In the first of a series on the award winners, GW Today focuses on Assistant Professor of Management Tjai Nielsen, who is lauded for his mentorship and passion for teaching.
By Julia Parmley
Unique application of technology, dedication, guidance and respect for students are just some of the attributes of this year’s Bender Teaching Award recipients.
Endowed by a friend of the University Morton Bender and GW, each award provides a $500 prize to be used by the recipient for faculty development activities, such as travel to professional meetings or the purchase of equipment and materials to be used for teaching. The recipients are selected by a committee of faculty each year based on letters of support from students and faculty, student teaching evaluations, and examples of teaching materials and completed student work.
“GW seeks to offer the highest possible level of academic challenge and engagement to our students,” says Donald R. Lehman, executive vice president for academic affairs, who presented the awards at a Faculty Senate meeting Oct. 30. “By recognizing outstanding professors – those who exceed expectations – the Bender Awards encourage true excellence in teaching. It is a pleasure to have this opportunity each year to honor a few of GW’s many fine professors.”
GW Today will feature all five award winners-- Assistant Professor of Management Tjai Nielsen, Assistant Professor of Health Care Sciences Ellen Costello, Professor of Chemistry David Ramaker, Associate Professor of Health Policy Joel Teitelbaum, and Part-Time Professor of History Christopher Tudda--in a series.
Assistant Professor of Management Tjai Nielsen received an award for his “personal attention to students in and outside the classroom.”
Dr. Nielsen says winning the award was “thrilling.” “I love to teach and focus on making my classes meaningful and valuable, so to be recognized for that hard work is not only very satisfying but also quite motivating,” says Dr. Nielsen. “Hearing the kind words expressed by colleagues and former students will be an indelible memory for me. I was touched and deeply humbled that they would take the time to share their perspectives on my teaching.”
In addition to teaching in GW’s Executive Master of Business Administration Program in the GW School of Business (GWSB), Dr. Nielsen leads the primary research methods course for the school’s doctoral students and developed new core courses in both the doctoral program and the executive program.
In 2008, Dr. Nielsen was one of three worldwide finalists for the Organizational Behavior Teaching Society’s New Educator of the Year Award, and was awarded the GWSB Teaching Excellence Award in spring 2009. He has published several papers on the topic of management education including a recent paper in the Journal of Management Education that was one of the journal’s most cited in 2008. Dr. Nielsen also developed a multimedia teaching toolkit, the Diaspora Teaching Toolkit, which is used not only at GW’s School of Business but in programs across the world.
In the nomination, one colleague said Dr. Nielsen “approaches teaching from the perspective of the learner, creating opportunities for sophisticated abstraction and concrete application,” while another commented on Dr. Nielsen’s devotion to his students, stating: “His office is frequently occupied with students seeking clarification, additional information, project support or career advice.”
Students also single out Dr. Nielsen as an outstanding teacher. In a letter to him cited in the nomination, one student wrote, “For me personally, you have been a mentor and a true leader. You have demonstrated to me how to lead, and I have in turn put it into practice.” Another wrote, “It is when I meet faculty members like you that I am inspired to pursue a career in academia, so that I too may teach and inspire young business leaders of tomorrow. Thank you for your time, dedication, and passion for teaching. It was a pleasure to experience, and I am truly grateful for that opportunity.”
Calling teaching “a privilege,” Dr. Nielsen says GW’s appreciation of both academia and instruction is significant. “The opportunity to have an impact on students, from executives to undergraduates to doctoral students, is rare and one that I cherish,” he says. “GW is clearly a university focused on excellence in both the lab and the classroom. Many schools focus on research at the expense of teaching or teaching at the expense of research, but GW has managed to create a culture that values both pursuits and readily recognizes accomplishments in them. GW is a great fit for someone like me who greatly values my research and my role in the classroom.”