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Niemiera earns top college teaching award

By Stewart MacInnis

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 31 - May 22, 1997

Alex X. Niemiera's enthusiasm and inspiring approach as a teacher consistently earn him outstanding comments from students, colleagues, and client groups. That high praise has been translated this year into Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Science's 1997 Certificate of Teaching Excellence.

As a result of the award, Niemiera, an associate professor of horticulture, will become a member of the college's Academy of Teaching Excellence.

"Dr. Niemiera is...one of three or four faculty members who are consistently mentioned on senior exit and alumni interviews as one of our outstanding teachers," said Robert Wright, head of the Department of Horticulture. "His enthusiasm, sense of humor, and excitement about his subject create an environment that makes the classroom experience with Dr. Niemiera enjoyable and memorable."

Niemiera teaches courses on the identification of woody landscape plants, as well as a laboratory course for Nursery Production and Marketing. He also helps develop a unique and intensive one-week, one-credit course before each fall semester.

He has developed content for high-school woody-plant courses, and has trained high-school instructors in teaching methodology and course content. He also advises numerous students, conducts an active Extension effort, and has gained national recognition for his research program.

"Dr. Niemiera's true gift resides in his ability to inspire," said a student. "His love of leaf and limb is communicated so expressively that it engages the class. Tree bark took on new dimensions last fall after Dr. Niemiera's classroom performance."

Another student said Niemiera's teaching has had an impact beyond the classroom.

"Dr. Niemiera has not only done an exceptional job of teaching me the subject matter, he has also opened my eyes to the world around us," the student said. "I never noticed just how beautiful this world was until his class."

The enthusiasm that permeates his classroom is cited by many former students as a high point in their studies at Virginia Tech.

"First and foremost he possesses that rare combination of desire and experience," said a former student who is now an assistant professor at Montana State University. "In my opinion, Dr. Alex Niemiera is not only an effective teacher, he is an excellent teacher.... An excellent teacher causes the students to want to stay on task the whole course. Dr. Niemiera does this consistently."