Three Newhouse professors receive Meredith Teaching Recognition Awards

By Kelly Homan Rodoski

April 20, 2018

Newhouse faculty members Nina Brown, assistant professor of communicationsAdam Peruta, assistant professor of magazine, and Renée Stevens, assistant professor of multimedia photography and design, have been honored with Meredith Teaching Recognition Awards from Syracuse University.

The Teaching Recognition Awards program was established in 2001 through an expansion of the Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professorship Program. The Meredith Professors themselves proposed that the Teaching Recognition Award Program recognize excellence in teaching by non-tenured faculty and adjunct and part-time instructors. Recipients are selected for teaching innovation, effectiveness in communicating with students and the lasting value of their courses. To be eligible, candidates must have completed two years of service to the University and not yet received tenure. Each recipient is given $3,000 to further his or her professional development.

 

Nina Brown
Nina Brown

Nina Brown

When Brown graduated from Syracuse University in 2001, she set her sights on one day coming back to teach law in the Newhouse School. “Though my undergraduate major was advertising, when I took communications law my senior year something clicked,” she says. “I knew that I would eventually pursue a career examining the intersection of media and the law. Even then I thought about how rewarding it would be to do that at Newhouse and share my passion for the subject with students.”

After careers in both advertising and law, Brown joined the Newhouse faculty in the fall of 2015. She teaches three communications law courses as well as Communications and Society (COM 107), the gateway course for all Newhouse first-year students.

Brown says she has a challenge in the classroom. “My students are smart, highly focused and driven. In many ways, this makes them an ideal group to teach. But I primarily teach law courses—and they haven’t come to Newhouse to study law. For many of them, the idea of taking a challenging law course their senior year is seen simply as something standing between them and graduation. … As a result, I begin each semester with a bit of an uphill climb. I have to convince students that this course is worth the work.”

She does this in several ways, and one is through engaging students. In one exercise, to teach defamation, students pair up and write a defamatory tweet about Brown. They then discuss the tweets and whether they meet the criteria of defamation.

Brown works to reach all learners and makes courses as interactive as possible. And she keeps the content relevant and fresh. “I try to give students examples of what’s happening now. In my law courses, an example from 1977 will be less memorable than one involving Beyoncé,” she says. “I have made significant effort to craft assignments that will help students learn and generalize the course content so that they can apply it down the road. I don’t want students to memorize; I want them to learn.”

One assignment she designed for her Advertising and Public Relations course had students create press releases or print advertisements that, unknowingly, were filled with legal landmines. “We then used these deliverables throughout the rest of the semester to gain competence with the course learning objectives or recognizing and addressing common legal issues.” This assignment concept earned Brown a teaching award in 2017 from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications law division.

“Nina’s teaching record can easily be described as exemplary. She is, by all accounts, an extraordinary teacher who cares deeply about her students and is able to inspire and motivate them,” says Lorraine Branham, dean of the Newhouse School. “However, she goes beyond effectiveness in the classroom, mentoring and advising students in matters of both career and curriculum.”

Adam Peruta
Adam Peruta

Adam Peruta

Peruta has witnessed great success among his students. To him, the true measure of his abilities as a teacher, though, are the difficult moments. “I take pride in my interest and dedication to all students, especially those for whom the material seems too difficult, whose attitude or personal challenges compromise their engagement, or who simply lack the motivation,” he says. “I try to model the dedication and commitment to tough work I expect from my students. In fact, to a great extent, I am passionate about the subject matter—storytelling, design and technology—and that makes teaching exhilarating and enjoyable for me.”

Peruta teaches courses in digital branding and strategy, interactive design and digital communications. He is also a developer and entrepreneur committed to digital innovation. He developed a “Traditions Challenge” mobile app that promotes student engagement on college campuses. His app won three awards, including best-of-show honors at the Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Arts. He also developed a location based, group reward system that Entrepreneur Magazine named one of its Top 100 Brilliant Ideas.

“This work informs how I approach course-content creation with the mission of teaching skills that I not only want the students to learn, but skills that will make them successful after they graduate,” he says. “I seek to make the classroom a place of intensity and to cultivate engaging discussions where students and I learn from each other.”

Peruta teaches courses to undergraduates from all Newhouse departments and two graduate programs. He has been instrumental in launching the department and graduate program’s social media efforts. For the online graduate program, he designed both the asynchronous and synchronous content for the Digital Communications Systems (ICC 612) course.

In 2016, he revamped his Designing Interactivity (ICC 565) class to make design and coding for mobile devices the primary theme. “Students spend much time on their phones, but when it comes to consuming web-based media on their mobile devices, they don’t know how they work,” he says. “The new course content created some real ‘ah-ha’ moments for them. It was satisfying to see students make connections between the discussions about coding in class to the application of that code to create a website that appeared on their phone in a readable way.”

Melissa Chessher, professor and chair of the magazine, news and digital journalism department in the Newhouse School, says Peruta is masterful and generous in his determination to develop skills in students who sometimes are overwhelmed or intimidated by the challenging content he teaches. “He coaches with patience and without leaping in to fix things for students, patiently supporting them as they navigate using coding to create a digital fixture or to edit a video or audio,” she says. “His enthusiasm is infectious and he is masterful at helping students build things, including (and especially) their own confidence in their abilities.”

Renee Stevens
Renee Stevens

Renée Stevens

When Stevens was a child, her grandfather would give her small tasks to complete, such a rolling coins. He then handed the coin roll back to her as payment. She didn’t know it then, but that small act was teaching her math skills, entrepreneurship and how to be a teacher. “He showed me the best teachers are those where the students do not even realize they are learning,” she says. “Every day I aspire to be the kind of teacher that my grandfather was to me.”

An interactive designer, Stevens is the third generation in her family to teach at Syracuse University. She teaches multimedia photography and design courses, and is passionate about infusing innovative technology, such as augmented reality (AR), into the design curriculum. “This technology can help us push out of the rectangles that restrict our views by allowing us to layer information and learn in the same space as we create,” she says.

Stevens learned AR by immersing herself in it. “This is my core philosophy on teaching—to truly learn something you have to be immersed in it and gain experience doing it, even if it pushes you out of your comfort zone. If you stay in your comfort zone, what do you actually learn?”

To teach a senior design capstone course, Stevens converted her classroom into a design studio. She is a strong advocate for designing for the public good, which led her to create the Pixels and Print Design Workshop. Stevens accepts applications from clients from around the world for the workshop, now in its fourth year. Students vote on the project, assess the design needs and, with the help of faculty, staff and professional coaches, complete the task within 48 hours. Topics have ranged from mental health to creating photo archives for refugees to helping the South Side community in Syracuse.

“While the students learn an immense amount during these workshops, the work they create is not connected to a course assignment; they participate because they want to be there,” Stevens says. “The end result is not assessed by a grade attached to their work, but rather they get to witness how their design created change, or helped a community, or brought people together and changed lives. To me, there is no better way to teach the power of design than by having them experience it first hand through this workshop.”

“Renée is the personification of the tireless, warmhearted professor who inspires everyone around her by her example,” says Newhouse Associate Professor Ken Harper. “I have never worked with a more joyful, dedicated individual in my life. Renée’s the professor I wish I had during my formative educational years. Newhouse students are incredibly lucky to have her.”

Brown, Peruta and Stevens were three of seven Syracuse University faculty members honored with the awards. For more information, see news.syr.edu/2018/04/professors-honored-with-prestigious-meredith-and-teaching-recognition-awards.

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