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Professors of History and Math Named Exemplary Teachers in Arts and Sciences

Nadia Kizenko and Marco Varisco

ALBANY, N.Y. (January 5, 2016) — Nadia Kizenko and Marco Varisco, professors who combine innovative methods of communication with caring and diligent effort, in and out of the classroom, have received the Dean's Award for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching for sustained excellence in the supervision of students.

Kizenko, of the Department of History, and Varisco, of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, were chosen based on sustained excellence in classroom teaching as revealed by grade-distributions, course assignments, syllabi, student comments, innovative approaches, and teaching philosophy, as well as for their supervision of students for independent study, theses, and dissertations. Each has taught 15 or more different courses over their UAlbany careers.

“Professors Kizenko and Varisco are remarkable examples of how the faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences not only inform, but also inspire their students,” said Edekgard Wulfert, dean of the College. “Through innovative teaching methods and thought-provoking lectures, they bring their subjects to life and make the complexities of their fields accessible to students of diverse backgrounds and interests. They clearly demonstrate how creating a dynamic and engaging learning environment achieves positive results.”

Nadieszda (Nadia) Kizenko

A well-published expert in Russian history, with a focus on religion and culture, Nadia Kizenko is a 20-year veteran of the history faculty whose courses and seminars cover both Russian and East European history, as well as religion and film. In all of them, students say she supplies a unique style that captivates, energizes, and inspires.

She creates “a visually stimulating course,” said one student, often employing props, film, and other media to convey context and meaning. Kizenko can translate Russian, Ukrainian and Slavonic material into English on the fly. She also does not shy from controversial subjects, such as genocide, famine, war, and atrocity, strategically intermixing the emotive nature of these topics with straightforward narrative and analysis.

The result is compelling lectures delivered through her sheer force of personality and oratorical skill, employing a grasp of the material so nuanced and complete that she often does not rely on lecture notes.

Kizendo’s first book, A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People, examined the late 19th Century and 20th Century cult of a charismatic priest. Currently she is completing a history of confession in Russia from 1666 to the present.

Marco Varisco

The office hours of Marco Varisco, whose research focus is on algebraic and geometric topology and algebraic K-theory, have been called by one student a mere “formality.” Varisco gets to campus early, leaves late, with a door that’s almost always open. He holds his scheduled discussion sections and augments them with ad hoc meetings to help those struggling.

Students cite his availability and willingness to help as his greatest strengths, walking them through entire lectures individually until they grasp complex concepts. “There were even times where he would lend out his personal textbooks to us,” said one student. In addition, he grades extensively each week, reflecting an approach to education built around constant formative evaluation of student learning that informs instruction.

Within the classroom, the foundation of his teaching philosophy is storytelling. He has written that each course and each lecture needs to have “a clear beginning, development, and conclusion . . . I try to emphasize and transmit not only the effectiveness of mathematics, but also its beauty.” Students call his technique engaging, and a perfect mix of theory and application. One graduate student summarizes, “He wants his students to grasp the larger picture rather than a single question or problem.”

Varisco and Kizenko were selected from a pool of five exceptional nominations from throughout the College, all of whom possessed superb teaching records. A committee consisting of six faculty members — all previous recipients of teaching awards — from the Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Sciences & Mathematics reviewed their nominations.

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