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Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

Maria Terres poses for a photo

It’s not an easy task to teach undergraduates from a wide range of disciplines about statistics, but no matter their background or the level of the course, Maria Terres says her goal is the same: Give the student the ability to apply statistical techniques to their own research and to understand and critique the use of statistics in the media.

To do that, Terres, a recipient of the 2014 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, employs a variety of strategies to help her students engage with statistics. They might begin with an anonymous survey on the first day of class to generate an initial dataset and end with the opportunity to analyze a dataset of their choice, including one generated from their own research. Another strategy has her students keeping a log tracking examples of statistics they see in the media, which, according to one of her faculty nominators, has grown into an impressive collection of articles and blog posts.

“The projects empower the students as they realize the power of statistics to explore questions relevant to their field of study,” Terres says.

Terres has taken advantage of many opportunities to develop her teaching. She participates in The Graduate School’s Certificate in College Teaching program, has taken a course in college teaching in her department, and has attended the US Conference on Teaching Statistics.

When she learns something new about teaching, whether from her training or her classroom experience, she doesn’t keep it to herself. The two faculty members who nominated her for the Dean’s Award noted her willingness to share that knowledge with her peers.

For instance, after spending two summer sessions as an instructor in introductory statistics courses, Terres shared what she learned as a teacher with her graduate student colleagues and undergraduate teaching assistants in the department.

“She gave good insight into the specifics of the course and the level of the material the students are expected to know, as well as good insights into the attitudes and defenses of the undergraduate students that make teaching both fun and difficult,” says one of her faculty nominators, who called Terres “an outstanding mentor to our younger teaching assistants.”

Comments from Faculty and Students

“Maria was a phenomenal instructor. Part of the reason why I learned so much was because of her dedication and her patience in explaining hard concepts to myself and the rest of the class. She always encouraged us to go to office hours or to email her with questions, and this encouragement made it easier for us to approach her with concepts we were struggling with. I liked that she started writing down the algebra on the board so that we could see all the necessary steps we had to take in order to solve a problem. Maria is a valuable asset to Duke, and Duke is very lucky to have her teaching its undergraduates.”

“Maria is, simply, a standout teacher and educator in one of our most demanding contexts—teaching introductory undergraduate statistics to nonspecialists.”

“Thanks for caring and nurturing knowledge in statistics. It means a lot!”

“I’m confident that she will become a leader in the national statistics education arena.”

About Maria Terres

Maria Terres is a PhD candidate in statistical science and a current participant in the Certificate in College Teaching program. She received an MA in statistics from Columbia University and a BA in biology and mathematics, magna cum laude, from Bard College at Simon’s Rock. Her primary research interest is in Bayesian spatial statistical methods, particularly as they relate to applications in ecology and environmental science.