2019 Teaching Award Recipient: Elizabeth (Liz) Studer (EEES)

The Graduate Teaching Award is awarded annually to the graduate Teaching Assistant who best exemplifies the qualities of a college educator. The selection process is by no means easy, and this year we received an exceptionally high standard of candidates. So high, in fact, that choosing just one was impossible. And so we have two recipients of the 2019 Teaching Award: Melanie Dennis from the Mathematics program and Elizabeth (Liz) Studer from the Ecology, Evolution, Ecosystems and Society program.

Liz Studer was recognized by several faculty members across the EEES program for her teaching approach and in almost every case her nominees noted the generosity of her pedagogy. Not only going above and beyond what is required, but presenting genuinely engaging and dynamic learning opportunities to harness the full potential of the experience is a hallmark of Liz's teaching.

Liz came to Dartmouth with a M.S. in Entomology from the University of Georgia, and an interdisciplinary certificate in university teaching. While at Georgia, she resolved to pursue a career in the professoriate and has sought opportunities to deepen her pedagogy and develop her skills ever since. She has served as teaching assistant in many courses.

Her contributions to the classroom extend beyond mere teaching, and all her nominators noted the effort Liz makes to tailoring her courses through developing innovative learning opportunities that provide creative inspiration for her students and faculty alike.

Liz takes her role as an educator very seriously, and aims to impart not just knowledge in her students, but skills that they are able to adapt to their own interest and abilities. She makes sure to match her student motivations with environments that are inspiring and in which students can take over control for their own learning.

Liz's enthusiasm and dedication to teaching has found an outlet in many other community outreach initiatives, including development of citizen science initiatives, participated in local outreach events on and off campus, and working with the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium to develop field excursions and lecture series on insects.

Congratulations, Liz, and thanks for all the work you do to inspire the next generation of scientists.

We caught up with Liz and asked her to share her insight and teaching experiences with us:

"I am a PhD student in the Ecology, Evolution, Ecosystems and Society program and I am broadly interested in conservation ecology and forest ecosystems. My current research focuses on the incipient loss of white ash due to the invasive Emerald Ash Borer . I am interested in the ecological consequences that its extirpation will have to New England forest food webs, community composition, and ecosystem function. I study this at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire, where EAB hasn't yet been found but is predicted to establish within the next 1-5 years.  I am looking at the forest pre-EAB invasion and trying to understand the ecological function of ash trees in a mixed hardwood forest to predict what changes will or will not occur after it is lost."

Why did you choose the EEES program at Dartmouth?
During my interview, I was struck by the collaborative community atmosphere within the grad student community and the faculty. This was in contrast to other schools I had been accepted to where the atmosphere was infused with competition. To me, the idea of working together rather than working against one another was not only more appealing, but I thought it would poise me to learn to be a more effective scientist and collaborator in my future endeavors.

How do you effectively translate your passion for your work/research into your teaching?
In my experience, research and teaching go hand in hand and both are necessary for the completion and communication of science. I'm a passionate advocate for restructuring science classes to incorporate pedagogically based activities and inquiry based learning which is similar in structure to the scientific method. I love to teach, not only to share my love of science, but to impart knowledge that would allow students to make informed decisions about the environment.

What were the highlights or a memorable moment in your teaching experience?
I have been lucky enough to teach two foreign study programs here at Dartmouth and they were both incredibly inspirational and motivated me to think outside the box when it comes to field teaching. My background is in entomology, and I often encounter students (and people) who have a strong dislike for insects. While teaching in the field, it was a pleasure to find interesting and new insects to show students. In doing so, I tried to open their minds to accept and find beauty in something previously foreign and scary and that process is an extremely rewarding experience. I also hope that by opening a students mind to something as small as insects, it will help them keep their mind open when encountering bigger more global problems. So to me, the highlight of teaching is when a student says, "I saw a gross beetle but it was kind of cool, I took a picture to show you!"

What skills did you learn as a teacher that you might not otherwise have had access to?
Teaching has helped me most with communication skills and confidence. It is particularly hard for me personally, as a very introverted person, to put myself out there and be vocal. However, I can put my teacher's hat on and it motivates me to go outside my comfort zone to speak effectively.

What did you learn from your students?
I learn so much from my students. At Dartmouth, I am continuously impressed and inspired by their amazing work ethic, motivation, and interest. With that, I've found that the greatest payoff comes when I am able to bring my science into their world. Students need skills, not just knowledge, so I've learned that its also my role to help them find applicability and relevance in science so that they can apply it to whatever field they move into in the future.

Do you have any advice for others who are starting to take on teaching assignments?
Be kind. Empathy and respect given to your students will be returned tenfold!