UGA faculty receive First-Year Odyssey Teaching Awards

Five University of Georgia faculty were honored with 2016 First-Year Odyssey Teaching Awards at a reception held on April 7 celebrating the continued success of the First-Year Odyssey Seminar program.

This year's FYO Teaching Award recipients include:

Stephen J. Hajduk, (also known as “Dr. Duk”) is a professor in biochemistry and molecular biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. His seminar titled “Molecular Basis of Human Infectious Diseases” is typically taken by students whose career goals are in the fields of medicine or healthcare. While this is a challenging course about biochemical changes leading to human pathology by infectious agents directly influenced by Dr. Hajduk’s research in tropical diseases, he presents the material in an engaging manner that encourages critical thinking, concise and accurate writing, effective speaking, and aggressive and thoughtful questioning. The use of “DukBucks” is a unique method that has been particularly effective in promoting class participation. Each student is given 10 DukBucks at the beginning of the semester. To encourage questions and discussion, during their “two-minute quickie” oral presentations, a student can collect a DukBuck from another student who asks a good question about their topic. Since each student has to “spend” their DukBucks to get full participation credit, it serves as a good motivator for the students to listen and formulate questions. Dr. Hajduk also incorporates writing 10-word novels, weekly written reports and small group presentations that promote dialog and collaboration.

Melissa A. Harshman, is a professor and chair of printmaking and book arts in the Lamar Dodd School of Art in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. Her seminar, aptly named “Printmaking: A Hands On Experience,” completely flips the classroom experience and puts the learning directly into the hands of the students who create their own prints using different print processes and their own etchings. Students are also exposed to the business side of the art of printmaking through trips to visit local printmaking establishments, as well as to on-campus facilities, like the Georgia Museum of Art and the Hargrett Rare Book Library. Professor Harshman creatively integrates the FYOS goals into her seminar through student writing assignments that necessitate researching UGA’s resources and by attendance at events that expose them to campus culture and community. She requires them to envision what they hope to accomplish in their four years at UGA through written essays from President Morehead’s point of view, and they also have to interview a faculty member in their discipline to discover more about their major, ask advice on succeeding in the field, and learn about what it means to be a faculty member at UGA. Interestingly, most of the students in Professor Harshman’s seminar are not art majors, but they complete the course with a better understanding of the university and an appreciation for art.

Michael T. Mengak, associate dean and a wildlife outreach specialist in the Warnell School of Forest Resources, takes his first-year students on a trip to the Appalachian Mountains as a capstone to his seminar, “Conservation and Natural History of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.” Professor Mengak’s research in natural history and Blue Ridge ecology is the basis for his course for many students who have never visited or explored the ecosystems of north Georgia and the southern Blue Ridge. Students are immersed in the culture first through readings by authors who live, work, and play in, as well as study, the region; through personal reflection in written essays; and then finally with a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where students experience the trees, mountains, ecology, people, vistas, development, and culture of the region they that have read about. The day-long trip is also an opportunity to get to know each other and discover the “human” side of a professor who has interests outside the classroom and passion for his research. Students have the opportunity to see learning in a non-traditional setting—in an outdoor laboratory where they observe the importance of academics from a practical side, engage in close dialogue with a faculty member, and learn how the university’s mission of instruction, research and outreach can be incorporated into teaching and learning.

Anneliese A. Singh is an associate professor in counseling and human development services in the College of Education. Dr. Singh’s seminar "Social Justice and Activism 101” is designed to help students explore their own lived experiences of multiculturalism and social justice so that the course content is directly relatable and so that they can develop their own self-directed learning. Students create a “social justice quilt” where they explore how they have benefited from previous advocacy and civil rights movements in the U.S. and their own social locations of privilege and oppression. They also work with various UGA and Georgia-based advocacy groups to develop a social justice service-learning project, and are connected with Dr. Singh’s master’s and doctoral students who guide them in the project; through this the process students are exposed to the academic culture of graduate study. A portion of class discussion is dedicated to issues of transitioning into college and learning what resources are available to them. She encourages student-faculty dialogue and student-to-student meetings, as well as participation in UGA research, public service, and other social justice-related activities and opportunities. Students in Dr. Singh’s class tend to stay connected even after the class is over through a class Facebook page, and she has written numerous letters of recommendations for students since the course’s inception in 2011.

Robert J. Warren is a Josiah Meigs Distinguised Teaching Professor and Certified Wildlife Biologist who uses role-play simulation in his seminar “Recent Advances in Understanding and Managing Deer Overabundance.” The first half of the semester involves classroom discussions regarding research on white-tailed deer over the breadth of Dr. Warren’s 31-year career. Classroom discussion also allows him to guide students as they learn about the integral nature of the instruction, research, public service, and international missions of UGA. During his seminar last fall, Dr. Warren’s research project on deer-vehicle collisions in Georgia garnered widespread news coverage, which provided his students a “real-time” experience of how UGA faculty serve the citizens of Georgia through research and outreach. During the second half of the semester students apply their knowledge through a role playing activity titled “Living with White-tailed Deer,” which is an award-winning activity kit originally created for high-school students. This requires students to assume roles of different stakeholders who then discuss and debate the issue of deer overabundance in their community, and try to achieve resolution among the different stakeholders concerned about deer management. Students also get to conduct their own research and make oral presentations on their findings that facilitate class discussion.

This is the third annual awards reception recognizing outstanding instructors who have demonstrated innovation in instruction, connection of seminar content to the instructor’s research, and how FYOS program goals are incorporated into the seminar. This year’s recipients have been fully engaged with their students, provided them with a strong connection to the university through their research, and tied their curriculum directly to FYOS program goals. 

The University of Georgia is a leading institution for providing a first-year student engagement experience that promotes student success from start to finish. The FYOS program, administrated by the Office of the Vice President for Instruction and taught by tenured faculty who tie seminar content to their own scholarly research, is unique among other first-year programs in the nation. Since its inception in 2011, more than 25,000 students have completed a First-Year Odyssey Seminar. Faculty from every school and college—and more than 85 departments—have participated in the program. FYO seminars provide students with an introduction to academic life at UGA by engaging them with faculty and other first year students in a small class environment. Students learn about UGA’s unique academic culture through lectures, social events and learning opportunities outside the classroom. There are more than 300 courses in varying topics from which students may choose, from “Animal Forensic CSI” to “The Science of Chocolate” to the “Zombie Plague.”

For more information about the First-Year Odyssey Seminar Program, visit

Five faculty were honored at the First-Year Odyssey Teaching Awards on April 7. Pictured above are (l to r) are Ronald Cervero (associate vice president for instruction and director of the FYOS program), Robert Warren, Michael Mengak, Anneliese Singh, and Rahul Shrivastav (vice president for instruction).