Professors win Distinguished Teaching Award

Don-John Dugas

Alicia Balog

Don-John Dugas received a call to come into the office of the English department chair while on sabbatical. The associate professor of English walked into his office expecting a simple meeting.

Instead, a group of his colleagues were gathered to congratulate him for winning one of this year’s three Distinguished Teaching Awards presented by the Kent State Alumni Association.

Dugas called himself a “deer in headlights” when he saw everyone and said he was simply trying to avoid the cameras. Winning the award, he said, was a humbling experience because it shows him students get a lot out of their experiences with him.

“This is one of those extra special, rare things one doesn’t think about,” Dugas said.

Dugas got into teaching for a chance to “work with smart, engaged and creative students.”

Elizabeth Banks, junior early childhood education major, liked Shakespeare before but never really understood it until Dugas taught it in his Introduction to Shakespeare class.

“He’d give up-to-date explanations where he’d use current terms to explain, like ‘hey’ and ‘yo’ and all that fun stuff,” Banks said.

Banks said although the class was lecture-based, he’d find ways to keep their attention.

“He was acting it out in front of us and being his awesome self,” she said. “He would call out questions, and then he did the — if people weren’t really paying attention — he’d get really close to them — that kind of teaching tactic.”

Cynthia Barb, associate professor of mathematical science at the Stark campus, said she wasn’t expecting to win the award and didn’t realize until the presenters walked into her classroom.

“I was writing on the board and my back was turned around,” Barb said. “You hear this gasp from my students in class, so they were surprised. So I turned around and there [the award presenters] were.”

Barb said she was extremely honored, especially considering the people who were advocating for her to win.

“It’s one of the greatest things in the world to know that nominations are from either students or alumni,” she said.

Barb said her goal is to share her critical thinking skills with others to allow them to think mathematically.

“Teaching math becomes a mechanism for providing students the opportunities and the motivation to create mathematical ideas and basically come to know their own power as learners and creators of math,” she said.

Erica Mayle, senior psychology major, said Barb was fun and comfortable in her teaching style, sometimes even taking her shoes off in her calculus class. Barb explained all the homework problems and examples, she said, to make sure the students understood the material.

“It takes a good teacher to teach a Calc class at eight in the morning,” Mayle said.

Alexander Seed, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, said two of his colleagues jumped out of a side room with cameras to present him with the award while he was teaching his basic organic chemistry class of 170 students.

Seed described his teaching style as appealing, especially with his non-chemistry major students.

“I try to be super engaging and make it relevant to their own lives,” he said. “If I do that and I get them engaged, then perhaps they’ll see that I’m invested in their future and their success and they’ll respond in the same way.”

Seed said he takes time to answer questions and assign problems students can work on during class, which leads to group discussions and a sense of community.

“It creates peer-led learning as well because I often see a lot of the students are talking after class outside about what’s happening,” he said. “I can hear some of the students teaching the others about the topics that maybe they haven’t understood.”

He tries to be as approachable with students as possible, willing to meet outside of office hours, answering questions in class and encouraging life-long learning.

“If you need help, and I’m not busy, I’ll help you,” he said.

Seed said it’s nice to get the recognition from this award because it encourages him to be an even better professor.

“I’m constantly thinking about the way I teach,” he said. “It’s something that never stops. You’re always changing, always trying to do things a bit better. But that was just something that makes you look back and [say] ‘Hmm … now I’ve got this award, perhaps I can see if I can do even better than that.’”

Olivia Mitchley, junior chemistry major, said Seed taking time out of class to explain problems and concepts showed he cared and made him one of the best professors she’s had at Kent State.

“When he took that time for the students to make sure that they really understood, that definitely set him apart from the other professors for me,” Mitchley said. “When I start working and go into my profession after college, I just want to have that passion that he has for his job and for the students and for everyone.”

Contact Alicia Balog at [email protected].