University of Mary Washington professors bestowed prestigious awards on three of their colleagues at the Fall 2022 Faculty Address earlier this month. Professors of English, German and physics were praised for their commitment to their fields, the art of teaching and the importance of service.
Professor of English Maya Mathur received the Grellet C. Simpson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. The honor recognizes full-time faculty members, who – like Simpson, UMW’s fourth president – place an emphasis on quality teaching and the liberal arts.
Since earning the rank of associate professor six years ago, Mathur has created six courses, including sought-after first-year seminars Shakespeare and Popular Culture and From Cinderella to Harry Potter: Fairy Tales and Fantasy Literature. Tailored to the interests of 21st-century students, Mathur’s courses blend canon with modern topics, prompting exploration of class, race, gender and power within texts.
“The enthusiasm and engagement my students bring to class both enhance my understanding of literary texts and help me develop new ways to analyze it,” said Mathur, whose meticulously constructed Canvas pages and use of engaging applications like Padlet and Flipgrid stand out.
She shares innovative ideas and has worked with the Center for Teaching to co-sponsor workshops, including one focused on race in the classroom. “Many faculty and students are eager to address race,” said a nominator. “Professor Mathur is leading the way in guiding us to do so.”
Associate Professor of German Marcel Rotter received the J. Christopher “Topher” Bill Outstanding Faculty Service Award for those who have taught at UMW at least seven years and held significant service roles in their departments, colleges and community. The award was established in 2003 in honor of the late Topher Bill, longtime UMW psychology professor.
Rotter, who chairs the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, works to promote and improve German language instruction at Mary Washington and in Virginia, organizing continuing education events for teachers and cultural immersion experiences for students. “His work cultivates key relationships and promotes UMW as a cultural hub and an institution with a global mindset,” said a nominator.
In 18 years at Mary Washington, Rotter also has served as chair of the University Faculty Council, leading a revision of the general education curriculum, and as treasurer for the Faculty Senate of Virginia, all while keeping students top of mind.
“Many of our students have never left Virginia, let alone the U.S.” said Rotter, who also is VP for the Society of German American Studies. “My colleagues from around the world and I are here to show them what’s out there.”
Assistant Professor of Physics Varun Makhija won the Alumni Association Outstanding Young Faculty Award, for those who’ve taught full time at Mary Washington for two to five years.
At the end of his first semester at Mary Washington in fall 2019, Makhija found himself the sole physics professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics. And so, in three years, he taught 21 of the 24 physics offerings in the course catalog; supervised 19 students in individual studies, internships and Summer Science Institute research; and reinvigorated UMW’s chapter of the Society for Physics Students, which won awards in 2020 and 2021.
Makhija is “the glue,” said nominators, “that has, through sheer enthusiasm and love for teaching and physics,” held the program together.
At Mary Washington, he has worked to connect the campus physics community with scholars in the field and published six papers in leading journals, often with undergraduate co-authors.
“The primary motivation for me has been our students,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from them, and I’ve tried my best to provide an environment in which they can do things they’re passionate about, and then go to the places they want to go after UMW.”
Thanks to Associate Professor of Mathematics Education Kyle Schultz, who provided a transcript of his awards presentation, and to the members of last year’s Committee for Sabbaticals, Fellowships and Faculty Awards.