COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Mazeika Sullivan, assistant professor in Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR), spent part of the morning March 28 collecting study samples, knee deep in the nearby, still cold Olentangy River.
He returned to the university’s Kottman Hall that afternoon, where he met a warmer, drier and unexpected welcome.
In a surprise visit to SENR’s monthly faculty meeting, Ohio State Interim President Joseph A. Alutto presented Sullivan with the university’s 2014 Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching. The award honors Ohio State faculty members for superior teaching.
“Mazeika is an exemplary teacher in every sense of the word. He is actively engaged with our students from the time they first visit as prospective majors until well after they graduate and move on to careers or advanced study,” said Bruce McPheron, Ohio State’s vice president for agricultural administration and dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), who attended the ceremony. SENR is part of the college.
“He is one of the faculty members most frequently mentioned by our graduates as the person in whose course they learned the most, or who impacted them in the most meaningful way during their studies,” McPheron said.
Sullivan is an ecologist who specializes in aquatic and riparian ecosystems -- how communities of living things in and along rivers interact with their environment.
He teaches courses on stream ecology, aquatic ecology and aquatic invertebrates, all of which, according to his nominators, include a great deal of study in the field, especially at Ohio State’s Wilma H. Shiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park.
“He truly excels” when it comes to including such field work in his classes, one of his nominators wrote.
Sullivan developed the stream ecology course shortly after joining Ohio State in 2008, and it has met or exceeded its enrollment cap every year since then.
He created another new course in 2012, the aquatic invertebrate course, which focuses on the taxonomy and behavior of creatures such as mussels, mayflies, caddisflies and crayfish, which serve as indicators of water quality.
One nominator said Sullivan’s teaching skills have increased interest in the aquatic ecology course, which is required for fisheries majors, to the point that students taking it as an elective outnumber fisheries majors almost 5:1.
“I’m so delighted for Dr. Sullivan and his receipt of this award,” said SENR’s interim director, Jeff Sharp, who also attended the ceremony. “His commitment to teaching and advising and his unwavering attention to curriculum development have impacted so many of our students and have served as a wonderful model for many of our faculty, graduate teaching associates and lecturers.”
A nominator also cited Sullivan’s inclusion of service learning in his classes, including with Columbus Metro Parks, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, “to show students that science makes a real-life difference.”
Sullivan holds a Ph.D. in natural resources and a master’s degree in biology, both from the University of Vermont, and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American studies from Dartmouth College.
“I’ve never been around a teacher who can engage his students so fully, and I’ve never met a student who was not thoroughly impressed with his teaching style. He’s a huge asset to the school and the university,” one of his nominators wrote.
“He easily conveys complex information while also encouraging students to think for themselves,” another nominator wrote. “He is enthusiastic, approachable, fair and always trying to improve as a teacher. Most of all he is adept at engaging students from all different backgrounds and bringing everyone up to the same level of understanding.”
Joining the award presentation were Ohio State’s Steve Proctor, assistant vice president for relationship management with University Communications, representing the Alumni Association, and a number of SENR faculty members, including, by video link, ones based at the Wooster campus of CFAES’s research arm, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. In addition to his teaching duties, Sullivan holds a research appointment with the center.
Recipients of the award, which goes to no more than 10 Ohio State faculty members annually, receive a $3,000 honorarium made possible by contributions from Ohio State’s Alumni Association, the University Advancement program and the Office of Academic Affairs. The Office of Academic Affairs also provides a $1,200 increase to each recipient’s base salary.
Recipients also are inducted into the university's Academy of Teaching, which provides leadership for further improvement of teaching at Ohio State.
Recipients are nominated by students, alumni or colleagues and are chosen by a committee of students, previous recipients and faculty.
Further details on the award are at http://oaa.osu.edu/teaching.html.
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