University of Mary Washington professors bestowed prestigious awards on three of their peers at the Fall 2022 faculty address earlier this month. Professors of English, German and Physics were commended for their dedication to their fields, the art of teaching and the importance of service.
English professor Maya Mathur received the Grellet C. Simpson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. The award recognizes full-time faculty members who—like Simpson, UMW’s fourth president—place an emphasis on quality teaching and the liberal arts.
Since attaining the rank of Associate Professor six years ago, Mathur has created six courses, including coveted 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 combine canon with modern themes and encourage exploration of class, race, gender, and power in texts.
“The enthusiasm and commitment that my students bring to the classroom both improves my understanding of literary texts and helps me to devise new ways to analyze them,” said Mathur, whose meticulously constructed canvas pages and use of engaging applications such as Padlet and Flipgrid stand out.
Sharing innovative ideas, she has worked with the Center for Teaching to co-host workshops, including one focused on race in the classroom. “Many faculty and students strive to address race,” said one nominator. “Professor Mathur is leading the way by guiding us to do this.”
Associate Professor of German Marcel Rotter received the J. Christopher “Topher” Bill Outstanding Faculty Service Award for those who have taught at UMW for at least seven years and have held significant service roles in their departments, colleges, and the community. The award was established in 2003 in honor of longtime UMW psychology professor Topher Bill.
Rotter, who directs the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, works to promote and improve the teaching of German at Mary Washington and Virginia by organizing professional development events for teachers and cultural immersion experiences for students. “His work fosters important relationships and promotes UMW as a cultural hub and an institution with a global mindset,” said one nominator.
During 18 years at Mary Washington, Rotter also served as chair of the university’s faculty council, led a general education curriculum review, and served as treasurer of the Virginia faculty senate while keeping tabs on students.
“Many of our students have never left Virginia, let alone the United States,” said Rotter, who is also vice president of the Society of German American Studies. “My colleagues from around the world and I are here to show you what’s out there.”
Physics Assistant Professor Varun Makhija won the Alumni Association Outstanding Young Faculty Award for those who have taught full-time at Mary Washington for two to five years.
At the end of his freshman semester at Mary Washington in the fall of 2019, Makhija found himself the sole physics professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics. And so in three years he has taught 21 of the 24 physics courses in the course catalogue; supervised 19 students in individual studies, internships and Summer Science Institute research; and revived the UMW chapter of the Society for Physics Students, which won awards in 2020 and 2021.
Makhija is “the glue,” the nominators said, “that held the program together through sheer enthusiasm and love for teaching and physics.”
At Mary Washington, he worked to connect the campus physics community with scholars in the field and published six articles in leading journals, often with undergraduate co-authors.
“The main motivation for me was our students,” he said. “I learned a lot from them and did my best to create an environment where they can do things they are passionate about and then go to the places they want to go after UMW.”
Thank you to Kyle Schultz, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education, who provided a transcript of his award ceremony, and to the members of last year’s Sabbaticals, Fellowships, and Faculty Awards Committee.