Julie Prosser and Ashlie Johnson, graduate students studying applied social psychology at Colorado State University, are the recipients of the 2020 College of Natural Sciences Graduate Student Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring Award. This award recognizes graduate students for excellence in teaching based on three criteria: quality, initiative, and breadth.
“Psychology has traditionally been very competitive in this award category,” said Don Rojas, Chair of the Department of Psychology, “but I have not seen more than one award to a single department made during my time as chair.”
Johnson received a teaching fellowship in 2019, which included responsibility for independently teaching the General Psychology courses under the supervision of Associate Professor Karla Gingerich. Duties of the fellowship also include supervising and managing a team of graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants each semester. Johnson also teaches other courses at CSU and Front Range Community College, including a Psychology of Eating seminar that Johnson developed, as well as the Social Psychology and Research Methods courses.
In addition to teaching, Johnson finds joy in mentoring her students through her fellowship.
“What I enjoy most about mentoring students is watching them flourish in situations they have never faced before,” Johnson said. “Whether it be a conference presentation or a guest lecture, there is something about working with someone for long hours and watching it all pay off in a sphere outside of their comfort zone.”
Johnson forges relationships with her students and co-authors publications with them. She is amazed at her students’ achievements and is eager to provide praise for their accomplishments.
“In small ways, I feel working with undergraduates mirrors my own relationships with senior faculty, and I am consistently amazed by how much my students can achieve,” she said. “I have immense gratitude for the opportunity to work with these upcoming scholars as, together, we reach to generate impactful findings for our field.”
Johnson’s advisor, Associate Professor Dan Graham, also notes Johnson’s great commitment to improvement as an instructor.
“One of the reasons Ashlie stands out to me as an inspiring and exceptional instructor is her commitment to improving and becoming the best educator she can be,” Graham said. “Ashlie’s desire to deliver high-quality instruction applies not just to the content and delivery of in-class lectures. She has also actively solicited input on how best to structure her courses so that, for example, the assignments she includes best serve her overarching goals for the course. This understanding of education and commitment to pedagogy typically takes much longer to cultivate. Ashlie has shown that she is committed to delivering the highest-quality educational experience possible to her students.”
Gingerich is also enthusiastic about Johnson’s performance.
“Ashlie is explicit about inviting her students to engage and participate, and to feel welcome and included in her classroom. One of her unique strengths as a teacher is her ability to convey a high level of warmth and care, while at the same time keeping her expectations high and supporting students through challenging material and assignments,” Gingerich said.
Johnson works hard to create an atmosphere of inclusion and feels grateful for her supportive team at CSU.
“Excellence in teaching ‘takes a village.’ I am grateful to have the input, support, and wisdom of a whole team of supervisors, teaching fellows, graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants, and current and previous students,” Johnson said.
Julie Prosser has served as a teaching fellow since 2018, also under the supervision of Gingerich. Through her fellowship, Prosser independently teaches the large General Psychology courses and supervises and manages a team of graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants every semester. Prosser has a strong background in teaching, including experience teaching courses at CSU, FRCC, and the University of Dayton, Ohio. She teaches a wide variety of courses, including Introduction to Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Social Psychology, and a Social Psychology Laboratory. She has also served as a teaching assistant for courses such as Research Methods, Human Growth and Development, Personality Psychology and Child Psychology. Through her experiences, Prosser discovered how important it was to establish connections with her students.
“I really love connecting with my students and forming meaningful relationships with them,” Prosser said. “Mentoring provides an opportunity for me to get to know them better and gain an insight into their lives, their struggles, their passions. When I was an undergrad, I looked up to my mentors and relied on them for so much, especially with how to prepare for grad school. I would not be able to teach and mentor students had it not been for my undergraduate thesis advisor, Dr. Terri Fisher. I love that I can now provide even a small fraction of that guidance to my own students now. I love that I can be on that journey with these students as they further develop their ideas of where they want to end up.”
Prosser also finds fulfillment in collaborating with her students, including co-authoring poster presentations.
“It’s a fun experience to allow undergraduates the opportunity to collaborate on projects that will eventually be published and for them to know they helped get them there,” Prosser said. “Every experience they gain is one step closer to helping them succeed by better preparing them for grad school, internships, other jobs, or even making them more competitive for scholarships.”
Gingerich is proud of Prosser’s role as a helper to all.
“She is collegial, a team-player, helpful to everyone, and she makes herself quite accessible,” Gingerich said. “I believe her students are motivated to listen to her and to engage with her, not only because she provides content in interesting and engaging ways, but also because she builds rapport with them and creates an inviting, welcoming, inclusive educational climate.”
Prosser is also driven to constantly improve as an instructor. Prosser’s advisor, Associate Professor Jennifer Harman, was eager to credit Prosser with seeking out improvement opportunities.
“Aside from these diverse teaching roles and responsibilities that Julie has taken on, she also continuously seeks to improve her teaching skills and provide service,” Harman said. “She has attended teaching conferences and has presented a talk on best teaching practices for the Faculty Collaboration Group at TILT here at CSU.”
Prosser dedicates herself to showing students they have an army of support, and she is grateful for her own army of allies.
“I could not excel at teaching if I did not have an army of amazing students, peers, colleagues, supervisors, graduate teaching assistants, and undergraduate teaching assistants by my side, especially Dr. Karla Gingerich and the rest of the teaching fellows,” Prosser said. “I want to connect with my students. I want to demonstrate to them that they also have an army of people who support them.”
Please join the CSU community in honoring Johnson, Prosser, and all award honorees at the virtual Professor Laureate Lectures and Teaching and Mentoring Awards on December 3rd, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. Zoom information will be provided to all CSU employees, faculty, and staff.