Teaching with Distinction

January 31, 2013—Each year, College Dean Chester Gillis honors three professors with the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. This year’s honorees were Jennifer Fink, Sylvia Önder, and Verónica Salles-Reese.

An associate professor in the English department, Fink has been teaching at Georgetown since 2004. Her specialties include postcolonial theory, postmodern textuality, creative writing, and performance studies.

Department Chair Kathryn Temple commended Fink, who has taught at every level in the English department, for her ability to design coursework that is both engaging and demanding.

Jennifer Fink has helped transform the English department’s creative writing offerings. As a writer of experimental fiction, committed to social action, she displays fierce energy, great intelligence, and truly admirable range, and—as one critic has said—‘explores seriously and impishly the classic themes of love, death, language, meaning, the state, and sex,’” Temple said.

“She brings energy to the classroom, where it is reflected in extremely high teaching scores [and] more importantly in student comments that praise her not only for her energy, but also for challenging them and making them work hard,” she continued. “We commend Jennifer for her transformative teaching both here on campus and out in the world.”

Sylvia Önder is a visiting assistant professor in the Division of Eastern Mediterranean Languages in the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies. She has been teaching the course Turkish Language and Culture since 1998, when she created the first Intensive Beginning Turkish class at Georgetown.

Her research is primarily ethnographic, including political cartoons, popular music videos, and political and artistic expressions of Turkish youth groups in Turkey and Germany. For several years, Önder has served as co-director for the State Department’s Turkish Critical Language Scholarship program, enabling dozens of students from the United States to study Turkish in the summer through the Council of American Overseas Research Centers.

“Professor Önder is the epitome of a committed, passionate educator, working across a range of fields and disciplines and regularly teaching Georgetown students from the College, SFS [the School of Foreign Service], and the School of Nursing & Health Studies,” said Associate Professor Elliott Colla, chair of the Arabic and Islamic studies department.

“She is an inspiring and generous colleague with broad interests, a teacher who knows how to connect students with knowledge and learning, and a researcher who insists on forging intellectual connections between people and projects from all over the university.”

Verónica Salles-Reese, an associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portugese, is an expert in Latin American literature. Her research interests, which span literature, history, philosophy, theology, and paleontology, include colonial Latin America, daily life in colonial Peru, the Andean region in South America, and cultural hybridization.

Additionally, she serves as director of the Latin American Studies Certificate and as director of Georgetown’s study abroad summer program to Quito, Ecuador.

Salles-Reese currently spearheads the Georgetown Community Andean Education and Leadership Project, which helps students from distressed communities in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador receive education either at local universities or at community colleges in the United States.

“Passion, high intellectual standards, generosity of time and spirit, and unshakable dedication are the qualities that best define Professor Verónica Salles-Reese,” said Professor Gwen Kirkpatrick, chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. “In over 20 years at Georgetown, she has approached every aspect of the educational process with unflagging energy and creativity.

“Verónica’s influence as a teacher and a mentor is profound and clearly long-lasting,” Kirkpatrick continued. “A former Ph.D. student compares her philosophy of teaching to that of Montaigne, ‘who considered that a student was not a bottle to fill up but a bonfire to light.’ Verónica transmits to students the fire of learning and service. She is a transformative presence at Georgetown.”

—Brittany Coombs