Abington professor honored with 2019 Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching

ABINGTON, Pa. — Liliana Naydan, assistant professor of English at Penn State Abington, is one of six faculty members University-wide to be honored with the 2019 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching

Naydan said that the nomination for the prestigious undergraduate teaching award came as a surprise.

Several of Naydan's students wrote letters of support for her, and as a result, Abington’s academic leadership endorsed her nomination. After a bout with the flu in the months following her submission of a packet documenting her teaching philosophy and credentials, she returned to campus to find a message on her office phone informing her of some “good news”: She and five fellow faculty members would be recognized for excellence in teaching at the undergraduate level, in honor of Penn State’s seventh president, George Atherton. 

“I was shocked,” she said. “It made recovering from the flu a little easier.”

We checked in with Naydan recently to learn more about her teaching and research.

Penn State Abington (PSA): What is your teaching philosophy?

Naydan: I want my students to have meaningful experiences in the classroom that will connect with work they do outside the classroom, whether it’s community service, academic or professional work. I want to connect their experiences in writing and literature courses to real-life experiences they’re having and are going to have. 

PSA: What are hallmarks of your teaching style?

Naydan: There are three important aspects to my teaching: I want to create active learning experiences for my students, opportunities for collaboration, and opportunities for conversation. And I care as much that students talk to one another as I care that they talk to me.

I want my students to write things that matter in the world. They develop presentations like they would for conferences or for colleagues in their jobs. Upper-level students build websites to give them a sense of the weight of their words. One student once said to me, 'Wait, my mother and grandmother will see this.” And I said, “Yes, they will!'

And that’s the idea behind my effort to invite students to make their work public. I want them to understand that they need to negotiate with the fact that lots of different people will see their work. If I can help them get their work visible to broader audiences, I do. 

PSA: How do you address the digital space?

Naydan: Everybody writes in this digital world with social media. And I want students to write about important issues and pressing social concerns in order to develop into responsible citizens in our interconnected world.

It’s valuable for students to learn how to navigate digital and social media as writers. Facebook posts are multimodal and involve rhetoric. And just like social media platforms have rules and conventions for communication, so does academia. So students need to develop literacies of different spaces, platforms and communities.

Abington Liliana Naydan

Liliana Naydan, Assistant Professor of English, Penn State Abington.

Credit: Pam Brobst

PSA: Tell us about the Writing Fellows program you established at Abington.

Naydan: The Writing Fellows program exists thanks to a Chancellor’s Grant I obtained in 2017. It’s a competitive program that allows Penn State Abington students to have high-impact collaborative learning experiences. 

There are eight Writing Fellows this year. They spent the fall semester learning how to tutor writing effectively. And they are spending this semester working with first-year rhetoric and composition students. 

I want the program to accomplish two things: I want to help first-year students develop and succeed more than they would without the Writing Fellows, but I also want to know if this program helps Writing Fellows develop as writers and professionals.

I think about different jobs that I had that were engaging and active learning experiences that helped me shape my own career trajectory. I had a science writing internship and a job at the writing center at Penn State University Park. I want my students to have those kinds of professional experiences so they can apply what they learn in classrooms. In fact, four of the Writing Fellows recently presented at the Mid-Atlantic Writing Centers Association conference at Lafayette College. And that gave them an important opportunity for professional development.

"I want students to write about important issues and pressing social concerns in order to develop into responsible citizens in our interconnected world."

— Liliana Naydan, assistant professor of english

PSA: What projects are you developing outside of the classroom?

Naydan: My current book project focuses on digital media in the globalized world; it’s about digital media literacies in contemporary American literature.

I’m also finishing a related article on Mohsin Hamid’s 'Exit West' that argues that digital media that purport to connect us actually disconnect us. Digital media keep us screened from the realities and struggles of others to ourselves in our everyday lives and engagements.

My past research involves the literature of 9/11 and the emergence of xenophobic and fundamentalist rhetorics. I published 'Rhetorics of Religion in American Fiction' with Bucknell University Press in 2016 on that subject. 

I also love writing center work and recently published on writing centers in 'Out in the Center,' a co-edited collection that just came out with Utah State University Press.

Writing centers aren’t fix-it shops. We’re thinking about big picture issues like structure and content. But we’re also thinking about how people with different social identities operate in writing centers. We’re thinking about writing centers as contact zones where issues involving identity politics play out alongside national news headlines about volatile social problems.

Who you are and who you want to be matters in writing center work and in the writing classroom. And writing centers can help students and writing center workers explore thorny issues involving our intersectional identities. 

About Penn State Abington

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible, and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st century public higher education within a world-class research university. With nearly 4,000 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 19 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics, and more.