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2012 Dean’s Award: Wendy Dow Piniak

March 23, 2012
Wendy Dow Piniak

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

Wendy Dow Piniak, a Ph.D. candidate in Marine Science and Conservation, received a B.A. in Biology and Environmental Studies from Gettysburg College and a Master in Environmental Management from Duke University. Her dissertation title is "Sea turtles and sound: audition and the effects of marine sound on hearing and behavior."

In her teaching statement, Wendy points to her own enthusiasm and passion for learning that she strives to share with her students, seeing her role "as that of a guide, aiding students by helping them to develop the skills, tools, and techniques they need to think critically about subjects both within and outside the classroom." To best position herself to be that guide, Wendy has actively sought teaching opportunities and has  taken advantage of both Duke's Preparing Future Faculty program and the Certificate in College Teaching program, as well as participated in training courses in pedagogy. Using these tools, as well as feedback from students, mentors, and peers, she uses each class to improve upon her skills. Her belief that "students learn more when they actively engage in, and take ownership of, their education" leads her to employ active learning exercises that "can take many forms, from hands-on field and laboratory exercises to presenting research topics or leading group discussions."

Students respond positively to her teaching style, one noting on a course evaluation "Incredibly interesting course, well-prepared lecture, great enthusiasm and very willing to help," another declaring "One of my best small class experiences." Another student describes Wendy as "Both super passionate and enthusiastic. Inspirational course that drives people to go out there and actually do something for the world."  Students also note that in addition to Wendy's successes in the classroom, she is available and helpful outside class as well, saying that "Wendy was always accessible outside class either in her office or through e-mail when we needed her," and that she "was very easy to approach and always willing to help."

Faculty, too, note Wendy's ability to connect with her students, one stating that "Wendy has shown herself to be a creative, compassionate, and inspiring teacher. She harnesses the passion of her students to teach them fundamentals of ecology, population and conservation biology. Watching her teach, I have been extraordinarily impressed by her poise, maturity and pedagogical skill." Another faculty member describes her as a naturally gifted teacher, one who is able to quickly establish rapport with her students and is able to adjust her teaching style to her audience, such that "Over the past two years she has given presentations about sound in the ocean and sea turtle hearing to (among other groups) a group of Duke alumnae, an Introductory Marine Science class for non-science majors, and an upper-level course in Sea Turtle Conservation. Wendy successfully tailored the material in each presentation and how she explained it to reflect the varied levels of experience in each group." The adaptation of materials for each use is well-thought out; she "takes her teaching preparation very seriously; she is a bit of a perfectionist, and takes great care at every level of preparation, from planning a course/syllabus schedule to choosing the best image to illustrate a point in a presentation."

Wendy's teaching excellence, her enthusiastic nature, and her approachability combine to make her "a splendid graduate student, a young scientist with great promise, and a truly outstanding young woman."