Eisenhart Award Profiles
Since 1965, RIT’s Eisenhart Awards for Outstanding Teaching have honored and celebrated faculty excellence. RIT gives up to four awards each year to recipients in various 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 23.
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 and 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.
Michael Peres, College of Imaging Arts and Sciences
Peres is one of the coordinators of RIT’s Big Shot projects. Since 1987, he has helped lead a team from the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences produce 20 memorable nighttime photographs—known for their “painting with light” technique. Big Shots have taken place across campus and throughout the Rochester area. Out-of-town assignments included the USS Intrepid in New York City and the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.
But Big Shot represents merely a flash in Peres’ extended exposure to teaching. In 1986, he was hired as an instructor of biomedical photographic communications.
Three years later, Peres was appointed department chair. He says leading a small department strongly influences how he performs his job.
“I seem to lead a dual life here at RIT,” explains Peres. “One role as a core member of the teaching faculty, while the other role is that of being a program chair of a department of almost 85 students and three full-time faculty.”
That type of situation encourages creativity. For example, the biomedical photography department has no clinical facilities. That led Peres to an affiliation agreement with the ophthalmology department at Strong Memorial Hospital—supporting activities in the area of ophthalmic photography.
“Every day I come to work is different. Each day, I try to create a dynamic learning environment for my students that is both active and passive. This includes frequent unannounced visits to our lab and to classes that are in progress. I also assign myself courses spanning all years, ranging from first-year courses up through the BPC photo concentration requirements.”
Peres describes his long-term objective as a teacher as offering students the tools to produce work that will “mature with them” over the course of their careers. Since each student is different, he makes a point of interacting with them individually to emphasize his or her particular needs and areas of interest.
“Additionally, I try to challenge them on personal responsibility issues, such as being a good citizen within our community and the value of this goal,” he says.
Among his more notable feats was the creation of the Images from Science project. Peres and Andrew Davidhazy, chair of imaging technology, solicited pictures from a worldwide audience—featuring images that illustrate various scientific disciplines. The highly acclaimed exhibition debuted on campus last fall and has since appeared in a number of different venues across the country.
So what’s next? How about the first international Big Shot. In October, Bill DuBois and Dawn Tower Dubois will join Peres to reprise their roles as Big Shot coordinators. The faculty team will lead a photo shoot at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden.
“I’ve always said that the amazing thing about Big Shot is that you never really know what to expect,” states Peres. “I guess that’s what keeps me curious about teaching.”
Tom Frederick, College of Science
As his friends around the world would attest, there’s nothing Frederick enjoys more than getting to know and helping people. This enthusiasm characterizes his approach to teaching and the compassion he shows toward his students.
Winning the award was an emotional moment for Frederick, a professor of biological sciences in the College of Science.
“Tears came to my eyes when I received the envelope,” he says. “The Eisenhart award has so much meaning to me mainly because of what I know about the people who are already Eisenhart winners. To be considered as someone in the group that I’ve respected forever is incredible.”
Frederick’s passion for teaching and his subject matter are as strong in his 28th year at RIT as they were in his first.
“If I go into an 8 o’clock class, I’m pumped. I tell students ‘This is my morning cup of coffee.’ ”
He also loves his subject matter. “I enjoy learning about what I’m teaching,” he says. “Immunology is a field that is moving so fast.”
Frederick wants to share his passion for immunology with his students. He also wants them to understand that “faculty are real people, too.”
His home page on RIT’s Web site, for instance, is packed with information from details about his family and personal life—including political affiliation, pastimes and approximate weight—to his zigzagging path to microbiology as an undergraduate at The Ohio State University, where he also earned his Ph.D. in immunology. An open and gregarious man, Frederick is happy to quickly break down barriers of communication and get to the important part of relating to others.
“Trust is easier to develop when students know more about you. It makes you more of a person.”
Solid student-faculty relationships are an important part of the biological science department. This is an aspect of his job that Frederick, a full professor and former department chair from 1983 to 1998, fully embraces.
“Understanding that we’re here for almost anything they need is important.”
A business trip to Singapore in 1988 sparked Frederick’s interest in the special needs of international students. As department head at the time, he traveled to Singapore to help Ngee Ann Polytechnic establish a biological science program similar to the one at RIT. While in “the neighborhood” Frederick called a prospective student in Malaysia—much to that student’s surprise—and subsequently visited him and his family.
In addition to the Eisenhart Award, Frederick is a past recipient of a Student Affairs Award for Promoting Learning Outside of the Classroom and an RIT Interactive Learning and Support Grant for his proposal to support women and minority student participation in professional activities. He is also a member of the Academic Senate and the Institute Council, and has served on numerous committees.
Josef Török, Kate Gleason College of Engineering
Students like his lively classes and easy-going nature. Despite the latter, he admits, he’s also demanding. “I expect my students to work hard,” he says.
Török’s passion and communication skills allow him to connect with students and explain what can be abstract concepts of nonlinear dynamics, mathematical modeling and computational methods, his areas of expertise. “I go way out on the limb to explain everything in complete detail, to make the complicated look easy,” he says. And, he adds, he can sense when he’s getting through to his students. “I’m totally in touch with my group,” he says. “I know exactly when they’re following me and when they’re stumbling.”
Winning the Eisenhart Award was a surprise, he says, particularly since he learned about it from a colleague offering congratulations. So busy was his spring that he didn’t have a chance to open the letter notifying him of the award. The informal channel suited him fine, he says. “I think that was cool—totally unanticipated.”
Török joined the RIT faculty in 1986 from The Ohio State University, where he taught and earned his master’s and doctoral degrees. In addition to teaching, he’s founder and director of the Estelle H. and Howard F. Carver Engineering Learning Center and active in RIT’s new microsystems engineering Ph.D. program. He also concentrates on writing, both professionally and recreationally. He wrote Analytical Mechanics with an Introduction to Dynamical Systems, an instructor’s solutions manual to Elementary Differential Equations and Boundary Value Problems, other supplemental text material and numerous journal articles. He’s working on engineering and mathematics books, a medieval romance novel (so far about 50 pages along, and “quite the opposite of everything I do,” he says) and a cookbook containing recipes of 150 German, Hungarian and Mediterranean dishes.
The Esztergom, Hungary native enjoys cooking—especially outdoor grilling and Hungarian meals—and playing blues and jazz on the guitar. He travels yearly to Germany, where his youngest son Steven works as a systems analyst, and every other year to Hungary. Another son, Joseph, is an RIT student majoring in information technology.
Interacting with students, Török adds, helps keep him young. “I love sharing in their discoveries and their learning. It brings me a lot of joy.”
David Suits, College of Liberal Arts
“I’m thrilled to have an acknowledgement of the occupation I value the most,” he says.
Suits, a professor of philosophy in the College of Liberal Arts, brings passion and energy to his classroom lectures, and a bit of humor.
“A non-humorous life is not worth living,” he says. “My passion is philosophy—I like to bring it to the classroom. On several occasions I’ve stopped class to jot down ideas”.
Suits works hard to relate his subject matter to the present, finding philosophy in unexpected places, such as movies, political cartoons and jokes.
He says: “The students all have these fundamental concerns: What should I do? How should I act? How can I appreciate death? No one can escape these questions.”
Suits finds that students are drawn to philosophy. Classes in the philosophy department typically fill up fast. “I have the impression that students of all sorts come to love philosophy quickly.”
When Suits came to RIT in 1977, the philosophy department consisted of himself and fellow Eisenhart Award winner Jack Sanders. Now there are eight philosophy faculty members and two emeritus professors.
Suits earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy from the University of Waterloo in 1969 and 1977. In 1992, he finished a second master’s degree in computer science at RIT to broaden the interdisciplinary focus of his course, Philosophy of Mind.
Widely published in philosophy and computer science, Suits’ current work focuses on the metaphysics of death. His other research interest is the philosophy of mind.
Suits co-edited an anthology on Epicurus that will be published next year and wrote a book on Epicurus currently under review for publication.
In 1996 and 1997, Suits won Provost Productivity grants to develop and teach interdisciplinary courses. In 1997, he won a Liberal Arts Advisory Board’s Scholarship Applied to Teaching Award. In 1998, he won a College of Liberal Arts Faculty Research Fund grant and, in 2002, a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities in support of the conference Suits coordinated on Epicurus.
Suits’ personal interests include playing the classical guitar and woodwinds, and flying.
He was reading about aviation when one of his philosophy students inquired about his interest. Unbeknownst to Suits, his student was an eager flight instructor and offered to teach him.
“So, he was giving me flying lessons and I was giving him philosophy lessons,” Suits says. “We both gave each other good grades.
“There’s something really romantic about an open-air biplane—open cockpit, leather jacket, white silk scarf—I can’t pass it up. It’s too wonderful.”