course were provided by Dr. Rager in collaboration with numerous other experts in the field, adding additional perspective and networking opportunities for students.
“This course culminated in the development of research projects aimed at leveraging in-silico tools to expand and improve upon a current research article in the field. In doing so, this classroom environment promoted collaboration, critical thinking and a general excitement for a newer field. Julia created a learning environment that was challenging but inclusive of all skill levels for empowered students, like myself, to translate and incorporate these tools and approaches in their own research outside of the classroom. For these reasons, I believe Dr. Rager deserves full consideration for this award.”
Patsy Polston, PhD
“Dr. Patsy Polston is an incredible professor and facilitator. From day one, she established a learning environment that fosters candid, conscious and constructive dialogue. She challenges us with difficult concepts and encourages us to push ourselves through the discomfort to learn and grow alongside one another in a safe and brave space. By both affirming our contributions and challenging us to think critically, she has really inspired me to stretch myself and find my voice in this class, which is cultivating confidence in all areas of my life. I thoroughly enjoy the materials she selects for us to review prior to class and the way she reinforces essential concepts and guides active learning in ways that are both intellectually engaging and fun. I’m really impressed by how effectively she utilizes our short time together, and by her creative approaches to engaging students virtually through various mediums and activities.
“You never quite know what class will look like each week, but I’m always excited to find out and fully trust that Dr. Polston is completely prepared for the session ahead! The group conversations she facilitates are rich with insight, and I always come away with new knowledge that is applicable to both my personal and professional life. I am grateful for the way Dr. Polston thoughtfully plans the course, expertly executes the content each week, and genuinely conveys a sense of care for each of us as students, public health leaders and humans. Dr. Polston deserves to be recognized and celebrated for her commitment to individual students and our collective goals as a public health community.”
Katie Meyer, ScD
“Katie has gone above and beyond to create an intellectually engaging, relevant and tailored nutritional epidemiology course. She integrates unique activities into the course to help us apply concepts, including opportunities to use nutrition research tools on ourselves or design hypothetical nutrition research studies based on certain constraints. She is frequently checking in to assess our understanding and adapting the course to ensure we’re able to grasp key concepts. Katie is truly a joy to learn from and has a great attitude and sense of humor.”
Jennifer Medearis Costello, MS
“In 701, Jennifer has made the most welcoming learning environment I may have ever been a part of. Her thoughtful openings and gentle facilitation of lecture leaves so much room for confident engagement.”
Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.