Gordon Rule, Peter Berget, Kelley Burgin and Sebastian Stoian received the Mellon College of Science’s highest awards on May 3.-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Gordon Rule, Peter Berget, Kelley Burgin and Sebastian Stoian received the Mellon College of Science’s highest awards on May 3.

The Mellon College of Science’s highest awards for education and a new award for graduate research were presented during the College’s Annual Faculty Meeting on May 3.

The Julius Ashkin Award for Excellence in Teaching was presented to Gordon Rule, professor of biological sciences. This award recognizes his creativity, innovation, and commitment to each of his students. “There is no doubt he is a leader and innovator in the educational arena. He uses technology to advance learning and yet he brings a personal approach as well,” wrote Amy Burkert, associate head of the department of biological sciences, in a letter supporting Rule’s nomination. Both faculty and students praised his ability to use a variety of techniques — clever in-class demonstrations, interactive web sites — to accommodate each student’s learning style. “He would often stop class to ask if people understood the concepts being taught. If there was even one person who was unsure of something, he would devise alternate ways of explaining it,” commented one student in a nomination letter. Rule teaches Biochemistry I and Molecular and Cellular Immunology, a course he developed and implemented to meet student need. In nominating Rule for the award, many students wrote about his accessibility, enthusiasm, tireless efforts on their behalf, and ability to make often complicated and confusing concepts easily understandable and memorable.

Peter Berget, associate professor of biological sciences, received the Richard Moore Award for his “substantial and sustained contributions to the educational mission of MCS.” In the courses he teaches, including a course on the molecular biology of prokaryotes and seminars for first-year students on genes and diseases, Berget instructs students on reading and criticizing scientific papers and on using technology to access information. “Peter was able to connect with students in a way that I have never seen before. He made the class a comfortable and fun learning experience,” said Jon Minden, associate professor of biological sciences, who co-caught an Introductory Biology course with Berget for many years. Berget’s innate talent for teaching has extended far beyond the undergraduate classroom. For several years, he directed the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences, and he currently trains rising sophomores how to do research in the department’s Summer Research Institute. “He is outstanding as an educator and an innovator, especially in the uses of technology,” wrote Elizabeth Jones, university professor and head of the department of biological sciences, in a letter supporting Berget’s nomination.

Kelley Burgin, a graduate student in Mathematical Sciences, was selected as the Hugh D. Young Graduate Teaching Award recipient. His excellence as a teaching assistant was cited for the wide variety of courses he has taught, including several of his own courses. “Kelley clearly spends a lot of time preparing for class. His explanations are crystal clear and he makes sure that everyone understands every issue at an acceptable level. In addition, he sets and maintains high standards,” wrote Deborah Brandon, teaching assistant supervisor, in a letter supporting Burgin’s nomination. Burgin’s students concur. In their letters of support, many commented on his willingness to take extra time to explain a confusing topic. As one student wrote, “There have been multiple occasions when I have stayed after class or gone into his office to talk to Mr. Burgin about problems I’m having, and never once have I ever walked away from one of these conversations without having all my questions answered.”

The first annual Guy C. Berry Graduate Research Award was presented to Sebastian Stoian in recognition of his excellence in research using Mossbauer spectroscopy to study the detailed electronic structure of iron-containing molecules that are models for active sites in enzymes, catalysts of important biological processes. Stoian, a fourth year graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, was commended on his ability to tackle difficult problems with creativity and determination. Eckard Münck, professor of chemistry and Stoian’s research advisor, described his research as “beautiful and convincing.” Collaborator Andreja Bakac of the Ames Laboratory at Iowa State described their collaborative project as having “some very unexpected, indeed discouraging initial results” and referred to Sebastian’s work as “science at its best... which takes much more to answer tough scientific questions and to resolve unpredicted and unusual findings.” Stoian has successfully mastered difficult experimental and theoretical techniques such as Mössbauer, EPR and DFT calculations. One of his several ongoing projects provides important insights about the nature of reactive intermediates in much-studied Fenton chemistry, which has been of interest since 1896 for many geological and atmospheric reactions. According to Münck, “One of the joys of our profession is to have, once in a while, students like Sebastian Stoian. He [has] developed into a gem, in all respects.”

By: Amy Pavlak