Every year, we receive a large number of enthusiastic nominations for graduate students eligible for the Teaching Award. A hallmark of graduate education at Dartmouth is the value we, as individuals and as an institution, place on teaching, and each nomination speaks highly of the efficacy and care with which the graduate students prepare for their courses, make themselves available to answer questions, clarify material, and mentor their students. We are fortunate to have so many inspiring teacher-scholars in our ranks, and while we can only present one award, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who taught during this most challenging year. It was by no means easy, and your efforts are greatly appreciated.
However, one recipient must be chosen, and this year the Guarini Graduate Teaching Award goes to Michael Kokko, a PhD student in the Thayer School.
Mike joined Dartmouth in 2016 to work with Professors Ryan Halter and Douglas Van Citters. Bringing a robust background in Engineering from MIT, Mike spent several years in industry before returning to academia. His research at Dartmouth focused on robotics, where he was able to both create knowledge and teach its application.
Mike draws deeply on personal experiences as a learner to inform his approach to teaching and is continuously challenging himself to remove barriers to learning for his students, both inside and outside of the classroom. A wonderful example of how he does this is his assessment technique, which he writes about so eloquently in his teaching statement: "[I am continuously] working to strike an appropriate balance between assessment via rote recapitulation and extension of concepts to new domains." In other words, encouraging deep learning in his students beyond the classroom and into the real world.
And his students have taken note. Without exception, Mike's course assessments commented on his efforts to go above and beyond.
"it's clear that he wants students to grasp the material," "gave me some of the best support for a class that I've had," "He is one of the best engineering lecturers I have ever taken a class with."
These are just a few of the glowing responses indicating the high caliber of Mike's teaching. So high, in fact, that he was made the instructor of record for a class in recognition of the effort and preparation he devoted to this class. Working early on with Professor Doug Van Citters, Mike served as lead teaching assistant for ENGS 72 (Applied Mechanics: Dynamics) from 2016 through to 2018. And in 2019 Mike became only the second Engineering student in fourteen years to be afforded the title of Lecturer.
One of the challenges of teaching at Dartmouth is balancing teaching a course in ten short weeks while maintaining research progress. While such a challenge might overwhelm a lesser teacher, Mike proved himself a natural. While teaching, he also served as primary author on a high-profile grant proposal, authored several conference abstracts, actively advised undergraduates in the lab, and mentored robotics design teams at the Thayer School.
As one of his nominators writes "While outstanding teachers can be made, the very best teachers are born…he is the quintessential example of the latter."
Mike, we are delighted and honored to present you with the 2021 Graduate Teaching Award – congratulations.