Merrimack is pleased to announce the recipients of the Edward G. Roddy Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award for 2020 and 2021. Edward G. Roddy (1921-1985) was a Merrimack professor of history and scholar who throughout his life demonstrated a devotion to teaching excellence, care and concern for students and a deep dedication to learning. Each year, Merrimack recognizes teachers who exemplify these traits in his honor.
The three educators below exemplify the power of teaching. Their hard work, dedication and care have made enormous impacts on the Merrimack community and the well-being of their students. Given the additional challenges of teaching during a pandemic, two teachers were recognized for the 2020-2021 academic year.
Dana Rowland is an associate professor of mathematics in the School of Science and Engineering. She earned her undergraduate degree in mathematics and English at the University of Notre Dame. She went on to earn a master’s and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Stanford University, and she has been teaching at Merrimack College since 2001.
Rowland’s specialties are in knot theory and recreational mathematics – the mathematics of games. Her work is hands-on by nature, which has informed her interactive teaching practice. Typically, students work with their hands in Rowland’s classes where she encourages group work and collaboration. During the pandemic, Rowland had to pivot quickly to maintain the active learning experience as much as possible.
“For me, it was a matter of still having those features of interacting with one another,” Rowland says. “When you have different levels of technology and different levels of comfort with that technology, it can be a challenge.”
When classes went virtual, Rowland got creative and started implementing short videos into her classes and her students’ projects. Students were asked to film short introductions so they could all get to know one another. Rowland also worked to foster a greater community outside of the classroom by mentoring and advising student groups. She also serves as an independent study advisor for upper-level students.
“I’ve really had fun doing some directed research projects with students outside of the classroom,” Rowland says. “Those are some of the opportunities I really treasure in terms of being able to connect with students about what they’re really passionate about. I think there’s math everywhere.”
Jessica Peacock is an assistant professor of health sciences in the School of Health Sciences. In 2008, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in education and psychology from Merrimack. After graduation, she went on to earn her master’s and Ph.D. in exercise sciences from Springfield College. Her research focuses on supporting and enhancing physical activity in youth living in urban communities. With a background in education and a passion for physiology, her work also explores pedagogical innovations and student learning.
Peacock’s teaching practice relies heavily on the flipped classroom model, where students consume content outside of the classroom –through homework assignments and course readings – to make space for interactive class time. She values group work, building relationships and encourages hands-on learning as much as possible.
By using the flipped classroom model, students can get acquainted with much of the course material on their own time. Their time inside the classroom is then reserved for building relationships, answering questions and working together to understand the material more deeply.
“I teach upper and lower level physiology courses that involve some really heavy content,” Peacock says. “I feel a responsibility to take that content and really communicate it to students in an effective way. I’m very student-centered. Everything I do in the classroom is to better enhance the learning and the student experience for all students.”
Peacock says this model has helped her through the pandemic and has allowed her to stay adaptable. She’s able to share much of the core content online, use the technology available through the College’s iPad program and still use that synchronous class time to make connections and implement an active learning environment.
“Active learning is what students need,” Peacock says. “They need to be provided with multiple resources and opportunities to learn in many different ways.”
Anthony L. Fernandez is an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the School of Science and Engineering. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Boston University and went on to earn his Ph.D. from the same institution. His research interests include inorganic chemistry, coordination chemistry and organometallic chemistry. Fernandez has been at Merrimack since 2000 and was recently promoted from associate to full professor in spring 2021.
Fernandez says his teaching style is “anything that works” and he pushes himself to try new things and stay adaptable. This approach has benefitted his practice throughout the trials of the pandemic. He has encouraged peers and colleagues to step outside their comfort zones, whether implementing clickers in lecture halls to increase student engagement or, more recently, introducing iPad-enabled probeware so that students can extract data more easily in labs.
Fernandez says his teaching practice is a combination of techniques he has found helpful over the years. He has tried the flipped classroom model, as well as more traditional lectures, and tries to listen to his students to see what works best for them.
“I try to get students to do things and work together as much as possible,” Fernandez says. “I think that’s the most effective way to learn.”
This past year, he relied heavily on frequent student surveys to stay connected. Students filled out surveys about their work outside the classroom. Fernandez combed through their responses and adjusted his class time accordingly. If students struggled with a certain area in the homework, he pivoted to cover that area more extensively in class. If students did well across the board, he used in-class time to explore new ideas.
“My goal is to try to meet each student where they are,” Fernandez says. “I have to be different things to different students. One student may be fine in the lab, but is weak in theory. One student may be strong across the board, but just needs a little encouragement to keep going.”