Eisenhart Award Profiles
Since 1965, RIT’s Eisenhart Awards for Outstanding Teaching have honored and celebrated faculty excellence. Up to four awards are given each year to recipients in various RIT programs. Winners are chosen through rigorous peer review of student nominations. This year, four professors will receive the awards during the academic convocation on Friday, May 24.
The Eisenhart family, for whom the awards are named, has a long history with RIT. The late M. Herbert Eisenhart, president and board chairman of Bausch & Lomb, was an RIT trustee for more than 50 years. Richard Eisenhart continues the RIT connection, serving on the board since 1972, as chairman for six years and now as trustee emeritus.
Hamad Ghazle, College of Science
The most important part about being a teacher is to never stop being a student. Perhaps that’s just a theory, but Hamad Ghazle has made it his way of life.
Ghazle, associate professor and director of the diagnostic medical sonography program in the College of Science, has committed himself to understanding as much about his students as he can, and that requires more time than is spent inside a classroom.
That mission propelled Ghazle into taking part in an important experiment. For two years, he lived on campus with students as the faculty-in-residence. The first RIT faculty member to serve in this role, Ghazle used the opportunity to become a role model, mentor, advisor and friend to these young men and women.
"My apartment had a kitchen, so students would come down at all hours to make use of it," he recalls. "We spent a lot of time talking, and that helped them to understand that we-as faculty-are not beasts. We’re just like them, and that opened up the opportunities to discuss things that were really important to them."
Ghazle says he learned a lot from that experience that has helped him to relate better with students in the classroom-understanding how they behave and interact. It also provided him with an appreciation for the fact that each student is different, which encouraged him to diversify his classroom activities.
"You can’t always rely on traditional teaching methods. Lessons have to be interactive. Don’t just assume that everyone learns the same way. Some students learn better with visuals, some through the aid of computers, some learn better in groups, and some prefer hands-on learning. As a result, I really try to polish my lectures using different styles."
Joining the RIT faculty in 1994 was somewhat of a homecoming for Ghazle. Years earlier, he graduated from the College of Science with a bachelor’s degree in ultrasound. He then earned his master’s degree in health professions from the University of Rochester. Ever the student, Ghazle is pursuing a Ph.D. in imaging science.
Ghazle calls winning the Eisenhart Award a great honor and privilege, but he feels strongly that there’s more work ahead of him.
"Does it mean I’m doing the right thing? It does strengthen my belief that I’m on the right track, but it’s just the beginning. There’s no such thing as the peak, and we can never be perfect. It’s a goal worth having, but we never actually reach that peak. The key is to stay humble. I just want to make sure students are happy and that I see them smile. They’re the reason we’re here."
David Neumann, College of Liberal Arts
To David Neumann, the key to teaching is creating a connection with his students.
His philosophy of "experimentation and innovation" has earned him an Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching.
Neumann, a professor of communication in the College of Liberal Arts, makes a creative climate for his students through the use of current technology in the classroom and distance learning classes, discussions that invite participation and original ways to combine research, theory and experiential learning.
An interactive and experiential approach to learning is characteristic of Neumann’s teaching style. He started teaching in 1986 as a graduate student at Bowling Green State University where he was working on his doctorate in interpersonal and public communication. That year he won an Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award from the International Communication Association, a sign of future awards to come. In 1990, soon after joining the RIT faculty, he was awarded an RIT outstanding young professor award.
One of the best parts of teaching for Neumann is the positive reaction he gets from students when they are engaged and a class comes alive.
Teaching keeps him thinking about current issues. And, he says, "It gives me a finger on the pulse of the younger generation." His students’ questions and comments reveal what is important to them, a perspective that also interests Neumann as a parent.
As a scholar, Neumann has presented and published numerous papers, his most recent research focuses on Internet plagiarism, computer-mediated communication apprehension and image analysis of advertisements appearing in Rolling Stone magazine.
He served as chair of the professional and technical communication department from 1992-94, and has received several faculty research grants.
Neumann is an active member of the RIT community and has sat on variety of committees including CLA Tenure, College Promotion, Institute Academic Conduct and Institute of Effective Teaching and serves as an Institute Mediator.
He looks forward to developing a new online version of his Persuasion class, using online testing and stream audio and video. Neumann received a grant to coordinate Film across the Communication Curriculum, a unique project that will bring together students from different communication classes to analyze selected films.
"I think there are innovative solutions to most any problem we face, no matter how small." he says.
Jayanti Venkataraman, Kate Gleason College of Engineering
When Jayanti Venkataraman heard the news that she would receive the Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching, the first thing she did was ask if it was true.
"Do they really mean I got this award?" she asked Santosh Kurinec, co-chair of the nominations committee. She then called Francis Kearns, another co-chair, who asked her, "Do you see the word ‘not’?" Seems she was the only one who doubted. When they received word, her husband, RIT associate professor of mechanical engineering P. "Venkat" Venkataraman, and children, daughter Archana and son Vinayak, hurried to the store to buy a cake.
"It’s quite an honor to be recognized," she says, disbelief having given way to humility.
Teaching comes naturally to Venkataraman, now completing her 20th year as an RIT electrical engineering professor. She comes from a family of teachers including her mother, a high school physics teacher in the family’s hometown of Bangalore, India. Four of her five siblings also chose teaching professions.
"I always wanted a teaching career," she says. "My mother was one of the first few women graduates in physics from My sore University in India. She encouraged us. Teaching was always my goal."
Venkataraman received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Bangalore University and a Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Science. She specializes in electromagnetic, microwave and antenna technology. At RIT, she was instrumental in development of the courses, Microwave Engineering and Antenna Design, and laboratory courses in Microwave Engineering, Antenna Design and Electromagnetics II.
"I think our students are very fortunate to be exposed to such state-of-the-art equipment and teaching methods," she says. Venkataraman is co-principal investigator with principal investigator P.R. Mukund, associate professor of electrical engineering, on funded research into Chip-Package Co-Design of Integrated RF Microsystems. She is co-PI with Fung-I Tseng, professor of electrical engineering, on Smart Antennas for Wireless Communication, which is supported by the Gleason Research and Development Fund. In total, she has been co-PI on nine grants to RIT.
As a consultant to Detection Systems Inc., Venkataraman helped design transmitting and receiving antennas for an alarm-system for use on college campuses. A transmitter small enough for a key ring sends a signal to campus security identifying a person in need of assistance, his or her location and other information. Security personnel are able to monitor the person in real time on computer screens until help arrives. The system was tested and is used at Nazareth College.
"We’ve had the system since 1993. Over 1,000 people carry the device on campus," says Lee Struble, director of security and safety at Nazareth. "Great system. We love it."
Venkataraman also worked with Detection Systems on a motion sensor that reduces incidences of false alarms.
Outside the classroom, Venkataraman is in her first year on RIT’s Academic Senate and Institute Council, is a member of the Kate Gleason College of Engineering Curriculum Committee and is the guidelines chair for the E3 Engineering and Technology Fair. She enjoys reading, racquetball, tennis and playing piano.
But teaching is her most fulfilling pursuit.
"I enjoy teaching more than anything else. It’s almost therapeutic for me," she says. "I like to challenge students. I like to bring out the best in them. And I like them to interact with me. I don’t like to give monologues."
She says many of her students have gone on to earn advanced degrees and high-level industry positions. "They call and tell me they’re very well prepared for what they’re doing, and that’s gratifying to hear.
"My passion is teaching. I love teaching."
Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching
Joseph Fornieri, College of Liberal Arts
He could have been a lawyer. Instead Joseph Fornieri, political science assistant professor, found his vocation in teaching. Specifically in teaching students awareness of the human condition and preparing them for responsible citizenship in a democratic society. Understanding politics enables understanding of the everyday world and exploring the concept of what it means to be a human being.
Politics, he says, has a great potential for order or disorder and a huge impact on our everyday lives. His quest is to understand the moral and religious foundations of political order and political change.
And what better person to study than Abraham Lincoln, the master of democracy? "No one understood democracy as well as Lincoln did," Fornieri says, "and its potential for both good and evil."
Lincoln was a truly extraordinary individual in character, leadership and thought, he says. He struggled against slavery, preserving the union and the principles it stood for-equality for all people.
And in that vein, Fornieri has written a book on Lincoln, available in spring 2003, Lincoln’s Faith and Politics.
"One sign of Fornieri’s impact in the classroom can be seen in the numbers of students who are ‘around’ him as he walks across campus or who are constantly in his office talking politics," says department chair John Murley.
Since he believes that learning occurs both inside and outside the classroom and some of the best lessons come from example, Fornieri is advisor to the student-run Political Science Club. It’s crucial, he says, for professors to embody what they teach.
But how did he get from having his heart set on law school to teaching students to be upstanding citizens?
After visiting a friend in law school and seeing what he had to read, Fornieri went to Europe for a year and supported himself as a working musician. Instead of law books, he read Shakespeare and the humanities and his heart swung to the life of a teacher.
He’s still a working musician, playing in a local R&B band, the Dynamics, but most of his time is focused on helping his students grow through cultivating their intellect and character.
On winning the Richard and Virginia Eisenhart Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, Fornieri says, "It’s wonderful to be recognized in such a supportive institution. I love coming to work each day-it’s my vocation, my delight."Back to Contest & Awards section