Carnegie Mellon University
May 21, 2021

DJ Brasier Receives Julius Ashkin Teaching Award

By Ben Panko

Associate Teaching Professor of Biological Sciences Daniel "DJ" Brasier has received the college’s 2021 Julius Ashkin Teaching Award for his engaging and accessible teaching. 

"He is an innovative educator, dedicated advisor and mentor to students and faculty and is instrumental to many curricular and programmatic developments across [Carnegie Mellon University]," Biological Sciences Department Head Veronica Hinman, Director of Undergraduate studies Amanda Willard and Assistant Teaching Professor Stephanie Wong-Noonan wrote in nominating Brasier for the award. 

More than a dozen of Brasier's past students wrote letters to support his nomination, with many of them attesting to his care and hard work in helping them understand often complex material. 

"Dr. Brasier is one of the most approachable and accessible professors I have had in my time at CMU," junior Andrew Voor said. "The detail and alacrity with which he answers questions and emails demonstrates how student concerns are a priority." 

"Beyond his teaching, what sets Dr. Brasier apart is his dedication to his students, even outside of their academics," alumna Meredith Schmehl echoed. "In my seven years of higher education, I have not encountered another faculty member as enthusiastic or committed to facilitating external learning opportunities for students as Dr. Brasier.” 

Alumna Gates Palissery appreciated Brasier's innovative approach to teaching in her Neurobiology of Disease course, which made use of autobiographical novels. "This was the first time I ever took a class that had that kind of human emphasis, and it made me re-evaluate how we do science," Palissery said. "I credit this mindset and approach with putting me on track to my current graduate program." 

Brasier's faculty colleagues similarly had a lot of praise for his dedication to quality teaching. 

"I got to see first-hand the care in which DJ approaches teaching and the rigor that he brings to the subject matter he is teaching," Maxwell H. and Gloria C. Connan Professor in the Life Sciences Alison Barth said of her experience co-teaching a course with Brasier. 

Teaching Professor and Mellon College of Science Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs Maggie Braun recalled her collaboration with Brasier on evaluating scientific teaching in large introductory courses as having a major positive impact across the Department of Biological Sciences. 

"This work has helped to shape the culture of how the rest of our department thinks about teaching introductory courses, and we now see more scientific teaching principles being introduced in our department at all levels," Braun said. 

The Julius Ashkin Teaching Award was established in 1980 to encourage and recognize unusual devotion and effectiveness in teaching undergraduate students in the Mellon College of Science. It is named in memory of Professor of Physics Julius Ashkin, an acclaimed researcher in particle physics who was a key contributor to the Manhattan Project before going on to become a beloved and enthusiastic teacher to many students at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon University.