Professor Jackie Bortiatynski Receives Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching

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29 April 2019

Dr. Jackie Bortiatynski, Associate Teaching Professor in chemistry, has been selected as a 2019 recipient of the Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching!

The award, named after Penn State’s seventh president, honors excellence in teaching at the undergraduate level.

Dr. Bortiatynski notes that, for her, teaching chemistry goes beyond imparting scientific knowledge. Her courses are designed to help students become self-directed learners, a skill that she believes is instrumental to a successful scientific career.

“STEM courses are known to be particularly challenging for students, so I feel it is extremely important to help them practice effective learning strategies to become self-directed learners,” she explains, “without these skills students find it difficult to meet the challenges that lie ahead and never learn how to apply what they have learned to real world problems.”

To that end, Dr. Bortiatynski works to engage students with learning strategies that promote problem solving and creative thinking, including peer to peer discussions, interactive clicker questions, and group problem solving activities. Outside of the classroom, she also encourages students to attend peer facilitated group work sessions as a way for students to gain immediate feedback on their progress.

Dr. Bortiatynski explains that she views herself as a “learning coach” who works with her team to create a positive learning community. She gathers feedback from her students on course climate and the effectiveness of learning strategies and uses their input to tailor her courses to the students’ needs. The students have certainly responded to this approach; they leave Dr. Bortiatynski’s classes with the tools and confidence to be successful students of science throughout their college careers.

Outside the classroom, Dr. Bortiatynski works to improve student learning experiences through her role as director of the Center for Excellence in Science Education at Penn State. The center aims to provide faculty and students with a collaborative educational network that promotes excellence in science teaching and learning through a variety of instructional development activities that focus on science teaching.

Dr. Bortiatynski was also recognized for her role in co-developing the Learning Assistant (LA) Program, which has trained more than 750 undergraduates as learning facilitators. LAs aim to enrich learning experiences in science and math classes and work to engage other undergraduates in collaborative, active learning. Dr. Bortiatynski taught the LA pedagogy course that is used to prepare LAs for their work as learning facilitators for five years.

Going forward, Dr. Bortiatynski plans to continue advancing science education at Penn State through the Center and in the classroom. “I want my students to develop as scientists,” she notes, “I know that every student is an individual and my role is to support the learning of all my students.”

Maria Landschoot

Communications Coordinator

Department of Chemistry

Penn State University

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