Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 26 - April 3, 1997
By Jeffrey Douglas
Patience, precision, concentration and resolve all help Spencer Johnston excel as a veterinary surgeon.
And those same qualities have also made him one of the finest teachers to ever grace the halls of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.
Winner of a 1997 Wine Award for Excellence in Teaching, Johnston, an associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, is consistently lauded by students for his high standards and extraordinary patience.
"Dr. Johnston is a wonderful teacher and role model," wrote one student in evaluation of Johnston's Principles and Practices of Surgery II course. "He has taught us the art behind the techniques."
That sort of student sentiment is manifested in a number of other teaching awards he has received. He has earned four student Teacher of the Year awards, a college teaching award, a university Certificate of Teaching Excellence award, and in 1995, a Norden Distinguished Teaching Award.
Johnston accepts the recognition with humility. "Professional students are highly driven to succeed," he said. "They will try even harder if the instructor demonstrates interest and commitment to their learning and personal success."
The graduating class of 1985 invited Johnston to serve as the college's 1995 Commencement speaker.
His passion for teaching is recognized by both his students and his peers. Over the past six years, he has received the highest, most consistent student-evaluation scores of any VMRCVM faculty member. And his most recent evaluation by the college's Peer Evaluation Committee resulted in the second-highest score in the history of his department.
Board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1994, Johnston lectures in the pre-clinical curriculum, teaches surgery in laboratories and trains professional students during fourth-year clerkships. He has also advised 16 post-DVM interns, and helped train 11 post-DVM residents.
"In summary," writes Small Animal Clinical Sciences Department Head Don Barber, "His teaching style, his dedication to and respect for students, and his conscientious devotion all contribute to his excellence and effectiveness."
Y. A. Liu
By Liz Crumbley
Cited by many of his students through the years for going out of his way to help them succeed both in his classes and their careers, Chemical Engineering Professor Y.A. Liu has received the W. E. Wine Award for Teaching Excellence.
Last year, Liu was selected by the Student Engineers' Council to receive the College of Engineering Sporn Award for excellence in undergraduate instruction.
"Above all, Dr. Liu cares about the future of his students and strives to provide assignments that will help them," one former student told the Engineering Teaching Excellence Committee. "Dr. Liu is more than a professor. Through his years of service and teaching excellence to his design students, he has become almost an institution at Virginia Tech."
Liu's research accomplishments are as impressive as his teaching skills. Currently, his research areas include computer-aided design, process integration and synthesis, bioprocess design and development, and artificial intelligence in chemical engineering.
Since Liu came to Virginia Tech from the faculty of Auburn University, he has received several honors in recognition of both his teaching and research efforts, including the 1986 National Catalyst Award for excellence in chemical education from the Chemical Manufacturer's Association; the 1990 George Westinghouse Award, the highest honor presented by the American Society for Engineering Education to educators under the age of 45 for outstanding achievements in teaching and scholarship; and the 1993 Fred Merryfield Design Award for creativity and excellence in teaching and research of engineering design from the American Society for Engineering Education.
In addition to his work at Virginia Tech, Liu serves as a senior technical advisor for the United Nations Development Program, helping to train university faculty members and practicing engineers in developing countries.
Liu said he tries to use industry examples in class, "To teach the students what's important in the real world." He also takes the time in his senior classes to teach students how to write resumes and apply to graduate schools.
The award is presented in memory of William E. Wine, an alumnus and former rector of the Board of Visitors.
By Matthew Winston
John R. Seiler, professor of forestry, will soon add the W.E. Wine Award to his list of teaching awards received at Virginia Tech. His past awards have all been granted to him for his commitment to instruction at the university. Among the list of accolades Seiler has received are the University Certificate of Excellence and the Curriculum Club's Faculty Teaching Award. His accomplishments will be recognized at Founders Day. Seiler's efforts are evident in the student evaluations and recommendation letters from current and former students. He is often described as an "enthusiastic and energetic person" who thrives on the student-teacher interaction and the opportunity to share "his vast amount of knowledge in ways that motivate those around him to ask more questions and learn."
"His enthusiasm for research is manifested in his energy in the field," said Curtis Hensyl, senior student in the college and former student of Seiler's. "I have seen him on his hands and knees in a foot of snow looking for a rare plant that one of the students asked about."
Jim Watkins, graduate student in forestry adds," Dr. Seiler's availability to his students, the way he conveys the material in the classroom, even the format of his tests, all seem to be done for one purpose-to maximize the learning experience of the student."
Seiler describes his own teaching philosophy as being first and foremost about promoting learning. "Within my overall program, teaching has a very high priority," Seiler said. "I aim to provide students with the most up-to-date information available, and I routinely incorporate the newest research results into my teaching."
Seiler earned two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree from Penn State University between 1979-1981. He earned a Ph.D. in tree physiology in 1984 from Virginia Tech before joining the faculty as a post-doctoral research associate. He is now a full professor whose interests are forest biology, forest protection, and environmental stress effects on plants.