“This year’s Eberly College Outstanding Teacher Award recipients represent vastly different disciplines, but they all share deep dedication, enthusiasm and a love of teaching,” said Gregory Dunaway, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “All four recipients are worthy of this award, and we are proud to have them serving our students.”
Gwen Bergner, an associate professor in the Department of English, has more than two decades of teaching experience at WVU. Teaching primarily on African American, multiethnic, women’s and postcolonial literatures, her courses tackle personal and political issues of race and gender diversity and inequality. Throughout her career, Bergner has strived to set a high academic bar and teach on politically complex and emotionally challenging topics.
“I care deeply about students’ perceptions of learning, but my teaching style, goals and subject matter push them beyond their comfort zones. I fail to offer comforting facts, but instead ask my students to question, think critically and even debate. I ask them to dwell in the uncomfortable spaces of ambiguity, multiple truths and indeterminate meaning,” Bergner said. “But as they stand before the class for their final presentation, an amazing thing happens. They find their voice, visibly rising up with a newfound sense that their perspective matters. And I am awestruck each time by their courage, imagination and complexity.”
She has led service learning-focused study abroad experiences to Jamaica and rural Trinidad and spent 11 years as an undergraduate adviser.
“A truly great teacher will inspire introspection, creativity, discovery and innovation. (Bergner) has greatly enriched my analytical ability, as well as expanded my willingness to take risks and believe in myself,” said Hannah Jack, an undergraduate student studying anthropology. “She has inspired me to explore authenticity and identity. Ultimately, these studies led me to switch my major from occupational therapy to sociology. Prior to her course, I did not have the courage to change to a ‘risky’ major. Without her influence, I am sure I would still be in a major that goes against my abilities and passions.”
Bergner received a PhD in English from Princeton University in 1997. Prior to arriving at WVU, she was a visiting lecturer in American literature and civilization at Middlebury College.
"I can't overstate the teaching contributions that (Bergner) makes to the Department of English and our undergraduate and graduate students,” said Brian Ballentine, interim chair of the Department of English. “We are delighted that she is being recognized for her years of dedication to the classroom and her curricular innovations that so clearly have inspired her students."
Ned Flagg, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, leads WVU’s Semiconductor Quantum Optics Laboratory. Quantum optics is the study of light interacting with matter at the level of single photons, and the lab’s researchers, including undergraduate and graduate students, investigate the quantum optical behavior of nanostructured semiconductor systems of reduced dimensionality, such as quantum dots.
“I have always considered myself a teacher, and I see my history of teaching as leading directly to my success as a researcher. As a scientist, one is always teaching in one way or another, whether directly in a course, or indirectly in a journal article or grant proposal,” Flagg said. “The teaching duties of a professor at an R1 institution like WVU do not end at course-based instruction. We are also called on to prepare the next generation of scientists by involving them in independent research projects. In addition to graduate students, I have included undergraduate students in my research group from the very beginning.”
Flagg teaches Introduction to Modern Physics, Introductory Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics 2 and serves as an undergraduate adviser.
“(Flagg) makes physics fun, interesting, understandable and really makes his students feel that they are capable and ready to pursue a future in physics,” said Samantha Isaacs, a senior physics major who has been a member of Flagg’s lab for the past three years. “If anyone ever has a question during class, he always takes as much time is necessary to explain the material until the student understands it. I have never been made to feel that any of my questions were ‘dumb’ and have always felt encouraged to ask questions whenever I have them. He truly is an inspirational role model to me and others, and I am lucky to be able to have him as a mentor.”
Flagg earned a PhD in physics in 2008 from the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to arriving at WVU in 2013, he was a postdoctoral scholar and associate researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland from 2008 to 2012.
“(Flagg) may be the most innovative and effective physics professor I have seen in the 23 years I have been at WVU,” said Earl Scime, Oleg P. Jefimenko Professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “I have assigned him to teach some of our most difficult to teach mid-program and upper division courses for the past few years, and his accomplishments in those courses have been spectacular. Our undergraduate students beg to have him as their instructor. These students are not asking for an easy instructor, but for someone exceptional at explaining challenging concepts. They feel like, with (Flagg) as their instructor, they will be able to learn the material.”
Krystal Frazier is an assistant professor in the Department of History. Since high school, she has strived to advocate for less vocal, but no less able students and champion the deconstruction of academic boundaries. She carried this momentum into college, where she learned to inspire critical thinking in her classmates.
“Each student is intelligent and has something to contribute to any classroom space. I am determined to honor student inquiry by cultivating critical thinking, maintaining safe learning environments and encouraging collaborative learning within and beyond inspirational classrooms,” Frazier said. “I encourage students to embrace the humility necessary to investigate historical experiences and carefully consider the contributions of their classmates. This helps students learn to respect and appreciate one another even if they disagree. I believe that how students respond to the thoughts of others is as important as developing their own, so I model active listening in ways that build student confidence and intellectual empathy.”
Frazier teaches African American History to 1900, African American History since 1900, U.S. Civil Rights History and Oral History. Her research interests are in the social and cultural history of African American communities and its economic and political implications. She also advises undergraduate history students and directs the Africana Studies program.
“Immediately upon entering (Frazier’s) office for my first advising appointment, she embraced me and offered me tea. She asked me about myself, where I had come from, what my interests were and where I saw myself,” said alumna Kathrine Gilman (BA German, History and Mathematics, 2016). “When I told her of my double major she did not roll her eyes at my interest in math, but commended me for the hard work I would put in as a double major, admired my interests in STEM and began brainstorming people she could put me in touch with. I left the meeting feeling empowered and reenergized, a frequent outcome of my encounters with her.”
Frazier earned a PhD from Rutgers University and has led the Department of History’s teaching practicum for graduate teaching instructors.
“(Frazier’s) teaching exemplifies WVU’s land grant mission by training students to get beyond the boundaries of the University and work with local communities to document the past. She brings her expertise and talent for community engagement into the classroom while instilling critical thinking skills, a broader understanding of the historical profession and sense of the importance of the work they are doing,” said Melissa Bingmann, director of public history and associate professor of history. “Because they see relevance in the course material, receive individualized mentorship and are empowered to test out these new skills in a cooperative class environment, students naturally excel in their academic study.”
Carrie Rishel is a professor in the School of Social Work and director of the Integrated Mental and Behavioral Health Training Program (IMBTP) within WVU’s Master of Social Work. Supported by federal grants through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the program prepares MSW students to apply a prevention-focused integrative approach to address the mental and behavioral health needs of children and families. By 2018, the program will have trained 61 MSW students, and an additional 80 MSW students will complete the program by 2021.
“When looking back over my academic career up to this point, my interactions with students both inside and outside of the classroom have been the most intrinsically rewarding aspect of my career,” Rishel said. “While there have been many benefits of the IMBTP for students, the University and the state, the most exciting part for me has been the opportunity to closely mentor a large number of MSW students as they grow into their professional roles as social workers. It has allowed me to share my passion for high quality, effective and accessible services for youth and families in our state and to influence the development of numerous graduate students committed to practicing with rural populations.”
Rishel has taught 19 graduate courses from 2012 to 2016, and her teaching interests include generalist social work practice, social work research, child mental health, advanced field experience and integrated healthcare.
“As a graduate student in the MSW program, I was extremely fortunate to have (Rishel) as a teacher for three classes and as my academic adviser,” said alumnus Jeremy Speer (MSW, 2014). “In the classroom, she created and effortlessly managed an environment that was safe, challenging and inspirational. It was obvious that she is an expert in her field, but at the same time she was humble about her expertise and easily conveyed complex matters into coursework that students could learn and implement into their practice.”
In addition to her research and teaching activities, Rishel is actively involved
in efforts across West Virginia to improve mental and behavioral health services
for children and families. She earned a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in
“(Rishel) is among the most successful and impactful teachers in the School of Social Work. Students consistently describe her teaching as rich in content, well-organized, relevant to cutting-edge social work practice and inspiring,” said Deana Morrow, director of the School of Social Work. “(Rishel’s) innovative contributions and sustained excellence in teaching have benefitted both students and the School of Social Work.”
Recipients of the Eberly College’s Outstanding Teacher Award are listed on a plaque in Woodburn Hall, and are awarded $1,500 to pursue professional development opportunities. They also serve as the College’s nominees for the WVU Foundation Award for Outstanding Teaching, which are announced in April.