Valpo’s Committee to Enhance Learning and Teaching has selected Jennifer Bjornstad, Danielle Lavin-Loucks and Kevin Ostoyich as the 2017–2018 Valparaiso University Excellence in Teaching Award recipients.
“I am so pleased and impressed by the great work of these outstanding faculty members,” said Mark L. Biermann, Ph.D., provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “Their commitment to our students, to strong pedagogy, and to Valpo is an inspiration to me and to so may others. Most importantly, these individuals reflect the incredible quality of our faculty overall. It is an honor to work with them every day.”
Valpo faculty are frequently honored for outstanding quality. Most recently, U.S. News & World Report ranked Valparaiso University No. 1 for Best Undergraduate Teaching in the Midwest for 2017. Valpo’s Excellence in Teaching Award recognizes a number of outstanding undergraduate faculty and/or units each year for general teaching excellence, with particular attention to excellence in any of three areas: course development, pedagogy and mentoring/advising. Each award carries a monetary stipend of $3,000 to honor each faculty members’ excellence in teaching on the Valparaiso University campus.
Jennifer Bjornstad, Ph.D., associate professor of foreign languages and literatures and director of the Kade-Duesenberg German House and Cultural Center, was awarded for her excellence in pedagogy. Her style has been praised for being exceptionally interactive, offering students several opportunities to demonstrate learned skills to further their proficiency in the subject. Colleagues have applauded Bjornstad for her innovative pedagogical methods, which they themselves borrow for their own classes.
Bjornstad’s distinction in pedagogy is a product of her continual mental effort and experimentation to improve her methods. She believes one of the most demanding tasks is engaging with the scholarship of teaching and learning and applying what she has read to her pedagogy.
Danielle Lavin-Loucks, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology and criminology, was recognized for her dedication to student mentoring and advising. The nominating committee emphasized Lavin-Loucks tireless commitment to advising and mentoring students, and noted that her work with first-generation students and students of color has helped the University’s retention of these students and their postgraduate success.
Prior to her employment at Valpo, Lavin-Loucks worked for a college access/persistence nonprofit that served low-income, minority and first-generation students. This experience led her to making mentoring students a core element of her pedagogy at Valpo, and she has since devoted her time to helping students find their passion and carve out a pathway for themselves.
Kevin Ostoyich, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of history, received the award for his excellent work in the curriculum and course development category. He has stood out to his colleagues for developing several unique courses that combine enthusiasm, creativity, interdisciplinary knowledge and creative collaborations. This creates for excitement in the classroom and highly involved student participation.
To Ostoyich, an excellent course should stimulate active engagement and cultivate critical thinking, as he urges students to arrive at their own conclusions.