Teaching is at the heart of what we do at George Mason University. The CS Department is fortunate to have some of the best instructional faculty in the Commonwealth, from tenured faculty researchers, dedicated assistant professors, and adjunct staff who provide a vital link from the classroom to careers in CS. Since 2000, seven faculty members have received the prestigious Teaching Excellence Award.
This past year, two more of our outstanding teaching faculty members, Kinga Dobolyi and Mark Snyder were awarded the 2016 University Teaching Excellence Award from the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence. This University award “acknowledges the significant work that faculty members devote to course planning and preparation; curriculum development, and innovative teaching, advising, and undergraduate and graduate mentoring.” It is unusual for two faculty members in the same department to win the award in the same cycle. For both Kinga and Mark, this award puts an exclamation mark on their work.
The process begins with an anonymous nomination. Each candidate puts together a portfolio of his or her work and completes a lengthy application.
Kinga won the award with the additional distinction of the general education category. She says, “It’s gratifying to see all my hard work come together. This award is a better way to measure my teaching effectiveness.” Part of Kinga’s portfolio is her teaching, design, and mentoring work on a three-year Google Grant to find a way to teach more CS students and change how CS material is taught. She along with several Mason faculty members, with advice from co-winner Mark Snyder, developed SPARC. This is a self-paced flipped classroom model. Now in its second year, SPARC data is still coming in with students progressing
through the program. Kinga was responsible for overseeing the development of the coursework, writing new software to establish the testing model, and teaching. In addition to teaching the SPARC model, she is also teaching a traditional class as a control. “George Mason University is a great place to teach,” says Kinga. She’s excited about her future.
Mark comes from a family of teachers. “My mother is a teacher and my father, a physician, also teaches.” He says this award is a huge thumbs-up approval of all the work that he does adding, “It’s great to be rewarded for something that is so important to me.”
Mark is now in his sixth year of teaching in the CS department. He says one of his biggest challenges was that when he was hired, he had to take over another class and there wasn’t a lot of material. “I had a blank slate,” he says, explaining that it was exciting to develop his own material but also daunting in the amount of time it took. Over the years, he has revised and improved the material and is always looking for ways to engage with students. One of the best parts of his job is that he teaches intro to programming and then higher level CS classes. He sees students when they first start in the program and then sees the same students in their junior and senior years. “I like seeing how they have changed and advanced since they started in the program. They are often surprised,” he says with a laugh, “that the coursework is so much more challenging.” Mark has prepared them well.